Higher Grade’s goal with providing this education is to expand our customers' and budtenders' conversations about cannabis beyond individual flavor preferences and Sativa/Indica classifications,
to include the phytochemically rich and diverse nature of cannabis and its
connection to flavor profiles and effects.
*Please note that when discussing the effects and medicinal value of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, we usually reference studies of isolated versions of the particular phytochemical, many of which are performed on rodents or cell cultures, not humans. Higher Grade is in no way suggesting that consuming cannabis that contains any or all of the discussed phytochemicals will produce a medicinal effect or cure an illness, especially regarding anti-cancer properties. Cannabis is still federally illegal, which means research on the impact cannabis consumption has on various health issues and diseases is extremely limited.
WHAT ARE TERPENES?
Terpenes play a significant role in the way we experience cannabis. The distinct and unique aromas of cannabis that we know and love come from aromatic oils secreted in the trichomes, called terpenes. Terpenes exist in many kinds of plants beyond cannabis and a few types of insects. In plants, terpenes have an important evolutionary function, as these aroma-heavy oils developed over time to ward off herbivores, attract predator insects that feed on a plant’s “enemies,” and attract pollinators.
Cannabis plants produce well over 100 different terpenes in varying concentrations and combinations. The terpene content and concentration of a cannabis plant will vary depending on the location on the plant where it’s synthesized. Exposure to light, moisture, and temperature changes also affect terpene content and concentration during the growth cycle, harvest, and processing. When you observe a strong aroma upon opening a jar of flower, it’s the terpenes rapidly escaping into the air. Terpenes dissipate very quickly and are the first molecules to vaporize when heat is applied to cannabis.
Terpenes are very pharmacologically active and interact with our lipids, cell membranes and membrane receptors, ion channels, neurotransmitter receptors, second messenger systems, and enzymes. Upon consumption, terpenes are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream through our fat cells, some even permeating the blood-brain barrier through inhalation. While there are over 100 terpenes produced in cannabis, only a few show up consistently in our terpene content test results. The predominant terpenes found in Higher Grade's flower are:
The terpene Pinene is the most widely found terpene in nature and provides robust, fresh, piney, woody aromas characteristic of pine trees and their needles. Other than pine trees, needles, and cones, Pinene is found naturally in dill, rosemary, parsley, cedar, basil, turpentine, tee tree oil, and eucalyptus. There are two types of Pinene, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, and we test and provide results for both. The main difference relevant to this conversation between these two terpenes is their aroma: Alpha-pinene is fresh and earthy like pine and rosemary, and Beta-pinene is fresh, woody, and spicy like dill and basil. Both can have similar effects on the body.
Pinene is a known bronchodilator and expectorant, which means it can ease breathing by opening or clearing the airways when inhaled. Cannabis strains high in Pinene could potentially be more tolerable for those with lung issues. Pinene has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body through multiple pathways. It is very active with our prostaglandin receptors involved in inflammation, blood flow, formation of blood clots, labor induction, and contractions. Pinene is very active in the brain, increasing mental alertness, clarity, and overall cognitive function.
It has the potential to be a memory aid and neuroprotectant. The mechanism behind Pinene’s ability to improve cognitive function and memory is its ability to block the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, thus allowing for greater concentrations of the neurotransmitter in the brain. Pinene can mitigate the psychoactive effects of THC, helping to produce a high that is clear and alert, not sleepy and sedative. Current scientific studies are exploring Pinene as a potential treatment for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
Pinene has intense activity against MRSA and other bacteria, viruses, and microbes. It's a powerful antioxidant and active against multiple types of cancer. Strains with higher levels of Pinene often have landrace Sativa strains somewhere in their lineage.
Flavor: pine, fresh, woody, herbal, earthy, dill, cedar, basil
Feelings: mental alertness, mental clarity, creativity, inspired
Therapeutic value: increase cognitive function, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotectant, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anticancer
Myrcene is found in most modern cannabis strains, though not always in large concentrations. It's the terpene responsible for the distinct “skunky” and earthy aroma that most people associate with cannabis. Myrcene also carries sweet, musky scents, like sour dairy and overripe fruit. High concentrations of Myrcene are in hops, a genetically similar cousin of cannabis that provides the bitter, earthy aroma in beer. Lemongrass, thyme, bay leaves, basil, and mangoes all have significant levels of Myrcene. Anecdotal accounts of eating mangoes before cannabis consumption claim it intensifies the high. The boost in psychoactive effect is most likely due to Myrcene’s ability to increase blood-brain barrier permeability, allowing for more rapid absorption of THC. Therefore, when cannabis strains contain high levels of Myrcene, it will potentiate or enhance the psychoactive effects of THC.
