By Gofire Staff

You can’t talk about plant medicines without talking about terpenes, the large family of volatile organic compounds that give plants their distinctive aromas and flavors. Scientific studies are demonstrating that botanical terpenes don’t simply offer scent signals: They can actually benefit our health in concrete ways.

A famous study on the Japanese practice of forest bathing indicated that the terpene-rich air found in plant-rich nature settings helped reduce the subjects’ stress levels significantly. The researchers noted that forest air contributed to “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity,” and proposed “the potential use of terpenes as chemotherapeutic agents for treating various human diseases.”

Some terpenes, such as pinene and limonene, are considered anti-inflammatory; others, such as caryophyllene and cineole, show neuroprotective qualities in animal studies.

While these compounds occur organically in nature, terpenes can also be produced in a lab. Because of all the recent focus on terpenes’ pharmacological potential, there has been substantial discussion on whether botanical terpenes derived from plants are superior to synthetic terpenes produced in a lab.

To plant-medicine fans, “natural” sounds a lot better than “synthetic”—but naturally derived terpenes are also far more expensive. Synthetic terpenes can be made more cheaply than through the laborious process of extracting the essential oil from actual plants and fruits. And while plants may often be healthier for consumption than man-made products, it’s important to remember that some plants are deadly to humans—even common backyard flowers such as oleander and angel’s trumpet. And let’s not forget that cocaine, heroin and tobacco are made from coca, poppies and tobacco.

Being sourced from a plant doesn’t make a substance perfect.

There’s no hard science showing that synthetic terpenes are harmful or are inferior to botanically derived terpenes. Still, many terpene aficionados say that until more studies are done, they prefer to know the terpenes they consume are derived from plants.

It’s also important to remember that some substances that can be safe to touch or eat still need to be tested for inhalation safety. The route of exposure can determine whether a substance has a toxic effect. This is why touching lead, for example, isn’t harmful; lead isn’t absorbed through the skin. But breathing or swallowing lead particles, of course, is a different story; it can be extremely harmful even in small quantities. So, making sure your inhalable medicine has been thoroughly tested for safety is a must.

Terpenes have major health potential—plus, many of them smell great. Just make sure that the plant medicine you’re inhaling contains no harmful additives, is safe to breathe and has undergone lab testing. Investing in a quality device such as the Gofire Inhaler, which lets you precisely control the temperature and dose of your medicine, is also your safest bet. Gofire’s DoseCodes and SMART Cartridges also provide detailed information about the chemical profile of the product through third-party lab test results, so you know exactly what’s in each dose.

You’re always better off knowing exactly what you’re breathing in.