What Is Humulene and What Are the Benefits, Effects, and Top Strains?

humulene terpene
By Anthony Pellegrino Updated July 1st

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

Cannabis is well-known and beloved for its characteristic aroma. And while most consumers are familiar with cannabinoids like THC and CBD, the plant’s iconic aromas and flavors – and potentially each strain’s unique effects – are the result of naturally occurring terpenes, like humulene.

In addition to cannabis, humulene is found naturally in hops, basil, ginger, cloves, black pepper, and ginseng, amongst other things. It provides an earthy, woody, and spicy fragrance or taste, and it is thought — though much more research is needed — that humulene may be capable of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and appetite-suppressing effects. 

Humulene isn’t the most prevalent terpene found in cannabis, but it’s still a significant one – especially when considering the aromatic profile of many popular strains.

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How Does Humulene Work?

The humulene terpene is important for the growth of the cannabis plant, and it plays a vital role in fending off pests and fungal infections. 

Humulene has a long history of use in traditional Eastern medicine thanks to its purported anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. Interestingly enough, some scientific research has demonstrated these purported effects. However, as is often the case with cannabis compounds, research has been largely limited to smaller studies, animal trials, and quantities that far exceed what is commonly found in commercial cannabis products.

Humulene, or α-caryophyllene, is similar to other sesquiterpenes such as beta-caryophyllene. But unlike other compounds in cannabis, humulene does not directly interact with the body's endocannabinoid receptors. Despite this, a 2008 study highlighted the critical role humulene plays in pharmacokinetics (the movement of drugs within the body) thanks to how easily the body absorbs humulene orally or topically. This has made humulene a common ingredient in balms and salves. (1)

Potential Benefits of Humulene

While humulene is most famous for its distinct aroma, it may have other potential benefits. That said, humulene is not an accepted treatment for any of the conditions referenced in this article. And consumers should approach any medical claims about the benefits of humulene in cannabis with some skepticism until more research can be conducted. 

How does Humulene interact with cancer cells?

One 2016 study by Polish scientists found that humulene could have a potential connection with reduced cancer cell proliferation. This isn’t a new idea, as a 2003 study demonstrated humulene's capability to produce Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), which can suppress tumor growth when found in high levels. (2, 3)

While these early studies are intriguing, the levels of humulene used are significantly higher than those found in commercial cannabis. As such, consumers shouldn’t assume humulene plays a role in any cancer-related treatment until significantly more research can be conducted to determine the extent of the terpene’s effects, if any, on cell proliferation.

Is Humulene an anti-inflammatory? 

A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology found that humulene had an anti-inflammatory effect in rodents that was comparable to corticosteroid dexamethasone, a prescription medicine commonly used to treat swelling and inflammation. And a 2008 study published in Planta Medica reinforced these findings when researchers discovered that humulene stimulates anti-inflammatory effects in oral and topical forms. (4, 5, 1)

Despite the promising results of these early studies, the outcome has yet to be replicated in human trials. Therefore, before any definitive conclusions regarding Humulene's anti-inflammatory effects can be drawn, more research is needed, particularly with human subjects. 

Is Humulene an antibacterial?

A 2006 study found that Balsam fir oil, also called Abies balsamea essential oil, displayed some antibacterial properties. Specifically, the study found that small doses of Balsam fir oil – which contains humulene – was effective at combating the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus is a kind of bacteria found in everyone's body. It is responsible for sinus infections, pimples, abscesses, and – in severe cases – sepsis and meningitis.

However, it should be noted that this study focused on the effects of Balsam fir oil, not humulene. And while it's true that humulene is found in Balsam fir oil, more research is necessary before we can conclude that humulene, itself, is an antibacterial.

What Cannabis Strains/Products Are High in Humulene

Because of its potential (though unproven) anti-inflammatory effects, humulene is a common ingredient in skin balms and salves. It is also regularly found in tinctures in an effort to help with possible appetite suppression and subsequent weight loss. 

Strains that often test high in humulene include: 

  • Alaskan Thunder Fuck 
  • Fruity Pebbles
  • Cinderella 99
  • Cookies and Cream
  • Girl Scout Cookies (AKA GCS)
  • Bruce Banner 
  • Amnesia
  • Bubba Kush

With its distinct, earthy aromatic profiles and unique way of interacting with the body, humulene is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating terpenes found in the cannabis plant. And while the research exploring its potential health benefits is undeniably promising, more work is needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. 

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  1. “Pharmacokinetics and tissue distribution of the sesquiterpene alpha-humulene in mice.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18951339/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  2. “β‐caryophyllene and β‐caryophyllene oxide—natural compounds of anticancer and analgesic properties.” NCBI, 30 September 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5083753/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  3. “Antitumor activity of balsam fir oil: production of reactive oxygen species induced by alpha-humulene as possible mechanism of action.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12802719/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  4. “Anti-inflammatory effects of compounds alpha-humulene and (-)-trans-caryophyllene isolated from the essential oil of Cordia verbenacea.” PubMed, 27 August 2007, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17559833/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  5. “Dexamethasone (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/dexamethasone-oral-route/description/drg-20075207. Accessed 28 March 2022.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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