Myrcene is a highly sedative or tranquilizing terpene, making it a helpful sleep aid. The “couch-lock” feeling traditionally associated with smoking Indica strains is now connected to the presence of high levels of Myrcene. Studies of Myrcene show that it can target inflammation, like Pinene, through its activity with our prostaglandin pathways and act as a muscle relaxer. In addition, limited studies show it can act as an antibiotic, antimutagenic, antioxidant, and anticancer agent. While most strains contain some amount of Myrcene, those with the highest concentrations tend to have Landrace Indica varieties in their lineage.
Flavor: Earthy, skunky, musky, ripe fruit, lemongrass
Feelings: sedative, mildly psychoactive, increased high
Therapeutic value: sleep aid, antibiotic, antioxidant, anticancer agent
Beta-Caryophyllene or Caryophyllene is naturally present in many herbs and spices like black pepper, basil, and oregano and provides spicy, warm, peppery aromas similar to cinnamon and cloves. Caryophyllene is the primary aromatic element of copaiba balsam, an essential oil traditionally used in South America as an oral and topical anti-inflammatory. Caryophyllene forms strong bonds at our CB2 receptors in our Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
It is the only terpene known to demonstrate this type of bonding relationship with endocannabinoid receptors, which is the mechanism behind
Caryophyllene's ability to relieve anxiety, depression, pain, and inflammation symptoms. Bonding with our CB2 receptors also allows Caryophyllene to serve as a gastroprotective agent, protecting the mucus layer in the stomach without affecting stomach acid production. In addition, Caryophyllene can have a neuroprotective effect against nervous system disorders, such as alcoholism and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown Caryophyllene to be an antihistamine as well as an anti-malarial. Caryophyllene can act as an anti-cancer agent by increasing the effectiveness of other cancer-fighting medicines, inhibiting the proliferation of cancerous cells, and encouraging cancer cell death. Because of its powerful and direct activity with our ECS, Caryophyllene is a very medicinal terpene with great therapeutic value.
Flavor: spicy, peppery, warming, cinnamon, clove
Feelings: soothing to the mind and body
Therapeutic Value: Direct activity with ECS, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antianxiety, gastric relief, neuroprotectant, antihistamine, anti-malarial, anti-cancer agent
Limonene is the terpene responsible for the intense citrus elements in the aroma of many cannabis strains. It's found in the rinds of lemons, limes, grapefruits, oranges, and juniper, and mint. Limonene is highly bio-available, meaning rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Because of its bioavailability, Limonene quickly stimulates the olfactory system and has direct cellular action. Many of the citrusy essential oils, known to lift the mood upon inhalation, contain Limonene as their primary element. Studies show Limonene can relieve stress and depression and reduce OCD-related behaviors via oral ingestion and inhalation.
The presence of Limonene has a direct effect on serotonin and dopamine levels in the body, which may account for its powerful impact on mood levels. Limonene has robust free-radical scavenging properties and is considered an antioxidant. It is beneficial in treating stomach issues, as it neutralizes gastric acid, supports normal digestive function, and treats heartburn and acid reflux. Limonene's anti-cancer properties have been observed in multiple scenarios. Limonene can block the carcinogenesis induced by the tar created from smoking cannabis.
Other studies demonstrate Limonene can cause apoptosis or cell death of breast cancer cells. Studies of Limonene show it can offer protection from different types of cancer like lung, liver, colon, pancreas, and skin. Limonene is widely known to be antifungal and antibacterial, explaining why citrus-rich essential oils are common in cleaning products.
Flavor: zesty citrus, fresh, diesel fuel, juniper
Feelings: mood uplifting, energizing, depression relief
Therapeutic value: highly bio-available, stress relief, antidepressant, antioxidant, digestive aid, relieve heartburn, anti-cancer, antibacterial, antifungal
Linalool is a floral terpene found naturally in flowers like lavender and rose and herbs like basil and coriander. It is the main component of lavender essential oil, used as a calming agent in aromatherapy and a healing agent in wound treatment. In lab tests of over 40 different terpenes, Linalool proved to be the most sedative upon inhalation, also providing relief from ailments like stress, anxiety, and depression when inhaled. In addition, anecdotal accounts claim diffusing lavender oil into the air while smoking cannabis can increase the calming and soothing effects of the herb.
Linalool is active against pain by targeting inflammation, desensitizing pain perception, and acting as a local anesthetic. In addition, Linalool can reduce seizures and convulsions by calming the nervous system. The mechanism behind Linalool’s ability to offer relief from stress, sleeplessness, pain, and convulsions is the regulation of our glutamate and GABA neurotransmitter systems. Glutamate is the most critical of all the neurotransmitters for healthy brain function, and it is an excitatory neuron meaning it encourages nerve impulse firing. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it discourages the firing of nerve impulses, thereby decreasing brain activity, allowing for relaxation.
