In this article, we’ll dive into the most popular “energizing” terpenes: limonene, terpinolene, and humulene. Cannabis products that contain these terpenes may help you achieve goals like Energize and Uplift or Focus and Create.
Terpenes occur naturally in all plants, and are frequently related to the scents attributed to those plants. According to researchers, terpenes are “the most abundant class of naturally occurring small compounds on the planet,” and possess “innumerable functional and structural roles in most life forms on Earth; including animals, fungi, marine organisms, insects, protozoa, and bacteria.”
Humans have been extracting oils from plants since the beginning of recorded history, and it is likely that the terpenes in these oils, along with other compounds, are responsible for the healing effects attributed to essential oils.
What are terpenes in weed?
Terpenes are bio-active molecules that — much like cannabinoids — can exert psychoactive effects. Psychoactive effects are distinct from intoxicating effects, as technically even CBD is psychoactive. Some terpenes are sedating, while others have stimulating effects.
Over 150 different terpenes have been found in cannabis plants, and old-school growers train their noses over their entire careers to sniff out the presence of certain terpene-produced scents associated with higher potency or specific therapeutic effects.
Take your diet into account when experimenting with terpenes, as they occur naturally in many foods and are even sometimes used as a flavor additive. In fact, if you’re looking to ingest a particular terpene to help with a desired outcome for cannabis consumption, consider exploring companion foods.
When looking for a cannabis product to put a bit of pep in your step, check out strains known to have high levels of terpenes like limonene, terpinolene, and humulene. If possible, stick to products that have received a certificate of analysis (COA) from a testing center that has been approved by your state. These certificates will often help you understand the breakdown of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds present in your product of choice.
Terpenes can exert psychoactive effects, but they do not get you “high.” The primary intoxicating effects of cannabis come from delta-9 THC interacting with your CB1 receptors. The CB1 and CB2 receptors are the primary receptors in your endocannabinoid system.
However, terpenes do play an important role in your cannabis experience, and some terpenes may enhance your energy and focus.
Please note that these energizing terpenes are not necessarily “energizing” in the way that coffee or a brisk jog is energizing. Instead, the energy-boosting benefits of these terpenes are related to their uplifting and mood-boosting qualities.
In general, these effects have been determined from studies that use animal models of depression. Animal models of depression are not identical to human depression, which is a complex mental health disorder that can have significant negative impacts on your health and well-being. This article is not suggesting that energizing terpenes can treat depression. Depression should be treated under the guidance of your doctor.
Read on to learn about the three most common energizing terpenes: limonene, terpinolene, and humulene.
Limonene or d-limonene is a terpene that is the primary component of many citrus-based essential oils and gives them their characteristic scent. It is one of the most common terpenes found in the natural world and, thanks to its wide availability, is used in a variety of consumer goods ranging from food items to cleaning products and cosmetics.
Limonene has also found a home in aromatherapy practices that use limonene-rich essential oils (like that of the navel orange) to boost mood or, to borrow a more poetic term from traditional Chinese medicine, for the “dispelling of melancholy.”
Limonene’s ability to increase your energy level is related to these mood-boosting effects.
A team of researchers from Huazhong Agricultural University has investigated the potential benefits of limonene-rich navel orange essential oil (OEO) on mice that were put through a stress-inducing protocol that caused them to exhibit depression-related behavior.
Many of the “depressed” mice experienced body weight gain and decreased motion and activity when compared with a control group. Treatment with limonene-rich essential oil relieved depression-like symptoms, with treated mice displaying increased mobility, exploratory behavior, and less depression-related weight gain.
The Huazhong University team notes that limonene was confirmed to be the “most abundant” compound delivered to the mice via inhalation, and that limonene was not metabolized immediately in the brain.
The limonene terpene was able to reduce hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, increase neurotransmitter levels, and upregulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. Hyperactivity of the HPA-axis, decreased neurotransmitter levels, and downregulation of BDNF in the hippocampus are involved in depression.
These findings are supported by earlier studies on limonene, which found that limonene has the potential to “markedly reduce the dosage or, or even eliminate the need for, synthetic antidepressant drugs.”
Please note that we are not suggesting the limonene should be used as a treatment for depression.
Terpinolene, used here to refer broadly to several closely related molecules (including some commonly referred to as “terpineol”), is characterized by a “sweet, herbal, and floral smell.” Terpinolene has shown some potential for use as an antidepressant in animal models.
Like limonene, the primary energy-related benefit of terpinolene is its purported antidepressive effects and the positive impact it has in reducing depressive symptoms in animal models.
Researchers found that terpinolene interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and that “the acute administration of terpineol produced the antidepressant-like effect” on mice.
Another study, this time from a team at the Universidade Estadual do Piauí in Brazil, revealed increased performance and activity in “depressed” mice given terpinolene.
Citing the wide availability of terpinolene in pine, oregano, and basil, as well as studies that indicate a relationship between terpinolene and several potential medical benefits (including antihypertensive and calming effects), researchers set out to examine the “possible antidepressant action exerted by” terpinolene.
Their research confirms terpinolene has potential antidepressant effects. They found that terpinolene can increase the presence of norepinephrine in the body, remarking that the effect of terpinolene is “similar to that of the reference antidepressants already used in clinical practice.” Bursts of norepinephrine can lead to euphoria, as well as elevated blood pressure and hyperactivity.
If you’re looking to experiment with terpinolene, try tracking the impact of terpinolene-rich strains like Ghost Train Haze and Super Lemon Haze on your overall energy and mood over the course of a month or longer.
Humulene, also referred to as alpha-caryophyllene, is reported to have a musty or hoppy scent, and it has been connected with anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and appetite-suppressing effects that could combat “the munchies.”
We’ll focus here on the anti-inflammatory properties of humulene, as inflammation is associated with depression, brain fog, and chronic fatigue.
As Jointly discussed in Cannabis for Focus:
Research published in November 2019 by Dr. Ali Mazaheri and colleagues at the University of Birmingham showed that “inflammation specifically affected brain activity related to staying alert.”“These results show quite clearly that there’s a very specific part of the brain network that's affected by inflammation,” says Dr. Mazaheri. “This could explain ‘brain fog’.”
A 2021 review intended to identify the “pharmacological and toxicological activities of a-humulene and its isomers” confirms humulene has anti-inflammatory potential. This anti-inflammatory action could increase alertness and feelings of energy.
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