Terpenes, or isoprenoids are the largest and most diverse naturally occurring compounds that are mostly found in plants, but can also be found in insects and animals (1). One such plant that is composed of over 200 reported terpenes is Cannabis Sativa L. (Hemp) (2,3).
Hemp is an ancient plant that has been grown for centuries, and although cultivation decreased worldwide in the 20th century, a consequence of its psychotropic component THC, it has recently witnessed a resurgence of interest because of its diversity of uses. The terpenes in hemp contribute to the plants unique aroma, flavour, and colouration, but also serve other vital roles such as insect repellent, repellent to herbivore attack, and attractive to pollinators (2,4). Terpenes and terpenoids exist in a wide diversity of environments such as naturally in nature, in foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and illicit drugs (1,5).
The health promotion properties of hemp have been attributed to the interaction, or ‘entourage effect’ between terpenes and cannabinoids (6). Additionally, studies have shown that certain terpenes in isolation exhibit a plethora of different pharmacological properties such as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-nociceptive, anti-tumour, gastro-protective, antiseptic, antiparasitic, neuroprotective, anxiolytic, and have sedative effects (2,4).
However, to date only a very small percentage of terpenes have been investigated and the understanding of such effects and their mechanisms of action are still relatively unknown (2,4). Terpenes represent an exciting ingredient not just for pharmaceuticals, but also in the food industry as a nutraceutical. However, current legislation prevents any health claims being used in hemp derived products marketing campaigns, including terpenes derived from the plant.
Furthermore, the legislation is unlikely to change without further well-designed and robust studies investigating and validating such health claims. Hemp grown for food purposes are grown by tillage farmers in an environment exposed to the natural elements (farmed land). Therefore, it is prudent, and vital for the growth of the industry, to support research collaborations between industry and academia to further elucidate the beneficial properties of terpenes, and other constituents of the Cannabis Sativa L. plant.
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- Ferber SG, Namdar D, Hen-Shoval D, Eger G, Koltai H, Shoval G, et al. The “Entourage Effect”: Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2019;18(2):87–96.