Linalool is a neuroprotective antioxidant. It can protect neurons, preserve mitochondrial function, and regulate the toxicity that leads to neurogenerative disorders like MS, Alzheimer’s, OCD, and depression.
Linalool is useful for topical wound treatment because of its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to discourage scar tissue formation. In terms of its anti-cancer activity, Linalool can positively aid in fighting against colon cancer, Leukemia, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer.
Flavor: floral, spicy, wood, French lavender, bergamot oil, light citrus, sweet, tropical
Feelings: sedative, soothing, calming, relaxing
Therapeutic Value: relief from stress, anxiety relief, antidepressant, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, reduction of seizures and convulsions, topical wound treatment, anti-cancer
Humulene is a close chemical cousin of Caryophyllene, differing in molecular structure. It is the characteristic terpene in hops and is also naturally found in sage, balsam fir trees, coriander, ginseng, and ginger. In cannabis, Humulene often takes a backseat to the aromas of other terpenes, offering a more subtle earthy, herbal, gingery, and floral scent. Our third-party terpene testing shows, if a strain has significant levels of Humulene, it almost always has high levels of Caryophyllene. Even though they are chemically related, Humulene does not have activity at our CB2 receptors like Caryophyllene. Despite the lack of CB2 activity, Humulene targets inflammation topically and internally. Additionally, Humulene can reduce inflammation and swelling characteristic of histamine (allergic) reaction. Humulene can act as a pain reliever orally, topically, and via inhalation. Its cancer-fighting power lies in Humulene’s ability to aid in the damage and death of cancer cells.
Significant evidence suggests that the presence of Caryophyllene potentiates Humulene's anti-cancer effects. Many anecdotal accounts of Humulene acting as an anorectic or appetite suppressing agent suggest it can aid weight loss. The loss in hunger probably has a connection to the terpene’s ability to lower blood sugar levels. There is a need for more research concerning Humulene and its effect on appetite. Humulene is antibacterial and antifungal when applied topically. Additionally, it is a natural insecticide, with studies showing it to be toxic to the eggs of several known Malaria carrying mosquitos
Flavor: herbal, earthy, floral, ginger
Feelings: soothing to the body, loss in appetite
Therapeutic Value: pain relief, anti-inflammatory, weight loss aid, antihistamine, anti-cancer, topical antibacterial and antifungal, insecticide
Bisabolol is a floral forward terpene with an aroma like chamomile, its most closely connected plant. Its scent is delicate and sweet, with hints of citrus, spice, and apple. Additionally, much like chamomile, Bisabolol can relieve and soothe anxiety, insomnia, and depression. For years Bisabolol has been used in the cosmetic industry for its skin healing properties. It is beneficial in topicals, as it helps other solutions penetrate the skin, making the topical product more effective. Also, when applied topically, Bisabolol has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. When taken orally, it can act as an antiparasitic and actively aid in healthy kidney function. Bisabolol is present in small amounts in most of our strains but is very pronounced in our Papaya Punch.
Flavor: sweet, delicate, apple, citrus, spice
Feelings: soothing, calming, relaxing
Therapeutic Value: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, increased skin permeability, antiparasitic, kidney health
Flavonoids account for roughly 10% of the biological compounds found in the trichomes. Around 20 varieties exist in cannabis, with thousands more found in fruits, vegetables, and flowers. In all plants, the primary evolutionary function of flavonoids is to provide the colors or pigments that attract pollinators. Specifically, flavonoids provide non-green pigments, like the bright yellow, red, and blue hues we see in many flowers, leaves, fruits, and vegetables. Beyond attracting pollinators, flavonoids capture specific wavelengths of light, blocking free-radical formation. As a result, flavonoids offer plants protection from intense UV rays, pests, and disease and help regulate cellular cycles. A plant’s flavonoid content depends on genetics, growing conditions, light cycle, and temperature. Unfortunately, flavonoid testing for our cannabis is not currently available with local labs, so we are uncertain of the flavonoid content of our flower. Nevertheless, we discuss a few common flavonoids found in cannabis below.
In cannabis, flavonoids provide character in terms of color, flavor, and aroma. They also have known pharmacological or medicinal values. Of the 20 flavonoids identified in cannabis, some are exclusive to the plant and are referred to as cannaflavins. Research shows Cannaflavins A, B, and C provide a potent anti-inflammatory effect, with some tests showing cannaflavins can offer more pain relief than aspirin.
