Terpenes are natural compounds found all around us in nature and have been commonly used as fragrances and flavors in consumer products such as perfumes, cosmetics, cleaning products, and food and beverage products for centuries.
Terpenes are extremely popular due to their potential therapeutic effects, but are they safe? By examining what we know so far, this article will help to dispel any doubts.
Why we Use Terpenes and their Potential Side Effects
Terpenes can be found all over the place in nature. Most people have been exposed to these organic compounds on a much more frequent basis than they realize, as they were used by ancient people even before the German chemist Otto Wallach was able to identify and isolate the compounds in the 17th century.
Terpenes, he realized, were made up of two or more carbon units and are chemically derived from the basic molecule isoprene, which replicates to produce terpenes.
These volatile aromatic molecules are what gives plants their distinct aroma; Terpenes give some strains a citrusy aroma, others fruity and sweet notes, and while some smell and taste like lavender, others can be more earthy and pungent. Certain strains even have a cheese-like odor. But it’s not just about the smell.
Many of the benefits we have traditionally experienced from plant medicine are now understood to be due to the action of the plant’s terpenes, which plays two critical roles in the life of every plant:
- They protect the flowers from predators.
- They produce resin.
They are a major component of resin and are widely used in the production of essential oils, making them an excellent choice for medical and beauty products. Terpenes found their way into the fragrance industry, as well as conventional and alternative medicine, in this manner. They are most used in aromatherapy, but they are also manufactured synthetically as flavors and aromas, as well as food additives.
As of today, over 20,000 terpenes have been identified, and as the extraction process evolved alongside science, their use became widespread after scientific research supported their therapeutic benefits to the mind and body.
High-quality terpenes do not only improve the taste, smell, or effects of specific foods or essential oils; isolated plant terpenes have gained recognition in recent decades for a variety of health benefits, but the question remains: how safe are terpenes?
Are Terpenes Safe?
Terpenes are organic chemicals that are produced by most plants as well as some animals and are therefore generally safe to consume because they are natural compounds found in many fruits, vegetables, and other foods that you already consume on a regular basis.
The FDA has also approved the consumption of most terpenes. However, when using pure terpenes or concentrates, it is important to consider percentages as many people are unaware that terpenes can be hazardous if not used correctly.
Terpenes, in high concentrations, can relax the blood vessel walls, resulting in hypotension (low blood pressure) and dizziness. Concentrated forms can be toxic to our cells, causing irritation, pain, inflammation, and other side effects.
Therefore, it is never a good idea to apply terpenes or essential oils directly to the skin or to ingest them orally.
Terpenes must be diluted before they can be used. Terpenes are non-toxic and safe to use in diluted form (5% or less).
Harmful Terpene Compounds
Just as Terpenes have a wide variety of commercial uses and health benefits, some natural compounds of Terpenes are toxic to humans, especially children and the elderly such as caryophyllene, limonene, pinene, and linalool.
These aromatic terpenes give colognes and perfumes their scent. They are known to provide a wide range of health benefits in low concentrations. In their pure form, however, all these terpenes can cause rhinitis or asthma attacks in people with seasonal respiratory problems, as well as contact dermatitis.
Turpentine and Pinesol, commercial cleaning solvents, are made from terpenes extracted from pine wood. These products have high levels of pinene, camphene, and terpinolene. The mucous membranes are irritated by this highly concentrated form, which causes headaches, nausea, confusion, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
Ketone terpenes may repel insect pests such as lice, but they can also irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.
Cicutoxin is a toxic terpene derived from water hemlock. This terpene interferes with the normal functioning of the brain and spinal cord. It can cause not only convulsions but also respiratory paralysis.
The daisy family produces atractyloside, a toxic terpene. While this is a medicinal herb, high doses can cause acute renal failure and acute liver damage.
Daphnetoxin is a terpene found only in the plant family Thymelaeaceae. This terpene can cause diarrhea as well as lung damage, which can lead to emphysema.
With all that said, these negative side effects can be avoided by diluting terpenes properly and taking precautions to keep them out of the eyes and mucus membranes.
Terpene Safety in a Nutshell
Terpenes work their magic whenever you slice an orange and smell that citrusy aroma emanating from the fruit. Terpenes are at work whenever campers inhale the deep, resinous scent of sap and wood. Terpenes are responsible for the distinct aroma emitted by a particular plant or animal, and since we have accessed these natural compounds and used them in our everyday lives, it is important to know their uses, medical benefits, and potential side-effects.
Terpenes, like everything else in nature, serve a practical purpose to those who consume them, and if you want to take advantage of all of Terpenes’ benefits, contact Terpenes experts like Medical Terpenes, who are dedicated to manufacturing the vitality of products using high-quality, food-grade Terpenes and continue to push the envelope in this new and exciting field.