People have been using terpenes for their scent and flavor-enhancing properties over generations, but not much research has been done regarding their other beneficial attributes, like how they affect the brain.
This infographic will help explain how various terpenes affect brain functionality. After all, a healthier brain means a happier, more productive you.
Terpenes at a Glance
Terpenes are a diverse, large group of organic compounds produced by a variety of plants. These volatile molecules have a distinct odor, making them responsible for the fragrance – including the flavor and pigment – of trees, flowers, fruits, and vegetables that contain them.
These compounds are also the primary components of essential oils in plants and have been widely used in aromatherapy for centuries. They have likewise been studied for their anti-cancer, antioxidant, and antiviral properties.
Apart from providing flavor and aroma, perhaps the other popular feature of terpenes is their ability to support other molecules in producing desired effects. When taken together with psychoactive compounds, the combination creates a more potent and enhanced effect – called the “entourage or ensemble effect.”
The idea is that psychoactive compounds combined with terpenes lead to better therapeutic benefits than the psychoactive compounds taken alone.
Scientific studies suggest that the entourage effect can dramatically increase the medicinal potentials of psychoactive compounds. This therapeutic property of terpenes arises from their ability to link with naturally occurring molecule receptors in the brain. However, experts note that further research is necessary to strengthen this finding.
Your Brain on Terpenes
Here are the common types of terpenes known to have brain-enhancing effects:
Linalool is a monoterpene that serves as a major component of essential oils in several aromatic plants. Many linalool-producing species are used in folk medicine to relieve physical symptoms. Interestingly, linalool has also been shown to have beneficial effects on the central nervous system.
In one experiment involving mice, linalool was shown to display calming effects by increasing sleeping time without significantly impairing cerebral abilities – a side effect shared by most psycholeptic drugs.
Several studies have also demonstrated that linalool reversed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice through its anti-inflammatory property. It was likewise shown that linalool inhibits the production of acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme responsible for the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This suggests that linalool might be an ideal candidate for preventing Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
This terpene is derived from essential oils in plants and smells a lot like – you got it right – pine trees. But pinene may do more than just offer flavor. Alpha-pinene, in particular, is believed to perform physiological functions.
One study suggests that alpha-pinene may induce physiological relaxation when inhaled. Upon its entry into the body, a signal is transferred from the olfactory system to the central nervous system. From there, the brain regulates anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders by secreting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
This effect was also observed in a study involving mice, where alpha-pinene was observed to reduce their anxiety. Inhalation of this compound also helped suppress the brain abnormalities present in the mice models, suggesting that it can potentially treat schizophrenia in humans.
This terpene continues to interest researchers because of its potential to relieve symptoms, including those associated with brain conditions. Not surprisingly, studies that explored its anti-inflammatory effects have shown encouraging results.
Caryophyllene works by blocking reactive oxygen species production and restoring mitochondrial functionality and antioxidant glutathione levels. This implies that caryophyllene may help enhance brain coordination and protect midbrain neurons from degeneration, thereby preventing the progression of brain-related conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Current data show that caryophyllene can be a potential alternative treatment for chronic inflammation linked to brain disorders due to its specific molecular targets and low toxicity. However, researchers emphasize that further studies are necessary to confirm this observation.
Limonene is one of the most popular terpenes being mixed with psychoactive compounds to elevate their brain-enhancing effects. It is also one of the most researched molecules because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties.
One study concluded that limonene improved spatial memory impairment in rats while performing an anti-stress function by restraining hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity. Another experiment, which involved fruit fly models, established that limonene exhibits neuroprotective activity, making it a possible therapeutic reagent for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
While current reports suggest that limonene’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease, researchers recommend that extensive clinical trials be carried out to validate such finding.
Myrcene forms the majority component of essential oils in several plants, such as hops, lemongrass, thyme, and bay. This powerful compound has been found to produce sedative and relaxant effects, reducing irritability and excitement by slowing down brain activity.
While studies on the link between myrcene and brain functionality are limited, one test that employed mice models suggests that this monoterpene may help alleviate stroke in humans. Beta-myrcene, in particular, has been shown to reduce brain damage caused by cardiac arrest. In addition, beta-myrcene treatment may help prevent brain tissue impairment, minimizing the risk of stroke.
With this development, researchers once again note that further studies and clinical trials are necessary to confirm the initial observations.
The Good Stuff for the Mind and Body
In addition to their beneficial effects on the human body, terpenes are associated with boosting emotional wellbeing and brain function. Pinene, for instance, exhibits mood-elevating properties while linalool and myrcene produce a soothing effect. Meanwhile, caryophyllene and limonene have been shown to aid in memory retention.
If you’ve ever caught a whiff of trees and felt that refreshing effect, you’ve experienced terpenes at work. The function of these impressive compounds, however, doesn’t stop with emitting an earthy forest scent. It turns out they’re also good for your brain and emotional health, elevating your mood while potentially fixing those neurons that weaken with age.
If you’d like to buy or make your own terpene products, always stick to verified authentic terpene manufacturers for the safest, best quality customer experience. Check out our top selection of terpene strains and profiles.