The deep purple colors found in many cannabis strains are due to flavonoids known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are present all over the plant but only produce visible purple, blue or red hues in areas of higher concentrations. Anthocyanins have pro-cognitive characteristics like improving memory and thought-processing speed. In addition, they are anti-inflammatory and pass easily through the blood-brain barrier.
Vitexin is not unique to cannabis and naturally occurs in other plants like passionflower, chasteberry, and bamboo leaves. Seedlings and young plants have higher concentrations. Medicinally it's used to treat gout, a form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. Additionally, Vitexin prevents the production of thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme involved in thyroid hormone production. By doing so, Vitexin can help treat hyperthyroidism which is an over-production of thyroid hormone.
Apigenin occurs in parsley, rutabagas, and celery, and like many cannabinoids and terpenes, acts on the GABA receptors in the body. This action can have a sedative and anti-anxiety effect. Apigenin is the primary anti-anxiety agent in chamomile. In addition, studies show it decreases the side effects of immunosuppressant drugs given during an organ transplant that prevent organ rejection. Research shows Apigenin has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties as well. Like many flavonoids, Apigenin is active on estrogen receptors, and several studies have shown it to inhibit breast cancer growth.
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in nearly all vascular plants. Quercetin inhibits viral enzymes making it a potent anti-viral, and additionally, it's antifungal and antimutagenic. Also, it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent by inhibiting prostaglandin production. Current research on Quercetin shows the flavonoid might be used in future treatment protocols for fibromyalgia. Like other flavonoids, Quercetin has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
Orientin is a flavonoid common in cannabis and tea plants, and it is the most commonly extracted flavonoid from plants. Comprehensive studies of Orientin show it is a potent antioxidant, free-radical scavenger, and powerful inhibitor of cancer cell growth. Research also indicates Orientin can be anti-aging, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, a vasodilator, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, an antidepressant agent, a potent pain reliever, and prevent the formation of fat cells.
Cannabis contains hundreds of molecules that can directly affect our minds and bodies. Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids interact with different cells and receptors, influencing our experience with cannabis. These phytochemicals share similarities in therapeutic value and how we perceive cannabis through our senses. Many similarities suggest that these phytochemicals may interact or have synergy with each other. Well-known cannabis researcher Dr. John McPartland has stated that “cannabis is polypharmaceutical,” meaning diversely medicinal, and the “synergy arises from interactions between its multiple components.”
Additionally, Dr. Russo, a neurologist who has long studied cannabis and its chemical compounds, explains that both cannabinoids and terpenes increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, kill respiratory pathogens, as well as influence each other’s mechanisms—suggesting synergy between the two in treating pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, and fungal and bacterial infections.
Popular terms associated with phytochemical synergy are “entourage effect” and “ensemble effect.” “Entourage Effect” was the first term coined to describe the relationship between the phytochemicals and their combined effect on the body. The word entourage suggests one component, THC, is the main attraction, while the others are there to support. The term “ensemble effect” has recently become popularized as it suggests that all of the phytochemicals share equal importance in our experience with cannabis.
Most research on the hundreds of chemical compounds found in cannabis has been studies of individual isolated cannabinoids, terpenes, or flavonoids. Most we know of cannabis’s powerful phytochemicals is the result of studying them in isolation; however, we rarely consume a cannabinoid, terpene, or flavonoid alone. It is much more common to consume multiple phytochemicals at once.
Studies are limited, but synergistic relationships are observed between cannabinoids and terpenes in different combinations.
+ Pinene counteracts the memory loss and compromised cognition associated with high levels of THC
+ Pinene, Myrcene, and Caryophyllene together calm anxiety
+ CBD reduces anxiousness related to consuming high levels of THC
+ THC combined with CBD can be strongly sedative
+ Linalool, Limonene, with CBG is showing promise as a treatment for MRSA
+ Linalool & Limonene enhance the effects of CBD
+ Combination of Limonene, Linalool, CBD studied as a treatment for acne
+ Linalool, Myrcene, and Pinene combined potentiate the effect of sedative cannabinoids showing promise as a sleep aid
+ Caryophyllene, Myrcene, and Pinene combined have value in addiction treatment
+ Myrcene reduces blood-brain barrier resistance, easing the transport of cannabinoids and flavonoids
+ THC combined with CBD and CBC is a powerful antidepressant
Our intent in providing this information is to introduce and support a more holistic view of cannabis consumption and aid our customers in selecting cannabis strains and products that will fulfill their particular needs and desires.
Learn about the history of cannabis as well as the science behind cannabinoids, terpenes, flavinoids and more!
Immersive Cannabis Experience
Get immersed in education related to cannabis & terpenes and make an informed decision on the strains you consume.