Monday, February 16, 2015

The Purpose of Terpenes in Cannabis

Typically, terpenes are volatile molecules that evaporate easily and readily announce themselves to the nose. Therein lies the basis of aromatherapy, a popular alternative-healing modality. Like their odorless cannabinoid cousins, terpenes are oily compounds secreted in the marijuana plant’s glandular trichomes. Terpenes and THC share a biochemical precursor, geranyl pyrophosphate, which develops into the cannabinoids and terpenoids that saturate the plant’s flower tops.  

But unlike THC and the other plant cannabinoids that exist nowhere else but in marijuana, terpenes are ubiquitous throughout the natural world.  Terpenes are found in a variety of plants including flowers, vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices and other botanicals. They are volatile compounds that readily evaporate to give an aroma and taste to the plant.

The purpose of terpenes in plants is to protect itself from predators and cool the plant with it's evaporation.  The taste and smell of terpenes attract or detract animals to improve the survival of the plant. One instance is the corn plant which will emit the terpene sesquiterpene (E)-β-caryophyllene after it is attacked by caterpillars. This terpene attracts wasps that prey on the caterpillars to protect the plant from further damage from the caterpillars.(Source)

Different kinds of terpenes result in different defenses for the plant. Monoterpenes are found in flowers of the plants to attract insects. Sesquiterpenes are found on the leaves of plant to produce a bitter taste to ward off herbivore animals. They can produce a sticky resin and are secreted as oils from trichomes. (Source) Pleasant smelling terpenes attract herbivores that will eat the fruit and help spread the plants seeds. Some terepenes give the plant resistance to fugus to allow for better survival.(Source)

In the morning the terpenes are most prevalent on the plant. When the weather warms up during the day the terpenes evaporate. This evaporation causes an air flow that allows a cooling wind to the plant. This cooling allows the plant to maintain hydration. Plants will typically smell stronger in the morning when the terpenes are on the plant. The smell with be very weakens as they evaporate during the day.(Source)


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