I remember when I was growing Blue Cheese and the plant count in the basement went from six or so to a few dozen. I pulled into my driveway and said to myself something along the lines of, “Good Lordy Lordy, thank the stars above that both my next door neighbors are 80-plus-year-old women and our entire neighborhood is surrounded by swampy wetlands” because the stench emanating from every window, door and imperfectly sealed crack in my decades-old home had the whole area, to quote Dr. Dre, “smellin’ like Indonesia.”
Why does weed stink like it does? The answer is “terpenes”.
A few years ago, all of the sudden, my Facebook feed became overrun by “terps”; the STS9 crowd had gotten hold of something I was behind the curve on and they rode it just about to death daily, put it in the barn soaking wet and dragged it out each morning to showcase it in conversation after pun-laden conversation, meme and message. “Terp this. Terp that. Terp you. Terp me?!? Lol, yeah, terp me; that’s fine.”
Google defines terpenes as, “any of a large group of volatile unsaturated hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants, especially conifers and citrus trees. They are based on a cyclic molecule having the formula C10H16,” a word of late 19th century Germanic origin descending from “turpentine.” This makes sense to anyone who has spent any amount of time reading strain reviews, which are invariably replete with the standard adjectives “piney” and “lemony.” As descriptors, these are fine (though I like my stinks to stink like three-week-old garbage after it’s been caught in the crossfire of a skunk war), but what do these chemicals actually have to do with the essence of cannabis?
Of the more than 400 chemical compounds in the marijuana plant, about 15 percent – called cannabanoids – are cannabis-specific; these are the primary compounds that interact with receptors within our bodies to produce medicinal effects and, in the case of THC (or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the high we feel when we smoke or eat it. Terpenes are responsible for most of the rest of the cannabis experience –taste and smell, in particular – and they combine with the cannabanoids to accentuate certain elements of the medicinal and psychotropic effects.
Terpenes play a significant part in determining whether a particular strain of marijuana has an uplifting mental impact or a sedative one; they impact inflammation and spasticity; they work with the immune and endocrine systems to promote positive health.
There are a few main terpenes found in cannabis: Mercene, which is also present in hops, wild thyme and lemongrass. It’s a key component of indica strains and a strong contributor to their sedating effects: pinene, a “terp” that derives its name and shares a smell with conifers, is an ingredient of Chinese medicine in the fight against cancer; limonene, with its lemony scent is used to promote weight loss and is used industrially in cleaning products; and caryophyllene, also found in lavender and black pepper, is an antioxidant and is used as a flavoring to provide that spicy zing.
Terpene-rich foods have been shown to interact with cannabis in interesting ways: Mangoes can amplify the effects of THC, and black pepper can be used to counteract anxiety associated with smoking weed. Terpenes have been isolated and bottled as essential oils and can be purchased in this fashion.
So, go forth and consider yourself educated in another of the fascinating elements of our wonderful friend Mary Jane and have a terpy week.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]