It’s harvest time in the fields and in the green houses, valleys, hills, and forests of the Northern Hemisphere. In many cultures around the world, cannabis harvesting coincides with the Fall harvest of many essential crops, vegetables, fruits, forest berries, and mushrooms. During this luscious time when everyone’s well-being depends on the dynamics of the climate, the forest’s ecosystem components co-exist symbiotically, where, for example, mushrooms and fungal mycelium promote the healthy root growth of plants and trees. Whether one is in a Baltic or a North American forest in the Fall, one cannot help but notice strong, turpentine-like smell of pine and cedar. To many, this smell is reminiscent of the Fall harvest and upcoming end of the calendar year holidays. That piney, coniferous wood smell inundating one’s nostrils is dominated by two terpenes: alpha and beta-pinene that are prominent in wood oils, like pine and cedar.
Aroma: Alpha-pinene: turpentine, cleaner. Beta-pinene: fresh, wood, turpentine.
Found In: Pines, cedar, conifers, camphorweed and big sagebrush.
Small hemi & monoterpenes like alpha and beta pinene can be referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These natural products are easily lost and flow into the air. Pinene (both alpha and beta) are monoterpenoid compounds, structurally similar to ten other VOC carbon molecules, such as limonene. When these aromas enter the nostrils, skin, or mouth, they typically linger longer than those of other molecules that have a lesser number of carbon (C) elements. When entering the woods, it is as if our bodies are surrounded and affected by flora and fauna and by the milieu of forest aromas.
Studies done in the Northern Baltic European woods in Estonia and Finland have shown that pinene can account for a majority of the total VOC emissions1. Smells of pinene are often relaxing and therapeutic. Eco-therapy and forest bathing practiced in Japan, are also proven to have real therapeutic benefits on lowering the blood pressure. Forest bathing just means being in the presence of trees and inhaling fresh air that is filled with VOCs. A study in 2011 showed that another volatile compound called phytoncide, an essential oil from cedar can decrease stress hormone levels. Folks who have spent time or worked in cannabis gardens or hemp fields also attest to the therapeutic effects of cannabis bathing. Therein lies a cannabis aroma and bathing therapy idea waiting to be commercialized.
PINENE AND CANNABIS
Pinene is one of the most commonly found terpenes in nature and makes up a component of the important chemical turpentine3. This compound is the sappy product of piney trees and can be employed as a natural solvent during the production of other chemicals. Interest in this syrupy chemical sparked research into the pharmacological ability of related compounds and even influenced the name of the class of chemicals – “terpene”.
Pinene can also be found in the essential oils of various plants such as pines, sage, eucalyptus, and rosemary. It’s existence is also widespread throughout the world of cannabis and can be found in commonly known strains such as Jack Herer, Blue Dream, and Romulan. Strains dominated with pinene are described as having a clear focus and mental alertness. However, when pinene interacts or co-occurs with other terpenes, like myrcene, it’s mentally invigorating effects can be dwarfed.
Factoid: Pinene rich pine and cedar wood sap is also a healthy chewing gum, said to promote oral and digestive health.
More Brainy Science: Pinene has a lower boiling point than THC, unlike myrcene which has a higher boiling point than THC. Recall, that cannabinoids have no smell.
CURRENT AND FUTURE THERAPEUTIC USES OF PINENE
Aside from providing cannabis and other plants protection from insects4, pinene is a highly therapeutically active compound that undoubtedly participates in the entourage effect with other cannabinoids and phytochemicals. It is often used over-the-counter to externally treat muscle, joint, nerve and tooth aches. Pinene has also shown effectiveness against the bacteria responsible for intense infections of Methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), when given with and without the cannabinoid CBD. It has also demonstrated effectiveness at reducing inflammation in humans and treating cancer as well as acne.
Pinene’s ability to improve alertness and memory may be useful in the future treatments of various psychological and neurological disorders. Pinene has an aerosol bioavailability of about 60%, meaning that a portion of pinene is absorbed into the body when given via the lungs. In the lungs, it acts as a bronchodilator so it crosses the alveolar tissue of the lungs and effectively reaches the brain. In Alzheimer’s disease, the shortage of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine causes lapses in memory and psychological clarity, leading to dementia and death. As it turns out, pinene has a mechanism by which it can increase acetylcholine in the brain. It acts as an inhibitor of the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine – cholinesterase inhibitor (CIN). Synthetic pharmaceutical CINs are the most common Alzheimer’s medications. Pinene and its inhalation should be further explored as a potential therapeutic approach for disorders of the lungs and the dementias.
Furthermore, recent findings also indicate that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD also have therapeutic effects on dementias. Thus, it will be captivating to see future scientific and clinical confirmations of the entourage effect (synergistic interactions of common cannabis terpenes and phytocannabinoids). Perhaps combinations of specific ratios of pinene, THC, and CBD may lead us to new natural neuroprotective remedies for prevention or treatment of senile dementias and other neurological disorders.
Pinene and other terpenes play profound roles in shaping the overall forest ecosystem and the Earth’s climate. Trees produce pinene and other VOCs in response to environmental stressors such as drought, insect parasitism, and microbial infections. Once produced, these compounds protect the organism in multiple ways. Pinene protects from oxidative damage during periods of high temperature or drought. Further, it also acts as a repellent for parasitizing herbivores while simultaneously acting as an attractant for creatures that predate on these parasites. Pinene also has potent anti-microbial properties that protect trees from pathogenic bacteria7. Most profoundly, however, the sheer amount of pinene produced over heavily forested areas can actually affect the climate. A study published in nature by O’Dowd and colleagues show that organic vapours released from the forest canopy contain large quantities of aerosolized pinene derivatives – cis-pinonic acid and pinic acid – and may act as nuclei for cloud condensation15.
Next time you shop for cannabis flower or piney smell cleaner, bathe yourself in the woods, or watch condensed cloud formations, remember pinene in the process. If you are not near the woods, but in the pinene rich cannabis garden, let this terpene sooth you and weave your meditative dreams, conjuring images of the woods, smells of pine cones and sap, and a harvest filled table, adorned with a bouquet of blooming cannabis flowers.
**references listed in printed version