I have been working in the field of applied terpene sciences since 1998. My journey in terpenes began rather accidentally due to my deep friendship with a German Shepard named Lefty. Lefty was in good health his entire life but as he entered his sixth year, he started eating less. That quickly turned into lethargy and finally, within a couple days, into discomfort with him even lying quietly on the floor. I lived on a large farm and had many racehorses that necessitated my having a full-time veterinarian on staff on the property. When I asked him to pull some blood work on Lefty, a shocking result came back – melanoma. A quick exam found a significant operable melanoma hidden in his fur, in a spot not generally able to be seen. The operation went smoothly, and the prognosis was good; however, Lefty never healed properly. Despite constant attention, an infection developed at the site of the incision and day by day Lefty went downhill. The vet tried a variety of treatments to eliminate the chronic infection, but further tests showed the infection to be life threatening. To make matters worse, the operation apparently did not catch the cancer, as it had spread. The vet recommended that I immediately euthanize Lefty as a humane way to deal with his progressive incurable health problems. Since Lefty wasn’t in appreciable pain; I decided to go outside the common therapeutic drugs given to people and dogs (they didn’t differ too much) and try terpenes. I had studied terpene sciences for some time, utilizing textbooks and journal articles, believing terpenes had huge unknown significance for lifestyle and health. At that point, I had no real-world experience with terpenes, nor had I ever extracted a terpene.
Since most of Lefty’s problems stemmed from the spot of the incision, I decided on a three-way treatment protocol. First, I bathed the infection site twice daily, now a 4-inch diameter red, festering hole down to his bone and soaked his bandages in the terpene mixture. Second, I fed him a terpene infused liquid by syringe, twice daily. Finally, I modified an ultrasonic nebulizer I used on horses to fit Lefty and let him breath specific terpene vapors for 20 minutes twice daily. There was no change in him for 48 hours but by the third day, I began to see solid evidence of healing at the infection site. A few days later, Lefty’s appetite returned a little and he began eating a small amount of solid food. By day 12, Lefty was up and walking gingerly but eating more and more. By Day 16 the infection site was totally clear, and Lefty was walking down to the barns to check on the horses. Day 22 I had to begin restraining my previously terminal friend as he wanted to run and jump and be every bit the farm dog I had come to rely on. By Day 30 the infection site had totally healed and there was no sign of cancer in his post treatment workup. He had a pretty nasty scar, but it looked old, like it could have been from an injury that occurred when he was a pup! He had no pain, no mobility problems and he gained back the body mass he lost while ill. Lefty led a happy, illness free life until his heart failed from old age at 12.
Let me repeat the time frame for emphasis. Thirty Days!
More than anything, I was then sold totally on the power of terpenes as Lefty had accomplished his recovery through the application of one single terpene – beta elemene. In nature, beta elemene can be found in many citrus fruits, celery, mint, as well as in dozens of other plants and herbs. I extracted it from Curcuma Wenyujin, which is a fancy name for the common Ginger Root. Imagine, had I not thought to extract elemene to keep Lefty alive and return him to full health, then I would have passed by the Ginger Root every trip to the grocery stores with his answer literally within arm’s reach. Some of you may say, so what, Lefty was just a dog. I don’t want to hear that since I loved Lefty for his tireless loyalty, companionship to me and his work ethic. Still, so what, right? Let me tell you so what! Two years later I was woken up out of a deep sleep by Lefty barking like mad. He was bringing down the house; something not typical for him. A quick look revealed a fire on my outside patio/porch started in a light fixture attached to my home. By the time I got to it, my home sustained some significant external damage in the back, some smoke damage inside but no one was injured or died, including my little daughter who was sleeping near the epicenter of the fire. Would a fire alarm have sounded eventually after the fire swept into my home? Sure. But who knows the outcome then? The fact I saved Lefty with terpenes and later Lefty could have very well saved my daughter and perhaps me as well. Keep that full circle in mind for a few moments while I continue to write.
Following this, I spent half my days in applied research into terpenes, learned a lot, formulated the world’s best-selling weight loss product in history using terpenes, and finally super charged my knowledge of nature’s terpenes when cannabis suddenly made terpenes understandable and cool.
Fast forward to a couple months ago when a friend connected me on the phone with a man he knew with cancer. The man’s name is Tyler Watts and he has happily allowed me to tell his story. He had been diagnosed in January 2019 with melanoma and had surgery on his neck to remove it. For whatever reason, the incision would not heal, and a chronic infection resulted leaving him with a baseball sized hole in his neck right down to the bone. Coincidentally, the cancer had spread to his lymph and lungs and his prognosis was downgraded to one no person should ever hear. The oncologists basically released him from treatment to go the final yard on his own in a more compassionate manner. Does that story sound familiar?
