Terpenes are classified as aromatic compounds. These compounds are found in almost all plants, and are a direct contributor to the unique aromas produced by various fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables, such as pine, lavender, cannabis, as well as fresh orange peel. Terpenes have also been found to have a plethora of therapeutic benefits. There is some evidence to suggest that terpenes may also play a role in the medicinal effects of cannabis.
Just like terpenes, flavonoids are found naturally in many plants, including fruits, vegetables and herbs, and in products derived from these such as chocolate and wine. Flavonoids are directly associated with the distinct flavour of various plants and products.
There are currently six categories of flavonoids including flavanols (broccoli, red wine, tea), flavan-3-ols (tea, apples, grapes, chocolate), flavones (parsley, chamomile, red peppers), flavanones (lemons, limes, oranges), isoflavones (soy and fava beans), and anthocyanins (cranberries, blueberries, blackberries).
Flavonoids have been found to help regulate cellular activity and fight free radical damage caused by oxidative stress. They have also been shown to offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids that are only found in cannabis are known as cannaflavins and together with cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant, may offer some therapeutic benefits.
Therapeutic effects of terpenes
Some of the most common terpenes found in plants are listed below, together with their potential medicinal properties.
Humulene is commonly found in hops. It has an earthy, woody, and distinctive hoppy aroma. It is also found in sage, ginger, and ginseng. It has been shown to suppress appetite and to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Pinene is commonly found in pine trees and other conifers, rosemary and basil. It is a natural insecticide and bronchodilator. Other potential therapeutic effects may lie in memory enhancement and dementia.
Myrcene is found in high concentrations in thyme, bay leaf, and parsley. It offers an intense herbal scent that is often described as spicy and peppery. This terpene is known for its potent antioxidant and sedative properties.
Beta-caryophyllene is what gives cloves and black pepper their unmistakable scent. It has been shown to have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
Linalool is most commonly associated with lavender and birch. This terpene, which is also found in some strains of cannabis plants, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic effects. The intense floral scent of linalool has been utilised in aromatherapy for centuries. This terpene has also been shown to act as an anticonvulsant and anti-nausea agent.
Limonene is commonly found in citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes. The medical properties of this terpene may lie in its anxiolytic and antidepressant properties. It has also been used in DIY home remedies to treat fungal or bacterial infections such as athlete’s foot and acne.
In recent years, several natural compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids, as well as polyphenols, alkaloids, tannins, saponins and vitamins from plants have received attention for their role against processes associated with various disorders. However, evidence to show their mechanism of action and therapeutic potential is still limited. Many of the individual terpenes and flavonoids have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that work individually and synergistically to provide therapeutic benefits. Future research will be able to provide further evidence for their use in medicine.