Cannabis Terpenes, Part 1: What’s Alpha-Pinene and How Does It Work?

You've probably heard of terpenes as part of your research into medical cannabis, but many people are still unsure what, exactly, they are. Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of every plant and flower. They’re even found in some insects. They have a long history, first used by the Ancient Egyptians for religious reasons. It wasn’t until recent years that terpenes blew up in the medical community, with respect to a specific plant: cannabis.

A decade ago, growers and consumers judged cannabis strains only by their THC content. But something wasn’t adding up. How could one strain benefit a medical condition more than other strains with similar THC content? Now we know it’s because of the “entourage effect.” THC (and other cannabinoids, like CBD) don’t actually operate in isolation – they work best in synergy with other cannabis compounds such as terpenes.

Terpenes are well-known for giving each cannabis strain its unique smell and flavor profile. But they also have the power to enhance or even hinder the effects of the cannabinoids responsible for medical relief.

The thing is, there are hundreds of terpenes. Only a relative few offer significant medical benefits, but how do you know which offers what?

In the first of a six-part series on terpenes you should know, we’ll explore the most common: alpha-pinene.

What Is Alpha-Pinene?

Alpha-pinene (sometimes referred to just as pinene or written α-pinene) is a colorless, organic oil with a fresh, earthy scent reminiscent of – you guessed it – a pine forest. In fact, it’s the very same terpene that gives evergreen trees their smell. You’ll also find alpha-pinene in parsley, dill, basil, rosemary, and some varieties of citrus.

The most widely encountered terpene in nature, alpha-pinene is also one of the most common found in cannabis and by all accounts one of the most powerful.

What Does Alpha-Pinene Treat?

Like its sibling, beta-pinene, alpha-pinene is most famous for its anti-inflammatory benefits. These are helpful for diseases like arthritis, Crohn’s, and multiple sclerosis.

As far as other conditions go:

  • Working in synergy with THC, alpha-pinene acts as a bronchodilator, opening up airways at low exposure levels to help conditions like asthma.
  • Working with CBD and CBN, it has a broad spectrum of antibiotic properties, which work against diseases like MRSA.
  • Alpha-pinene can also counteract unwanted effects of THC, such as anxiety and short-term memory. It works by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase activity in the brain, which helps you retain memories more efficiently.
  • Other benefits include euphoria, increased alertness, reduced oil production in oily skin, and most excitingly, anti-cancer properties. Studies suggest alpha-pinene can stop tumor growth and supplement chemotherapy treatments.

With all its forces against inflammation, pain, memory and respiratory problems, bacteria, viruses, and tumors, there’s no doubt alpha-pinene packs a medical punch.

Popular Strains (and What You Should Know Before Buying)

Look out for pinene-rich strains like:

  • Jack Herer: One of the most prolific sources of alpha-pinene and known for boosting focus, mood, and appetite.
  • Blue Dream: For mellow euphoria and a dash of creative energy. Don’t be fooled by its pungent blueberry aroma; the pinene isn’t as easy to detect, but it’s there in abundance.
  • OG Kush: A hybrid with a distinctive lemon-pine aroma. This strain also includes terpenes like myrcene (relaxing) and limonene (mood-enhancing).

And flowers aren’t the only option. You can also consume alpha-pinene through many varieties of essential oils, which can be ingested, absorbed through the skin, or diffused and inhaled as part of aromatherapy.

Note that alpha-pinene’s effects are influenced by other terpenes as well as cannabinoids. OG Kush is a prime example. Combined with a sedating terpene like myrcene, alpha-pinene may not promote alertness as strongly as usual. It’s always important to consider the entire chemical composition of a strain when looking for specific effects – and the only way to know for sure is through lab-tested products.

As it happens, we’re covering myrcene in the next part of our series. Stay tuned!

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