To many of us, the word terpene conjures up snapshots of cleaning products. While natural terpenes are used as substitutes to synthetic terpenes in numerous natural cleaning products, the foremost health benefits of terpenes revolve around some splendid anticancer effects, in both prevention and potential treatment.

Terpenes are a huge and diverse group of organic compounds. They are produced by various plants, especially conifers, and some insects such as swallowtail butterflies or termites, which discharge terpenes from their osmeteria.

These compounds have a strong smell and are responsible for the aroma in plants such as rosemary, citrus, frankincense, and cannabis. These pungent odors give these plants protection against pathogens like fungus, and also against grazing animals.

Terpenes were used in the Ancient Egypt for various religions aims.

By the Middle Ages, the procedure of securing plant essential oils by fat extraction was known by both the West and China. Arnaud de Villanosa, in the 12th century, described distillation of oils from sage and rosemary. He made an "oleum mirabile" from oils of turpentine and rosemary.

Health benefits of terpenes

D-limonene and perillyl alcohol are the most extensively investigated terpenes, and in animal studies have been shown to yield ample advantages against a large number of cancers. Both of these terpenes are being analyzed in people with advanced cancers, and the initial findings are encouraging.

Cannabis plant has 200 terpenes

The cannabis plant has an amazingly intricate collection of terpenes that control each strain’s unique aroma and its effect. Many cannabis terpenes may also be found in ordinary garden flora including wild thyme and lemongrass, Myrcene in hops, Linalool in lavender, Limonene in citrus fruits, Pinene in pine resin and conifers, and β-caryophyllene in black pepper, leafy greens, and cloves.

Therapeutic Effects

Healing benefits of essential oils have been proclaimed by aromatherapists for years. And, experts say they actually effect physiological alterations in the body. Any terpene with a concentration of more than 0.5% is deemed to be of pharmacological interest and can change response or cause physiological changes. In one study, researchers exposed depressed patients to citrus aromas and observed their depression not only reduced, but 9 out of the 12 participants actually discontinued taking antidepressants.

Destroys cancer

While most of the studies on terpenes’ effect on cancer cells have taken place in preclinical studies, this doesn’t discredit the promising nature of the results. Studies have shown that limonene possesses antiproliferative, apoptosis-inducing and chemopreventive effects, meaning it blocks cancer cells from spreading, can incite cancer cells into committing suicide, and even block cancer growth. β-aryophyllene has also been found to cause cancer cell death, suppress tumor growth, and impede metastasis.

Limonene: Since the 1990s, scientists have discovered that limonene has cancer-healing properties, especially on breast, skin, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. One of the more recent studies was a research in 2014, which was published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. In lab tests, this study found 19 new limonene-based thiosemicarbazones that were exceptionally potent against 10 different cancer cell lines.

Pinene: A 2013 study was among various studies asserting pinene’s cancer healing properties. The study, conducted by Turkish scientists revealed that α-pinene possessed anti-tumor effects on neuroblastoma cells. Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer more commonly seen the adrenal glands,

Caryophyllene: In 2014, a study commissioned by India’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute found that the terpene Caryophyllene triggered apoptosis and tumor inhibition in lymphoma and in neuroblastoma cells.

Aside from its protective effects against heart disease and cancer, terpenes are also anti-bacteria nad anti-fungal. And because of their very tiny molecular structures, they are able to break the blood-brain barrier. For this reason terpene content is the foundation for powerful aromatherapy protocols.

It’s very sad that the poor shape of health in the U.S. is due to the consumption of Western Diet, which severely lacks many nutrients including terpene.

Terpenes in cannabis

The cannabis plant contains a wide range of chemicals and compounds. About 140 of these compounds belong to terpenes.


Myrcene, especially β-myrcene, is the most common terpene produced by cannabis. It has a musky, earthy, herbal aroma – similar to cloves.

Myrcene has some very important medicinal properties, including reducing the resistance across the blood and brain barrier, allowing itself and many other chemicals to cross the barrier easily and more quickly.

Myrcene is a powerful analgesic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antimutagenic. It stops the action of aflatoxin B, cytochrome and other pro-mutagenic carcinogens. A study revealed that β-myrcene inhibits gastric and duodenal ulcers. Its sedative and relaxing properties also make it an ideal candidate for the treatment of pain and insomnia.


Linalool has floral and lavender undertones. Linalool stimulate calming, relaxing effects.

For centuries, linalool has been used as a sleep aid. Linalool reduces the anxious emotions caused by pure THC, thus making it helpful in the treatment of both anxiety and psychosis. Studies also suggest that linalool can significantly reduce lung inflammation; boost the immune system; and can restore cognitive and emotional function (making it viable in the treatment of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease).

Linalool boosts the immune system by directly activating immune cells through specific receptors and/or pathways.


Camphene is a plant-derived monoterpene. It releases pungent aromas of damp woodlands and fir needles. This terpene may play a crucial role in cardiovascular disease.

A study in hyperlipidemic rats showed camphene reduces plasma cholesterol and triglycerides in these rodents. Considering the significance of hyperlipidemia’s role in heart disease, the findings of this study give us insight into how camphene might be an alternative to the available lipid lowering drugs which are known to cause intestinal problems, muscle inflammation and liver damage.

Best dietary sources of terpene

Common terpenes are limonene and citral (both in lemons), pinene (pine trees), camphor, eugenol (cloves), thymol (thyme, oregano), anethol (fennel, anise), geraniol (roses) and menthol.

Myrcene is found in citrus fruits, oil of hops, eucalyptus, bay leaves, lemon grass, wild thyme, and many other plants.

Pinene can be found in oregano, pine nuts, and peppers. Basil is an excellent source of terpene, including linalool, eugenol, cineole, myrcene, abinene, and limonene.


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