In recent years, most of the research into hemp’s restorative benefits has focused on cannabinoids like CBD. While these unique compounds show great promise, there’s another group of hemp chemical compounds that has potential benefits: terpenes. Known for their strong aromatic qualities, terpenes are what give different hemp strains their unique flavor profiles. Besides giving hemp a sweet taste and smell, many researchers believe terpenes could play an instrumental role in the future of cannabis applications.
To better understand the growing field of terpene research, let’s take a brief look at the biology of these compounds.
The Basics: What Are Terpenes And How Are They Used?
Scientifically, terpenes are classified as hydrocarbons with the following molecular structure: (C5H8)n. Most researchers now believe plants produce these terpenes both to ward off insect invaders and to attract pollinating bugs. Besides cannabis, terpenes can be found in the oils and resins of most spices, herbs, and fruits.
As the hemp plant matures into the flowering phase, most farmers notice the distinctive smell of their strain’s terpenes seeping out of the hair-like trichomes. Since there are well over 100 different kinds of terpenes that could appear in the hemp plant, it’s impossible to describe a standard “terpene scent.” Despite this fact, there are standardized measures which scientists use to classify these compounds.
For convenience, most researchers categorize terpenes into one of these four broad flavor profiles: sweet, sour, spicy, or bitter. Whichever of these flavors the terpene resembles the most will determine where it goes on a scientist’s chart. In reality, the aromas of most terpenes have complicated nuances that mix all four of these major flavours.
Changes in terpene varieties and content have been found to dramatically alter the physiological effects that hemp has on a user. For instance, some terpenes are good for energizing the body, but others could be used as a sedative.
Terpenes also appear to enhance the benefits of cannabinoids like CBD via the endocannabinoid system.