As the legalization of recreational and medical cannabis continues to spread, so is awareness for its many healing properties. And though active compounds known as cannabinoids have been hogging the limelight, there’s another category of compounds that are yet to be similarly appreciated by consumers and chemists alike.
Terpenes are a family of cannabinoid-like compounds that are often associated with pungent scents, which serve to protect plants from predators, among other things. Among the 20,000 different terpenes that have so far been identified in nature, 200 have been found within the cannabis plant. Terpenes are forged, along with cannabinoids, in the minute chemical factories known as trichomes that occupy the flowers and leaves of the plant.
Along with the strong aroma cannabis is associated with, terpenes also play a role in the plant’s myriad healing properties. Indeed, studies are revealing they provide quite the banquet of therapeutic services, as well as being a building block within the cannabis plant. Terpenes aid in the production of vitamins, hormones, and resins in the herb, as well as contributing to the construction of the prized and precious cannabinoid compounds.
Of all of the terpenes present in cannabis, one in particular stands out due to its vast medical potential. A 1997 study conducted at the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture, which analyzed the contents of steam distilled cannabis essential oil, identified myrcene as the most abundant terpene.
Myrcene is also found in fresh mango fruit, hops, bay leaves, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and numerous other plants. As a monoterpene, it also serves as a precursor for the manufacture of other terpenes. In cannabis, myrcene levels tend to dictate whether a particular strain will bare sativa or indica effects upon administration. Sativa effects are for the most part uplifting and stimulate creativity, whereas indica effects are more sedating and relaxing. Myrcene levels of above 0.5 percent will result in indica sensations, while sativa strains usually contain less than 0.5 percent levels of the terpene.
Interestingly, the consumption of fresh mango 45 minutes before inhaling cannabis will result in a faster onset and greater intensity of the psychoactive effects. This is because the myrcene in the fruit allows certain chemicals, such as THC, to cross the blood-brain barrier more easily. Myrcene has also been shown to increase the maximum saturation level of the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptor.
Reset contacted biochemist Dennis Hill, who provided a summary of the medicinal qualities of myrcene.
“Myrcene, the most studied terpene in the cannabis plant, has many benefits in the human body; it is an anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antiseptic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogen, and regulates permeability of cell membranes. Myrcene is a powerful analgesic, muscle relaxant, and sedative. And within the entourage effects, contributes substantially to treating diabetes, insomnia, stress, inflammation, and cancer.”
A scientific review, entitled Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phycannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, published by the British Journal of Pharmacology lists a wide range of benefits that myrcene offers. Among other things, the researchers note that myrcene relaxed muscles in mice models, acted as a sleep aid in higher doses, and augmented the medicinal effects of certain cannabinoids.
Furthermore, the authors identified how myrcene can enhance the medicinal properties of certain cannabinoids. They found myrcene in combination with CBD decreased inflammation, reduced pain, and had anti-cancer properties. When combined with THC, myrcene reduced pain, relaxed muscles, and proved to have sedative effects. And in combination with CBG, myrcene was effective at combatting cancer.
Myrcene has also been shown to have powerful pain relieving properties, by influencing the endogenous opioid system, as documented in a paper which summarized a study conducted at the Federal University of Ceará in Brazil. In it, the authors state that, “The results suggest that myrcene is capable of inducing antinociception [the process of blocking the detection of pain stimuli] in mice…”
Additionally, another Brazilian study highlighted the powerful pain reducing action of myrcene to the degree that the authors concluded, “Terpenes such as myrcene may constitute a lead for the development of new peripheral analgesics with a profile of action different from that of the aspirin-like drugs.”
As research continues and cannabis laws become more relaxed, it’s exciting to entertain the idea that more cannabis-derived medicines could replace potentially dangerous and addictive drugs that our current medical paradigm is so dependent upon.
According to The Leaf Online, a 2007 study from the University of Jordan set out to scientifically explore myrcene’s use as a folk remedy for diabetes. The researchers found that myrcene, hand in hand with another terpene named thujone, mitigated the effects of diabetes in a pilot study conducted on mice.
To reap the benefits of myrcene, it is advisable to select cannabis strains with profile high in the terpene. Lemongrass also holds a large amount of myrcene, which is believed to contribute to some of the herb’s therapeutic properties.