Terpene Harvest: Welcome to the Educational Series

Welcome to Gofire’s Terpene Harvest series. This collection of educational articles explores the science and biochemistry of 18 molecules found in plant-based medicines, with a unique focus on the wide variety of florae that produce these aromatic compounds. These organic chemicals have been found, via thousands of peer-reviewed research studies and human clinical trials, to provide considerable benefits to those seeking alternative health solutions—including patients and medical professionals.

This research-based series will investigate the therapeutic properties of a class of phytomolecules (phyto = plant based) called terpenes, including their complex interaction with the human and mammalian endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

The ECS is a body-wide network of millions of microscopic cellular receptors that function as neurotransmitters (chemical messengers). These receptors are found in the brain, central nervous system, and every gland, organ, and tissue of the immune system. Research has revealed that the ECS plays a surprisingly dominant role in governing a wide range of important and sometimes critical bodily systems and functions, including appetite, mood, immune response, pain, cognition, and sleep.

Terpenes have been found to heavily influence the overall medicinal value of plant-based medicine products that contain them, including infused edibles and the extracted concentrates used in some inhalation devices. Terpenes are most abundant in products touted as “full-spectrum” or “broad-spectrum,” but are not present in isolates containing only a single cannabinoid.

Understanding Terpenes

Originally believed to convey to humans merely enticing and sometimes pungent fragrances, terpenes actually evolved to provide plants with the core advantages of protection and pollination. An herb or vegetable that produces a strong terpene-based aroma does so as a signal to dissuade potential pests and predators while simultaneously enticing pollinating insects to assist in its reproduction.   

Terpenes are produced by more than 20,000 plant species throughout nature. According to a 2017 research study, “The major components of [a] forest atmosphere are terpenes, which are the largest class of naturally occurring organic compounds, with more than 40,000 structures reported so far.” About 200 terpenes have been identified in the hemp plant genome alone. 

It should be noted that not all of the hundreds of terpenes identified within the hemp genome manifest in a particular phenotype or cultivar of the herb. In fact, depending on the exact genetics involved and the conditions under which they grow or are cultivated, only a small slice of the available genetic molecular stew will manifest in a single example of the hemp plant.

Common Wellness Efficacies

Dozens of different terpenes—regardless of their particular plant source—feature similar and sometimes overlapping wellness profiles. The most common medicinal benefits of these special chemical compounds include analgesia (pain relief), improvements in emotional stability (including decreases in anxiety and depression), reductions in inflammation (helpful for literally hundreds of diseases and conditions), and anti-cancer benefits (across several types of the disease). Terpenes have also been found to provide more nuanced efficacy, including the modulation of a variety of biophysical systems governing cognition, sleep, and mood.  

Much research is being dedicated to terpenes and their potential health and lifestyle benefits for hundreds of millions of consumers. Major cannabinoids produced by the hemp plant (think of cannabinoids as cousins to terpenes) such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG) continue to attract funding for research studies and investment for business ventures. Terpenes and cannabinoids are now producing increasingly equal levels of academic and commercial activity around the world (including in countries such as Canada, Israel, and the United States).  

One important distinction between terpenes and cannabinoids–as their names suggest–is that cannabinoids are produced only by the hemp plant, while terpenes can be harvested from tens of thousands of plant species in nature. This distinction has a major impact on the commercial viability and practical industrial applications of these respective organic compounds. Readers who understand the science-based benefits of common terpenes can gain significant insight into the appeal of these molecules (and plant-based medicine overall). Such benefactors of terpene knowledge include wellness practitioners, consumers, and entrepreneurs.    

Stay tuned to Gofire’s educational Terpene Harvest series to learn more about the complex and nuanced science behind one of the most common families of molecules on the planet: Terpenes.   

About the Author

Curt Robbins is technical writer, instructional designer, and lecturer who has been developing science-based educational and training content for Fortune 200 enterprise companies for more than 30 years. His clients have included Federal Express, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Northrop Grumman, National City Bank, Strainprint Technologies Ltd., the J.M. Smucker Company, and USAA.   

Robbins began writing about the biochemistry and science of the various wellness molecules produced by plants such as hemp in 2003. He has since developed more than 600 educational articles about hemp and its various health components, including terpenes, cannabinoids, and the human endocannabinoid system. In 2019, Robbins developed a 50-page white paper regarding the hemp cannabinoid cannabigerol (CBG) that explored a fourth potential species of this unique plant genus.

“My obsession, since I was an undergrad journalism and psychology student, has been to document complex systems and processes in such a way that the information becomes truly engaging and educational for non-experts and laypeople. My present goal, in light of the emerging greenrush, is to deliver a solid and enlightened understanding of the complex and nuanced biochemistry of wellness molecules such as cannabinoids and terpenes,” said Robbins.

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