Everything You Need To Know About Terpenes Part 2 March 9, 2018 – Posted in: General, Lifestyle – Tags: , , , , ,

Everything You Need To Know About Terpenes Part 2: Interview with Dr. Lee Know

The following is an interview with scientist, consultant, naturopathic physician, and terpene expert Dr. Lee Know, celebrated author of Life: The Epic Story Of Our Mitochondria (2014), and the man behind Cannanda TM, the pathbreaking Canadian company dedicated to enhancing your cannabis experience. You can watch a recent interview with Dr. Know regarding the mitochondria of the cell HERE


The Basics

How is a terpene born?

LK: Terpenes are natural compounds that are produced primarily by plants for a variety of reasons. Typically, they are the aroma/scent given off by a plant.

How many terpenes are there? Have they all been discovered?

LK: There are thousands of terpenes present all throughout nature, and many more are likely to be discovered as research continues. In cannabis, the newer data suggests there are about 200 different types of terpenes, in varying amounts, and depending on the strain.

When you inhale terps, how is it processed by the nose and the brain? Is this what happens when you smell a bud? When you smell weed, are you taking smell away from the bud and into your nose?

LK: Terpenes are what’s responsible for the aroma of most plants, and is the “active” compounds of a plant’s essential oil. When you inhale these through your nose, terpenes bind to the olfactory sensors responsible for detecting aroma and scents. Since the olfactory nerves have a direct connection to various parts of the brain, just the smell can bring about a change in your physical and emotional state. So when you smell a cannabis flower, essentially what you’re doing is inhaling the terpenes as they evaporate. In this way, not only can cannabis connoisseurs identify different strains, but sometimes even predict a particular strain’s potential effect.

When you smoke weed, how does the body process the terpenes?

LK: When you smoke cannabis, you bypass the olfactory receptors and the terpenes continue to the lungs, where they are absorbed into the body—just like how THC and CBD are absorbed when smoked, or how certain drugs (e.g., corticosteroids) are administered, or why air pollution and environmental toxins can so easily wreak havoc to your health. Once in the body, terpenes then go on to exert numerous physiological effects.

What are the best ways to take terpenes?

LK: In my opinion, the best way is to inhale through the nose. In this way, you not only get activation of the olfactory nerves, but also get the terpenes into the lungs for absorption into the body.

Are there terpene receptors in our bodies? If so, how are they connected with the cannabinoid system? What kind of variability is there among individuals?

LK: Depending on the terpene, there may be receptors they bind to, or can influence the activity of other compounds. In some cases, terpenes can actually be essential nutrients (e.g., vitamin A is technically considered a terpene by way of its chemical structure, although you wouldn’t inhale this to meet your daily vitamin A needs). While most would probably think a human is a human, from a medical perspective, there is a mind-boggling amount of variability between individuals, so how one terpene influences one person could be quite different in another person.

What is the Entourage Effect? Where else can I read up on it?

LK: The entourage effect is one of the defining principles of botanical medicine. It basically means that a number of compounds all work together to bring about a physiological response. This is why most pharmaceuticals don’t have the impact that the natural version (from which it was discovered) has. It’s also why pharmaceuticals often have such severe side-effects. When you isolate a compound and purify it, you eliminate all the “helper” compounds so the effect is either reduced, or as we see in medicine, we need a much larger dose of that isolated compound to bring about the same effect (vs a smaller amount of that compound with its entourage helpers, as would be found in nature). When we isolate and purify compounds, we also eliminate the compounds that can help counteract the side-effects. Further, because the isolated compound now has to be used in greater amounts to get the same effects, you also increase the risk of side-effects.

Can the Entourage Effect cause a negative reaction? Or does the synergy tend towards the positive?

LK: The Entourage Effect usually tends towards the positive, yet we’d be naïve to assume that negative effects don’t occur in some cases. Although I can’t think of a specific example at this moment, perhaps the toxicity of certain poisonous plants may be enhanced by the entourage effect—maybe.

What was the evolutionary purpose of the terpenes in nature?

LK: Plants produce terpenes as a way to bring about a certain action in their environment. Some plants produce them to attract pollinators, others to ward off pests. In some cases, they can even be produced to control the local weather (a pine forest releasing terpenes as form of cloud seeding).

Without these molecules, many plants wouldn’t be able to survive, let alone thrive.

How does sativa versus indica compare in terms of terpene profile?

