Walking into a grow room full of near-ripe cannabis flowers is an experience nobody could soon forget. The intense aroma is one of the most complicated scents on the planet. No strain is the same, and the scent is hard to explain. Flavors of grape, citrus, and chocolate can all be described from the very same flower. Some strains can have as much as 20 individual scent characteristics.
How can this be possible? How can cannabis have such a wide range of characteristic scents? The answer is undoubtedly in the terpenes.
What Is A Terpene.
A terpene is a tiny molecule produced by the leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant as well as many other unrelated plants. These molecules are so small and excitable that they can evaporate into the air at low temperatures.
This is why they account for a percentage of the actual smell of a plant. When you smell a marijuana plant, what’s really happening is millions of these terpenes that have recently evaporated off the leaves and flowers of your plants, are now entering your nose and triggering the olfactory receptors inside your nose.
Plants like marijuana use these terpenes in all kinds of ways. Some are to attract pollinators like bees or flies, others use them to protect themselves from insects or to create a cloud of vapor around the plant to protect them from the intense sun.
How Can Marijuana Smell Like Lemons Or Chocolate?
The thing about terpenes is that the way the molecules can be combined are limited. The number of combinations possible are large, but far from infinite. This means that it is possible, and somewhat likely that the same combination will occur in plants of a different species.
For example, the terpene found most abundantly in limes, limonene, is also produced in the cannabis plant in smaller amounts, despite being completely unrelated. This is why some strains of cannabis can have such an obvious hint of lime in them, they in fact physically have some lime terpenes!
This can extend to nearly any plant that owes its scent to terpenes. Tea tree (linalool), citrus fruits (limonene), myrtle (myrcene) and even pine trees (pinene) are all plants with overlapping terpene profiles. The amount of similarity in terpene production cannabis has to other plants in the plant world is staggering.
Are Terpenes Medicinal?
Terpenes offer much more than simply an aroma. They are well known across the plant world to have medicinal actions as well. In general, terpenes are antibacterial, antifungal, and have the ability to clear out excessive mucous in the lungs (expectorant). They basically act like a solvent, and can both kill and destroy bacteria, as well as dissolve thick mucus from the lungs to help your body expel it.
That is the normal usage of terpenes, which is most commonly applied with essential oils, especially those such as pine or lime which mainly consist of terpenes (rather than other essential oil components like esters, ketones, and alcohols).
With the marijuana plant however, the uses are slightly different. Terpenes have been found to bind to the same receptors as THC which gives the psychoactive effects (though not as significantly). The main action that terpenes have when paired with THC however, is that they help the molecule pass through the blood brain barrier. This is likely why higher quality cannabis has a stronger effect. One of the first things to evaporate from cannabis as it becomes stale is the terpenes.
When it comes to terpenes, genetics and cultivation techniques share about 50% of the credit. When a plant comes with strong, high terpene genetics, and is grown in a way that maximises this natural terpene production, the plant will have a stronger psychological effect because more of these THC molecules will have the ability to interact with the brain.
The last action that terpenes have when it comes to the marijuana plant, is through interaction with the dopamine and serotonin receptors of the brain. These are 2 of the main neurotransmitters responsible for mood and emotion, as well as learning and cognition. Terpenes act in a way that tones these systems, and makes them function more effectively. This can help reduce the negative effects that cannabis is known for on short term memory, and motivation. Have you ever tried a high quality strain and felt a burst of euphoria or motivation? This is most likely because the terpene content of that particular strain was high and it was grown in perfect conditions to allow this terpene production to take place.
What to do with this information
Depending on what you want from a cannabis species, it’s important to consider the terpene content of each strains genetics. Knowing that every strain is different can help you to optimise what it is you are looking for. Do you want to optimise your THC usage and psychological effects? Or do you just want something that tastes good and have a preference for pineapple or lemons? Both are possible and both require you to consider terpenes as an important component of the plant.
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