These compounds—found naturally in hemp and other plants—provide a wide array of health benefits.

What are Terpenes?

The popularity of CBD supplements—cannabidiol from hemp that can’t get you high—has attracted attention to a related category of natural substances: terpenes. Pronounced “ter-peenz,” the word probably isn’t part of your daily conversation, but the effects of terpenes are very familiar to all of us. When you walk in a forest and the air seems fresher, or you walk along a tree-lined street and feel more relaxed, you’re experiencing the effects of terpenes released by the trees.

The distinctive aromas of lavender, pine, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other plants, as well as the unique tastes of spices, come from the terpenes within these plants. And terpenes in essential oils give each one its unique characteristics and aromatherapy benefits.

A type of natural plant chemical, terpenes can be found in food additives for flavor and in cosmetics for pleasant scents. In addition, these plant compounds offer a variety of health benefits. Studies have found that the effects of terpenes include calming inflammation; relieving anxiety, depression, and pain; calming allergies; protecting the brain and nervous system; preventing the growth of cancerous tumors; killing harmful bacteria; stopping convulsions; and improving sugar metabolism.

In aromatherapy, the power of terpenes is harnessed through our sense of smell. In massage, essential oils transmit terpenes through the skin. In CBD supplements, the natural terpenes from hemp can enhance the healthful effects.

6 Main Terpenes in Hemp

The hemp plant contains hundreds of different phytochemicals. In supplements, CBD plays the lead and terpenes can play supporting roles to create what researchers have described as an “entourage effect.” Although it’s estimated that there are more than 100 different terpenes in hemp, these are some of the main ones that have been studied so far:

Did You Know?

There are more than 540 different phytochemicals in the hemp plant.

1. Caryophyllene

It calms inflammation and helps relieve pain while protecting the lining of the digestive system—unlike anti-inflammatory drugs for pain, which can damage the stomach. Topically, it may help to relieve inflammatory skin conditions. 

Also found in: Black pepper, cloves, rosemary, hops, and echinacea.

2. Humulene

The main ingredient in hops that gives beer its telltale smell and taste, humulene has a calming effect, reduces inflammation, and helps to relieve pain when taken internally or applied topically. As a pain reliever, it can also work as an aerosol. In addition, it may help to heal wounds. 

Also found in: Hops, sage, ginseng, and echinacea.

3. Limonene

Nature’s source of that familiar citrus smell, limonene helps to relieve depression, enhances immune function, and may help to relieve heartburn. A small study of breast cancer patients found that it can kill cancer cells in very high doses, although this type of use is limited because doses high enough to be a possible cancer treatment produce side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

Also found in: Orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime peels; caraway and dill seeds.

4. Linalool

A key component of lavender, linalool is believed to calm neurotransmitters, producing a sedative effect that calms anxiety and pain and can reduce seizures. It may be the reason why natural essential oil of lavender can help to heal burns without scarring skin. In refined oils, however, linalool may irritate skin. 

Also found in: Lavender, clary sage, bergamot, rosewood, patchouli, ho wood, and sweet basil.

5. Myrcene

It helps to relieve pain by blocking inflammation, and also has a sedative effect, which can help to relax muscles. Additionally, myrcene may protect the liver against damage from aflatoxin, a poisonous type of mold that can contaminate grains and nuts.
Myrcene contributes to the sedative quality of hops and other calming plants. 

Also found in: Lemongrass, hops, bay leaves, verbena plants, chamomile, thyme, basil, and mangoes.

6. Pinene

The most common terpene found in nature, pinene is the source of that fresh pine aroma. It also offers several health benefits. It’s a bronchodilator, meaning that it helps to open airways for easier breathing. Additionally, it enhances communication between neurotransmitters and may help improve memory. It also acts as a natural antibiotic and helps calm inflammation. 

Also found in: Pine and other cone-bearing trees, eucalyptus, sage, rosemary, frankincense, and ironwort.

Terpenes work together to produce their effects. In supplements, this “entourage effect” can enhance the benefits of CBD.

How to Shop CBD Products

Some CBD supplements are extracts of only CBD, sometimes referred to as CBD “isolates.” Others, often described as “full spectrum” or “broad spectrum,” contain additional components from the hemp plant, such as terpenes.

Since individual body chemistry and health vary, there is no hard-and-fast rule about which CBD product may work best for you. However, the entourage effect of CBD with terpenes may magnify its benefits.

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