LK: This is a great example of how just one terpene can significantly influence the effects of a strain. It’s commonly thought that one main difference in the terpene profile of indica vs sativa strains of cannabis is the content of beta-myrcene. Those higher in beta-myrcene are typically indicas, whereas lower amounts are typical for sativas.

Is there any correlation between CBD content and presence of certain terpenes?

LK: I haven’t come across any reliable data to suggest certain terpenes are related to a higher CBD content, but I could be wrong or may have missed certain analyses. If that data doesn’t yet exist, I would say with greater analysis, I’m sure there would be some correlation that’s discovered.

Can people learn, with time and experience, to identify terpenes by smell? What are some potential benefits to this?

LK: As long as your sense of smell is in good working order, people can absolutely learn how to identify terpenes. The advantage of this is that they may be able to predict the effects of a particular strain of cannabis, and if they’re in tune with their body and the messages it gives, one could follow their nose and find the strain that’s best for them at that particular time.

Trial with Cannanda’s Enhanced Effect Tolerance Blend

Once I inhaled your company’s Enhanced Effect Tolerance Blend, a proprietary blend of terpenes in cannabis oil, and I felt it brought out a distinct indica undertone to my Sour D. sativa buzz, sort of hybridizing it. Could this be the result of the actions of a specific terpene?

LK: Wow, you are very perceptive with your cannabis experience. That’s absolutely due to Enhanced Effect’s blend of terpenes. The amount of beta-myrcene in our blend would take most sativa strains into the realm of indicas.

What are the other factors that may have caused this effect? What I ate? How much I’ve slept? State of hydration? Sunlight exposure? A specific vitamin or nutrient presence or deficiency? Stress level? In other words, to what extent does the effect of terpenes rely on the brain/body state of the inhaler prior to inhalation?  Would the same terps have had a different effect on a different individual, all else being equal?

LK: As mentioned earlier, the amount of individual variance is incredible. We have modifiable variables, like those you just mentioned, semi-modifiable variables like our microbiome (the particular mix of microbes in our body) and maybe gene expression, and then those unmodifiable variables like our DNA. All these variables combine to create an almost limitless number of combinations, which have an impact to how an individual responds not just to terpenes, but other natural health products, their food, prescription drugs, their environment, exercise, etc.

Is this also applicable to cannabinoids?

LK: Yes, absolutely, and it all boils down to the countless variables just discussed.

Can smelling buds before/during/after smoking cannabis have an effect comparable to that of the Enhanced Effect Tolerance Blend?  What if I took a big whiff from a jar of OG Kush or Death Bubba and then smoked a blunt of Green Crack? Would this be different from if I took a whiff from the jar of Greek Crack before I smoked the eponymous blunt? If there are real effects from this, aren’t the possibilities endless?

LK: In theory, yes; inhaling the terpene profile of one strain prior to smoking/vaping another strain could influence its effects. This is where it gets really exciting, and you can see how endless the possibility are. In reality however, the “dose” of terpenes from just smelling a jar is unlikely to give the users a therapeutic amount terpenes to alter the effects of another strain. However, this concept of using certain terpenes to alter the effects a user experiences is also why we encourage users of Enhanced Effect to experiment with different strains—and the reason why we’ve had such a wide range of effects being reported from those using our product.

What is special about the Enhanced Effect Tolerance Blend?

LK: Enhanced Effect is likely the first encounter most are going to have with using terpenes for aromatherapy purposes. Many are familiar with using terpenes as a flavour, but we’ve formulated our blend to bring about a physiological response in the user. Even though the blend ended up smelling pretty nice (we’ve had more than one request to turn the blend into a perfume or cologne), how it actually smelled was not even a consideration in our product development process. Second, and likely the most unique, is our gel packs that we use to package each dose. We did this to prevent oxidation of the sensitive terpenes, in particular beta-myrcene. Beta-myrcene is very sensitive to oxidation when exposed to air, so we’ve used individual, compostable gel packs to protect the terpenes from air. This helps keep the entire jar just as fresh from the first dose to the last, and keeps the last dose as effective as the first. These gel packs are manufactured in a GMP-certified, Health Canada-approve facility, and we have pharmaceutical level QA and QC.

Effects and Uses of Terps

Are there certain terpenes or terpene profiles ( in combination or not in combination with CBD/THC and other cannabinoids) that are specifically good for epilepsy?

LK: We do know that some individuals with epilepsy receive immense benefit from high CBD strains, and very likely certain terpenes can amplify that benefit. At this time, however, the scientific evidence doesn’t allow me to say with any degree of confidence what that would be.

What about other medical problems?

