Terpenes: Nature’s Secret Weapon for Well-Being

We all know that there are hundreds of compounds in cannabis, but people generally only talk about two: THC and CBD. Sometimes CBN makes a brief cameo, but beyond acknowledging their existence, nobody really talks about the importance of terpenes. So what is the big deal?

Have you ever lit a scented candle or gone for a walk in the woods to relax, or stood over a grill to smell the marinade? As we inhale these scents, we feel a sense of calm. We might associate the smell with a happy event, or think that it is the escape from the city that is driving this feeling. It turns out, those aromas can actually change the way our brains process information.

Terpenes themselves are anything “smelly” about a plant. Smells like citrus, roses, and a red wine’s bouquet come from the plants’ terpenes. As a sommelier, I have spent hours dissecting the smells in different wines. I have debated whether the fruits I could taste were really apples or pears, but we all know that the wines are made only from viniferous grapes (the species that makes wine), not from those fruits. We associate specific terpenes with different plants, so when they show up in the wine, we say “this tastes like berries” or something along those lines.

“Wine and weed” has always been a favourite treat for me, for reasons that are probably obvious. But it is more than just combining my passions, there are distinct similarities between the two. The role that terpenes play in each makes them more than the alcohol, THC, or CBD they contain. The terpenes build on each other, complementing and enhancing the aromatics. It is only recently that I have realized I apply the same approach to smelling cannabis as I do for wine. I open a fresh jar and inhale the fragrances of fresh mint, ripe lemons, and pine trees. I’ve come to realize that those lemon-scented strains actually keep me more alert and that the mints are soothing after a hard day. I could write for days about the benefits of each, but for today I will only elaborate on one: the smell of cloves.

For years, when making edibles and topicals, I have added cloves to my medicine. When I started making these products, the herbaceous smell of the marijuana did not always appeal to me. I used oregano to mask it initially, but ultimately, that just made everything smellier and I was just fighting to balance the dominant order. Then one day I decided to throw in some cloves instead. To my great surprise, the two fragrances completely neutralized each other. I have never seen this with any other additive I have tried, but it really works. Someone who is looking for the smell will notice the marijuana fragrance in a jar of my pills, but from across the room, nobody ever even suspects that I’m holding a handful of cannabis capsules.

I started researching this and discovered something unique about the clove terpene: it is the only terpene that actually interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. So not only was I making my medicine a whole lot more discreet by adding a fragrance I love, I was actually boosting its power with my cloves! So now, when someone is really hesitant about trying cannabis for their pain, I often suggest they start with terpenes and make themselves a good, clove-heavy ham or spice cake.

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