Introduction to Terpenes

by Sue Carlton November 01, 2018

What are terpenes and where do they come from?  According to Steep Hill Laboratories, they define terpenes as “the fragrance molecules which emanate from all plants - including cannabis, which offers a unique scent from one strain to the next.  Terpenes are believed to exhibit medicinal properties independent from the cannabinoids.” Terpenes are known as "essential oils" and isoprenoids. These fragrance molecules consist of 40,000 individual compounds that are both in primary and secondary metabolisms making it one of the largest families of natural products.

Terpenes are not only found in herbal plants but as well they occur naturally within CBD “industrial hemp” ants. Often they are thought to increase the production what is known as an “entourage effect”.  This is where terpenes are thought to help contribute to the overall effect of consumption such as THC. Terpene isolation is not new to the medical application and has been used within the production of pharmaceuticals like artemisinin and taxol as malaria and cancer medication.   The use of terpenes can be used within your diet and herbal usage.

There are current health concerns within terpene toxically degrading products into the human body through forms such as dabbing butane hash or BHO.  The Department of Chemistry at Portland State Univesity conducted a study in September of 2017. They reviewed a method called "terp dipping" which is where you take a concentrate such as BHO and dip it in "natural terpenes".  Natural terpenes are in fact synthetically derived, to simply put it they are like the natural and artificial flavorings you find in a lot of processed food offered in America. This research states that this, "is of great concern due to the oxidative liability of these compounds when heated."

Though every year new terpenes are being discovered. Terpenes are unique in that they are produced in organisms naturally as they are apart of primary metabolism, but many terpenoids are produced through secondary metabolism.

There are a few pathways in plants which terpenes take the first is the melavante (MVA) pathway in yeast and in animals. Originally thought to be the only pathway in plants.  Though they later discovered there is an alternative pathway that was identified through the bacteria and plants called methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway which is independent of the MVA pathway. These pathways do not always act autonomously, sometimes pathways can cross. Terpenoids, active compounds have the possibility to bind with at least ten of your nuclear receptors which some are known for being regulated by your lipophilic molecules that are derived from your diet and environment.   

In conclusion, terpenes are naturally occurring.  They surround our life within our food naturally binding to receptors in our bodies and as well our bodies create them organically.  Without further research, we can not conclusively decide whether or not terpenes consumed through oral consumption present any toxic effect.  We can conclude that studies suggest when terpenes in increased volumes, as well as significant heat these volatile compounds they do present toxic effects depositing products within the body.  

FDA Disclaimer 
The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from healthcare practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require this notice.

Work Cited

Booth, Judith K., Jonathan E. Page, and Jörg Bohlmann. “Terpene Synthases from Cannabis Sativa.” Ed. Björn Hamberger. PLoS ONE 12.3 (2017): e0173911. PMC. Web. 21 May 2018.

Interactive, Devise. “Steep Hill | Global Leader in Cannabis Testing and Analytics.” Steep Hill Labs, http://www.steephill.com/science/terpenes.

Massimino, Luca. “ In Silico Discovery of Terpenoid Metabolism in Cannabis Sativa .” F1000Research 6 (2017): 107. PMC. Web. 21 May 2018.

Toxicant Formation in Dabbing: The Terpene StoryJiries Meehan-Atrash, Wentai Luo, and Robert M. StronginACS Omega 2017 2 (9), 6112-6117DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.7b01130