Are there terpenes that people with certain medical problems and/or psychological tendencies should avoid or take sparingly because they might be triggers for something, like a seizure, for example? Or anxiety or depression?

LK: Yes, various terpenes have been shown to benefit different health conditions. For example, pinene can help improve breathing and even help with focus and attention. However, in other situations, some may want to use caution. If ever unsure about using a product for a particular health condition, be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider prior to use.

What effects can terps have when they are ingested in an edible? Is this different from the effect they can have inhaled, smoked or vaped?

LK: When we ingest anything, we have something called biotransformation, and first pass metabolism. Biotransformation is where the microbes in our gut change the chemical structure of compounds (whether nutrients from food, compounds from botanical medicines, or synthetic drugs). On top of that, once we absorb these into the body, we have first pass metabolism, which is where the liver further modifies these compounds. The differences in effects from ingestion vs inhalation can sometimes be quite dramatic (depending on the compound in question), or maybe not be much different at all. For example, when we ingest THC (vs inhaling it), our body changes it to 11-hydroxy-THC, which has a much more potent sedative effect vs inhalation. Although the research for terpenes is not there yet, we would expect biotransformation and first pass metabolism effects to be present with some, if not many, terpenes as well.

Are there topical applications for terps?

LK: Yes, many terpenes have anti-microbial effects and can be used to topically treat infections. Different terpenes also have varying degrees of transdermal penetration, and some may act a little deeper to help in other ways (e.g., a local anti-inflammatory effect, etc.)

Could terps be isolated and used as tasty medicinal flavoring?

LK: Yes, and this is where most terpene products are being used today—as flavouring for their THC or CBD distillates

Growing, Harvesting, Extracting

Is there a difference between terps harvested from weed at different stages of the curing process? If so, does this also hold true for THC, CBD and the other cannabinoids?

LK: Terpenes evaporate over time. Some data suggests that the drying and curing process can result in about 90% of the terpenes being lost. This is because terpenes are volatile and evaporate quickly (hence the reason we can smell them). Cannabinoids, on the other hand, are not volatile compounds, so we wouldn’t have this degree of loss we see with terpenes.

What is the difference between a terpene and a terpenoid?

LK: Even though most use these two terms interchangeably in everyday language, they are in fact referring to different (but similar) compounds. Terpenoids are just terpenes that have been oxidized or have a slightly different chemical structure.

Waxing philosophical

Might it be true that people tend to like strains with terps, and terp profiles, that would assist with bringing their bodies into homeostasis?   I find this proposition very intriguing because, as Fred Gardner’s article, Ethan Russo reviews the evidence: Terpenoids, ‘minor’ cannabinoids contribute to ‘entourage effect’ of Cannabis-based medicines states, “[t]he aroma of a given plant depends on which terpenoids predominate.”1 Furthermore, Wikipedia states, “[t]he senses of smell and taste (gustatory system) are…referred to together as the chemosensory system…they both give the brain information about the chemical composition of objects through a process called transduction.”2 And as we know, smell and taste are also part of the fabric of our memories. In this sense, terps are kind of an interface between the physical and the experiential.  

What might account for the fact that people tend to gravitate towards one or two strains, with their attendant cannabinoid and terpine profiles, to the exclusion of others? What about the “it’s time to switch it up” feeling I sometimes get? Although I usually end up “coming home,” eventually.

LK: I absolutely agree with this. Our bodies know best, as long as we quiet our minds enough to be able to listen to its messages. In this way, our bodies can guide us to choose the best strain for a particular condition at that particular time. We see this play out in nature all the time, especially with animals, which are a lot more in tune with nature than humans. Yet in an interesting experiment I once heard of would suggest humans do this too. In this experiment, kids were put in a room with all sorts of foods and, at will, were able to choose and eat what they wanted. Researchers observed that most went for the sugary treats or salty snacks. However, there was one child who was deficient in vitamin D, and interestingly, this child didn’t for the sugary treats or salty snacks; but instead went for the cod liver oil (a source of vitamin D). This repeated over and over again until vitamin D levels rose, at which point the researchers observed the child started choosing sugary treats and salty snacks like the rest of the kids. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to overthink everything and negate our intuition. However, if we truly listened to what our bodies need, I think we’d be surprised at how much better our lives could be. Similarly, by finding the strain that talks to you through its terpene profile, cannabis patients may be able to find the strain that is best for their physiology at that particular time. This is one reason why dispensaries (where patients can smell the strain prior to purchase) make more sense than the current system of ordering online through LPs—you really lose that connection to the full cannabis experience.

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