GUEST POST: Plant Potency | The Differences Between Non-Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Terpenes
Similar to the cannabinoids we all know and love, terpenes are essential oils also found in the glands of the cannabis plant. These same oils can be found in various botanicals including common foods. As a result of evolutionary change, terpenes are excreted by plants to repel insects, prevent plant diseases, and attract pollinators for reproductive purposes. Additionally, terpenes carry medicinal properties that work in synergy with cannabinoids.
Different terpenes provide different effects that can greatly alter a cannabis patient’s experience. While some terpenes may help to boost energy or creativity, for example, others aim to provide total body relaxation. Currently, there are over 100 different terpenes that have been identified in the Cannabis sativa l. plant alone, but more exist outside of the cannabis plant world, making it highly likely that there are still other terpenes yet to be discovered. This begs the question: Can terpenes that exist in the botanical world outside of cannabis still affect you medicinally?
Do Non-Cannabis-Derived Terpenes Have Medicinal Value?
Technically, the answer is yes, but it is followed by a more loaded question: if terpenes are found outside of cannabis plants, then why not just get the medicinal benefits from that? This is a question that is causing much debate in the cannabis world. When it comes to cost-effectiveness, it makes sense to use the terpenes from other plants to try to achieve the effects that doctors and patients are looking for. In fact, there are several companies and organizations currently doing exactly that! So, how does it work?
It is well-documented that terpenes work synergistically with cannabinoids as well as with each other to either promote or attenuate certain effects. This concept, known as the “entourage effect,” involves the combination of these chemical compounds working perfectly in unison to produce the full medicinal effects that one seeks. This entourage effect created by cannabinoids and terpenes makes all of the medicinal benefits more bioavailable to the body. Therefore, it’s well known that terpenes help to maximize the benefits of the cannabinoids so much so that cannabis companies are now using refined terpenes from non-cannabis sources to augment the terpenes in their extracts.
We know that terpenes can help to maximize health benefits, we must ask whether the same effects can be achieved when dealing with plant-derived terpenes. Research has shown that pinene, which is found in pine trees, does indeed cause bronchodilation and limonene from lemons can boost your mood. Similarly, it has been proven that eating mangoes during or immediately near cannabis consumption can intensify the high effects, but does that mean that these same terpenes can simply be extracted from all plants and reintroduced into cannabis products such as concentrates?
Again, the answer is yes, and it is done quite frequently. The problem, however, does not lie in the fact that can be done, but whether or not it should be done. Additionally, the effects compared to naturally occurring terpenes found in the cannabis plant must be considered.
While many studies seek to identify the benefits of terpenes, very few exist addressing the issue of whether cannabis-derived or plant-derived terpenes are better. The truth of the matter is that there just simply has not been enough research conducted to confirm in either direction. Reports on this topic are conflicting at best. Many scientists believe that terpenes are terpenes no matter where they come from; however, many argue that they simply do not work in the same manner to provide that synergistic or entourage effect.
Some scientists do, however, argue that plant-derived terpenes added back into cannabis products can be detrimental to patients’ health. According to scientists, limonene is the same molecule whether it is derived from cannabis or citrus. However, it’s important to note which extraction method is used to extract it. Unless an extremely precise extraction process is used, purifying terpenes from outside sources results in an essential oil that could potentially be ridden with other impurities not found in cannabis. In fact, the leading terpene extraction companies clearly state that they use emulsifiers, which over time may increase chances of developing cancer.
On the opposing end of this argument, one can say that the terpenes naturally occurring in the cannabis plant may also be impacted by external factors. Such factors that would impact the terpene profile in a cannabis plant include the condition of the plant, its soil, the age of the plant, the climate, its parent plants and the way it is cared for. If pesticides are used, the risk of cancer would be increased regardless of whether the terpene is derived from a normal plant versus a cannabis plant.
Terpenes Are Here To Stay
Based on the limited research that is out, it is safe to say that naturally occurring cannabis terpenes cultivated in the right conditions are more beneficial due to the stronger entourage effect produced with the decreased negative risks. One must consider however that this is not always feasible nor cost effective. Ultimately, when deciding whether to use non-cannabis or cannabis-derived terpenes, it’s important to address the desired end goal. If aroma and flavor are what you’re looking for, then non-cannabis terpenes may be sufficient. However, if the end-goal is to boost the therapeutic value of a product, it is recommended to use cannabis-based terpenes.
Marena De Jesus is a registered nurse practitioner and the founder of The Green NP, LLC, a Florida-based organization dedicated to educating the public about medical cannabis and assisting in the efforts of cannabis legalization and advocacy. For the last 10 years, Marena has been assisting the Central Florida community by helping her patients with their journey to wellness.
Throughout her career, Marena worked heavily in clinical research and contributed to several publications on the subject of healthcare access, preventative healthcare, and alternative medicine, making patient education and advocacy an integral part of her practice. Today, she dedicates her efforts to alternative medicine, spending the majority of her time educating others on the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
Marena holds a B.S. in Nursing from the University of Central Florida, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, as well as an MSN in Adult-gerontology Primary Care Advanced Practice Nursing. She is board certified by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and licensed through the State of Florida Board of Nursing. Marena is an active member of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association.