On March 26th, Tyler received some terpene infused hemp products, specially manufactured for his problem. Thirty days later, my phone rang, and Tyler announced he had just left the oncologist’s office in the hospital and he was cancer free! The infected, gaping hole in the side of his neck and head had turned into a scar inside the first week! You guessed it; the scar while obvious due to its size, looked as if it could have been there from his youth. A couple weeks later Tyler and his family came to meet me in person and speaking with his lovely wife and watching them interact as a happy family with their incredibly energetic 4 year old son and amazing, bright one year old baby daughter; it changed something inside me. That family is now my family forever and the feeling is mutual.
Recall a moment ago about terpenes saving Lefty and Lefty perhaps saving my daughter and myself? Well, the terpene affected the receptors on the cell which improved the individual cells in the muscles and organs, and yes, the skin. The skin is an organ. The organs affected Tyler’s overall health. Tyler’s health affected the health and happiness of his family. His family affected me deeply and now we all share a mission to teach the world about cannabinoids and terpenes. Talk about the butterfly effect! To improve on that analogy, the butterfly would have never been flapping its wings, if it hadn’t been attracted to the terpenes in a plant!
Terpenes and the science of olfaction that underlies how terpenes work is wondrous and complex. Nobel Prizes have been granted for olfaction research and scientists have made a life study of it. Scientific textbooks have been written on terpenes as well as countless scientific Journal articles. You may not have the time or inclination to dig in at that level, yet there is no reason that you should not be able to learn about the applied science and benefits of terpenes so that you can bring that knowledge to your cells, organs, person, family and community.
Since terpenes and olfaction are so complex, we thought a simple microblog on terpenes would be the best education method for you to learn and benefit. One small bite at a time, is the accepted way to eat an elephant – metaphorically speaking - since we’d never want to harm an elephant!
If we do our job correctly as educators, this simple method will result in the graduation of a group of real terpene and olfaction masters. Enjoy the ride on the terpene train…it will be an unforgettable journey. A bright teacher once told me that true education was not what you could remember but what you were unable to forget. You are about to become living, breathing examples of just that!
I am not saying that terpenes are the cure for cancer. That is irresponsible. I am simply telling you a couple of many true stories I have seen. Nor am I saying terpenes fix everybody, with everything, all the time. I am simply telling you that no matter what your goals, it is wise to see if terpenes can help you obtain them as the correct terpenes have very interesting effects for many people, many times.
No one can form an opinion without facts though, so using a brilliant new educational technique, let see how much we can discover about terpenes using a simple microblog.
Terpenes and Olfaction
Where did the word terpene originate from?
The word terpene originated from the word turpentine. Turpentine is a sap like resin or balsam which flows out after cutting or carving the bark and the new wood of several pine tree species (Pinaceae). The hydrocarbons that create that pine scent were originally referred to as terpenes.
What is a hydrocarbon?
A hydrocarbon is simply a molecule in nature that is composed of only carbon and hydrogen atoms. Many things in nature, especially the plant world, are hydrocarbons. Terpenes are one specific subset of hydrocarbons.
Terpenes are more than just pine resin
Every natural compound built from isoprene subunits, and for the most part originating from plants, are denoted as terpenes. There are over 50,000 terpenes in nature, including over 140 in cannabis.
What is an isoprene subunit?
Isoprene subunits are organic compounds, liquid in nature, common to plants.
A simple definition of atoms, elements, molecules and compounds
A molecule is formed when two or more atoms of an element chemically join each other. If the types of atoms are different from each other, a compound is formed.
More specific information about the origin of terpenes
Flowers, plants, bushes and trees including but not limited to fruits, vegetables, conifers, eucalyptus, lavender, coriander, caraway, lemon grass, lilies, carnations, roses, rosemary, sage, mint, thyme, violets and many other plants or plant parts (roots, rhizomes, stems, leaves, blossoms, fruits, seed) are known to smell pleasantly, to taste spicy, or to exhibit specific pharmacological activities. Terpenes create those specific, different effects.
How do you remove terpenes from plants?
There are many extraction methods that can be employed to isolate and remove terpenes from plants; however, steam distillation is the most common. These extracts and steam distillates, known as essential oils, are used commonly to create fine perfumes, to refine the flavor and the aroma of food and drinks and to produce medicines of plant origin.
What is the difference between an essential oil and a terpene?
Essential oils are volatile aromatic compounds that exist in individual plants that create the fragrance of the plant. Terpenes are the various, individual aromatic molecules that combine together to create an essential oil.
Can you provide an analogy for the relationship between essential oils and terpenes?
