Medicinal terpenes


Terpenes produce more than just fragrances. These secret weapons and key communicators of the plant world – around 20,000 different chemicals have been identified so far – can also produce a wide range of biological effects. There is evidence that some plant terpenes can improve cognition, block pain, kill harmful bacteria, cause hallucinations, reduce inflammation, fight cancer, make you sick, reduce stress, and get high.

Terpenes are a topic of growing interest in the cannabis world. Project CBD recently reported on a new study that uses analytical chemistry to determine key differences between cannabis samples labeled Sativa and Indica. The researchers found no evidence to support the general belief that these two terms represent different genetic lineages, nor was there any significant difference between them in terms of cannabinoid profile. In the end, it all boiled down to a handful of terpenes, including ferns, myrcene, and eudesmol – compounds that, along with even less studied flavonoids, simultaneously affect the taste and effects of cannabis.

As scientists continue to examine terpenes and their place not just in the cannabis world but in herbal medicine as a whole, new and sometimes surprising insights into these fascinating botanicals emerge almost weekly.

Bad for Cancer Cells, Good for Brain Health?

Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene (consisting of three isoprene units1) famous for adding flavor to black pepper. It’s also found in cannabis, cloves, hops, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, basil, and more. Because of its presence in so many popular foods and spices, it has received significant scientific attention in recent decades – especially following the discovery in 2008 that beta-caryophyllene binds to the CB2 Cannabinoid receptor, which makes it the first known “dietary cannabinoid”.

In the past month, two more publications broadened the evidence base for the potential healing powers of beta-caryophylls. A team of Italian researchers first reported in the journal Molecules2 that hemp flower extracts contain three different forms of terpene as well as the non-intoxicating cannabinoids CBD and CBC were toxic to triple negative breast cancer cells. Most of this cytotoxicity was due to CBD, write the authors CBC and caryophyllene, which increases its strength: a classic case of the entourage effect.

A week later a newspaper in the Journal of Food Biochemistry3 drew attention to an entirely different result: improved cognitive function. A team of researchers affiliated with an Indian company called Vidya Herbs fed mice that had been pretreated with a drug that induces an animal model of dementia, an extract of black pepper seeds standardized to 30% beta-caryophyllene. They report that the extract restored recognition and spatial memory in these mice in a dose-dependent manner, as measured in two behavioral tests, and also had improved biological markers of cognitive function and had anti-inflammatory effects in the brain. These results are fascinating, but should be treated with caution given the authors’ affiliation with a private company manufacturing the extract in question (viphylline) and their blatant conclusion that “our data promotes viphylline as a functional ingredient / dietary supplement for the brain” Health and Knowledge. ”

Pain relief through the endocannabinoid system

Two other recent publications highlight the ability of certain terpenes to relieve various forms of pain. In a study published in October 2021 in Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research4th, a team of Brazilian researchers who worked with renowned cannabinoid scientist Vincenzo di Marzo from the National Research Council of Italy to test the analgesic effects of kahweol, a coffee diterpene.

By managing CB1 and CB2 Receptor antagonists, the researchers discovered that Kahweol reduces pain sensations through the endocannabinoid system – more precisely by releasing the body’s own cannabinoid anandamide and activating it CB1 Receptors. “This compound could be used to develop new drugs for pain relief,” they conclude – although many of us already smell and drink from it on a daily basis.

A second study examined the ability of the cannabis-derived terpenes alpha-bisabolol (which gives a floral scent and is also found in chamomile) and camphene (the odor of which is most often described simply as “pungent”) to inhibit inflammatory and neuropathic pain. As reported in Molecular brain5, the authors found that both molecules exhibited “a broad spectrum of analgesic effects” by modulating T-type calcium channels in the brain, previously known to be targets of some phyto- and endocannabinoids.

Defense against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a serious problem in hospitals, health care facilities, and other facilities where people are in close physical contact or share equipment or consumables. An infection with this bacterium, which spreads through the skin, is often harmless – but in some cases it can also lead to sepsis or death because it is so difficult to treat due to its resistance to common antibiotics.

Many terpenes are already known to have potent antibacterial properties; that’s part of what plants make them for, after all. A research team from the Czech Republic and Italy has now reported in the journal Natural product research6th that two previously uncharacterized diterpenes from the plant Coleus Blumei show antibacterial effect against MRSA.

Interestingly, this common nursery plant, bred to produce a variety of varieties for ornamental use in home gardens, was also consumed by indigenous peoples of Mexico in the past for its psychoactive effects. In her book Plants of the gods, Ethnobotanist Richard Evan Schultes, chemist Albert Hofmann and anthropologist Christian Rätsch note that Coleus has some similarities with. having Salvia divinorum, a potent, dissociative hallucinogen also found in Mexico. The active ingredient of this plant is a unique diterpene called salivorin A, which works through kappa opioid receptors.

Could Coleus Are terpenes psychoactive in addition to being antimicrobial? As Schultes et al. wrote 20 years ago in the revised version of her groundbreaking book (first published in 1979) and apparently still applies today: “Chemistry and pharmacology must be further researched.”