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What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes form a diverse and large class of aromatic organic compounds found in a wide variety of plants including conifers such as pine, cedar, and cypress trees, cannabis, and more. Their strong odor is utilized by the plants in their defense against herbivores. Terpenoids, or oxygenated terpenes, are sometimes also termed as terpenes. Both terpenoids and terpenes are a major constituent in essential oils derived from several medicinal flowers and plants.

Terpene Biosynthesis:

The biosynthesis of terpenes is initialized by the units of isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP). It can take place using any of the two metabolic pathways that are: Mevalonic acid pathway, and the MEP/DOXP pathway. In both these pathways, IPP gets isomerized to dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP) with the help of the isopentenyl pyrophosphate isomerase enzyme. Both DMAPP and IPP get condensed to produce geranyl pyrophosphate. The resultant compound gets converted to geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate and farnesyl pyrophosphate, both of which are precursors to diterpenes and sesquiterpenes. Terpene synthase is used to mediate the whole biosynthesis process of terpenes and terpenoids.

Common Terpenes and Potential Benefits:

The most common terpenes and their potential health benefits are:

  • Myrcene – is the most common terpene and is a reason behind the sedative effects of Cannabis Indica. Myrcene has potential capabilities of reducing inflammation, pain relief, sedation and muscle relaxation, while promoting restful sleeping.
  • Terpinolene – can be found in most Cannabis Sativa strains and has sweet, citrus, pine, and woody taste and flavor. Terpinolene has antioxidant properties and promotes relaxation. Additional information suggests it may play a role in a healthy immune system.
  • Limonene – has a citrus, lemon, and orange taste and flavor. Limonene is believed to help elevate mood, reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and also reduce inflammation.
  • Pinene – is commonly found in Cannabis Sativa strains and has a woody, earthy, and pine taste and flavor. Pinene can act as a bronchodilator, promote pain relief, reduce inflammation, enhance memory, and promote a healthy immune system.
  • Linalool – is commonly found in essential oils of spearmint, tangerine, lemon, and more. Linalool can be used for relaxation and as a sedative, pain reliever, and reduce inflammation.
  • Caryophyllene – has a clove-like, peppery, spicy, and woody taste and flavor. Caryophyllene has been found to contain properties of a pain reliever, while promoting immune health, promoting a healthy inflammatory response, and for reducing stress and enhancing mood.

Extensive research is currently ongoing to discover the various terpenes found in nature and their potential health benefits along with their side effects.