What are terpenes?


Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants and animals, as explained in this video.

The biochemistry of smell

Terpenes are lipid structures produced by the resins of a great number of plants.
They are a huge family. In fact, Each plant smell that comes to your mind, from cardamom to sweet lavander, from roses to fenugreek…it’s a terpene. And the same is valid for the cannabis plant; In fact are terpenes, not cannabinoids, to give the aroma to each and every cannabis variety.

The basic structure of each terpene is the same: an isoprene group. Depending from how many isoprenes, and how they bind, totally different terpenes are produced.
From some of the simplest biochemical structures, we enjoy the fragrance of limonene from citrusy fruits, the bitter of humulene from hops in beer, and the spicy of peppery caryophyllene.

Make sure to read more on the anti-inflammatory & analgesic properties of caryophyllene & the profound neuro-endocrine effects of limonene, a terpene with anxiolytic & antidepressant actions.

But isoprenes can form even more complex terpenes structures, such as lycopene & carotene, which give the colour to grapefruits, carrots & tomatoes.

Terpenes are produced by plants for many purposes, but mainly as a protection mechanism against pathogens, UV & free radicals.

Therefore, most of the antioxidants that we intake daily are terpenes.

antitumoral gelato - Petr Chutný

Chocolate chili gelato
Lens: Petr Chutný

Terpenes & food

Check out this hummous recipe for a great use of  allicin, a defence molecule that is produced after damage to the plant tissue of garlic, that makes it an effective natural antibiotic & antihypertensive food (aiding to lower blood pressure).

Here you can browse a spices tea particularly useful for terpenes that make it a natural insulin sensitizer, great for digestion after a large meal or for diabetic people.

Or why not indulging in the fragrance of terpenes of chilli peppers? Capsaicin, together with other capsainoids, has shown to decrease total plasma cholesterol levels, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triacylglycerols, making this decadent dairy-free gelato a true ally to your health.


Did you know that…?

Not only plants produce terpenes !
We can produce our dose of terpenes too, like sex or stress hormones, and the molecules that derive from cholesterol pathways.

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J. M. McPartland, E. B. Russo Cannabis and Cannabis Extracts: Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts? (2001), Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics Vol. 1, No. 3/4,pp. 103-132; and: Cannabis Therapeutics in HIV/AIDS. The Haworth Integrative Healing Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc., pp. 103-132

Carvalho-Freitas MI, Costa M (2002). Anxiolytic and sedative effects of extracts and essential oil from Citrus aurantium L. Biol Pharm Bull 25: 1629–1633.

Borlinghaus J et al. 2014. Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules. 19: 12591-12618.

Liang, Y. T. et al. 2013. Capsaicinoids lower plasma cholesterol and improve endothelial function in hamsters. European Journal of Nutrition. 52(1): 379-388.


Viola Brugnatelli

Viola Brugnatelli is a Neuroscientist specialised in Cannabinoid circuitry & GPCRs signalling. Her academy and research training let her gain extensive experience on medical cannabis and terpenes both from preclinical as well as clinical perspective. In her vision, collective human knowledge behold the power for overall improvement of life, thus, it should be accessible and shareable. Viola is Founder of the science online magazine Nature Going Smart, and works as a consultant for companies & individual patients, as a speaker at seminars and workshops and as a lecturer in a CME course on Medical Cannabis in Italy, at the University of Padua.

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