In the world of desserts, you can think of an essential oil as the apple pie and the terpenes as the apples, sugar, flour, etc. that collective come together to make an apple pie.
How many terpenes are there?
There are over 200 terpenes present in hemp while there are over 50,000 additional, different terpenes that exist in the natural plant world. There are more terpenes discovered in hemp and outside in nature as time marches on.
How do terpenes play into the science of olfaction?
The science of Olfaction has proven that terpenes have powerful effects in activating various receptor groups in the brain and body, controlling a variety of physiological and psychological events. For example, the inhalation of specific terpene blends can quickly create a calm, relaxed mental state while a different terpene set can create an aroused, highly energetic mind state.
How are terpenes extracted?
Terpenes are currently extracted using carbon dioxide (CO2), alcohol, butane or propane as well as other methods such as precise steam distillation.
Terpene uses in the plant world
Many plants produce terpenes in order to attract specific insects for pollination. Terpenes can also repel hungry animals and discourage such predators from eating them. Finally, terpenes play an important role as signaling compounds and growth regulators for plant metabolism.
Terpene uses in the insect world
Many insects metabolize the terpenes that they receive from plants to create growth hormones and pheromones which in turn help them navigate their world. Also, harmless to the environment, terpenes can replace toxic insecticides to trap damaging insects like dark beetles.
What is a pheromone?
Pheromones are scent based luring and signal compounds that insects and other organisms secrete in order to communicate with others like them, i.e. to warn (alarm pheromones), to mark food resources and their location (trace pheromones), as well of assembly places (aggregation pheromones), and to attract sexual partners for copulation (sexual pheromones).
The Isoprene Rule guides terpene structure
Terpene’s basic structure follows a general principle; that being, isoprene units build up the carbon skeleton of terpenes. Therefore, terpenes are also denoted as isoprenoids. In nature, terpenes occur predominantly as hydrocarbons, alcohols and their glycosides, ethers, aldehydes, ketones, carboxylic acids and esters.
Different categories of terpenes
Depending on the number of isoprene subunits terpenes may be hemiterpenes (C5), monoterpenes (C10), sesquiterpenes (C15), diterpenes (C20), sesterterpenes (C25), triterpenes (C30), tetraterpenes (C40) and polyterpenes (C5)n with n > 8.
For many there is something about the simple aroma of cannabis that helps soothe the body and relax the mind. Whether it’s a sweet fruity aroma of Cherry Pie or the skunky smell of Sour Diesel, we know there is something special going on behind those smells. That secret world is the world of terpenes.
What is the main function of terpenes in cannabis?
Cannabis terpenes are secreted in the same glands that make cannabinoids such as CBD or THC. It is the terpenes that play the key role in differentiating the individual, varied effects of different cannabis strains.
Are the terpenes in a specific plant identical to other plants in the same family, genus and species?
No. The presence and ratio of terpenes from plant to plant even within the same family, genus and species are dependent on many factors, including general climate, specific weather variables, shade, soil compensation, fertilizers, soil type, maturation, etc.
When a plant is harvested, are the terpenes present always protected through extraction and manufacturing?
No, terpenes are exceedingly fragile molecules that disappear during processing or manufacturing steps which employ moderate to high heat or pressure.
Besides targeted stimulus response olfaction, do terpenes do other things?
While the diverse set of terpenes available to create physical, emotional and behavioral change is impressive, arguably the most interesting characteristic of terpenes is their ability to interact synergistically with other compounds in the plant, like cannabinoids in cannabis. In other words, using the proper terpene combinations can further enhance both the medicinal and behavioral aspects of cannabis.
Are terpenes legal everywhere?
Yes, they are. While cannabis is gaining popularity at breakneck speeds, it remains illegal in much of the world. Terpenes, however, have the benefit of being prevalent in all of nature so anyone canmanufacture and sell terpene infused products without any legal limitations or hassles.
Are terpenes safe?
Yes, absolutely. The FDA as well as other international health regulatory agencies have given terpenes their highest safety rating possible for use in foods, supplements or inhalation type products. In the US, that designation is called GRAS which stands for generally regarded as safe.
Are terpenes and terpenoids different?
The words terpene and terpenoid are often used interchangeably, although these terms technically/scientifically have different meanings. The main difference between terpenes and terpenoids is that terpenes are hydrocarbons (meaning the only elements present are carbon and hydrogen); whereas, terpenoids have been disorganized (denatured) by oxidation (drying and curing the flowers) or chemically modified.
Where do you find terpenes most often in the retail world?
Although terpenes are becoming the hottest topic in cannabis conversations as they dictate the varied effects of different strains of cannabis, today, terpenes are most often used in the world of flavorings and fragrances.