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

pinene terpene
By Rebecca Olmos Updated March 8th

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

Scientists have learned that an individual's cannabis experience is defined by how all the plant’s compounds (not just THC) work together with their endocannabinoid system. This theory, known as the ‘entourage effect’, has more consumers searching for different cannabinoids and terpenes when selecting their ideal strain. Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds produced by plants, herbs, fruits, and flowers. In cannabis they are located in the resin glands, or trichomes, and are best known for the distinctive aromas they produce. More recently, terpenes have gained notoriety for the role they play in influencing a strain’s unique effects.

Pinene is the most common terpene found in the natural world, and one of the most commonly occurring in commercially available cannabis cultivars. As the name suggests, it exudes a pine aroma and can be encountered in natural places like forests. In addition to its abundance in nature, pinene is commonly found in household cleaning products like Pinesol thanks to its iconic pine aroma. Beyond its refreshing scent and reported mood-enhancing effects in cannabis, early studies have suggested it may be beneficial for pain, anxiety, and inflammation.  

pinene effects

How Does Pinene Work?

There are two forms of pinene: alpha-pinene (a-pinene) and beta-pinene (β-pinene). While a-pinene is more prevalent than β-pinene, the difference is the base molecule's particular class of chemicals. Both a-pinene and beta-pinene are monoterpenes, the simplest category aside from isoprene (the base unit for all forms of terpenes). 

Pinene is an aromatic compound that doesn’t bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain like THC. While it won’t necessarily produce any psychoactive effects, it can be a mood booster that elevates the uplifting effects of many strains. It is found in basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, pine, spruce, conifers, orange peels, and juniper. 

Pinene has been used in traditional medicine for many years. In China, pinene was utilized as an anti-cancer treatment, in Brazil for gastrointestinal issues, and in Mexico for ailments that affect the central nervous system. Herbs rich in pinene are often added to respiratory tonics, as well. (1)(2)(3)

A great way to experience the reported mood-enhancing effects of pinene naturally is by practicing a popular Japanese breathing activity, Shinrin-yoku or "Forest Bathing." This is the practice of immersing yourself in the forest, and really inhaling the natural pine aroma of the surrounding trees. It is also a widespread practice in German complementary medicine. As it turns out, the calming effects we experience when spending time in nature may have a chemical component (in addition to the natural relief that comes with getting outside and away from work and other stressors).

In 2011, Dr. Ethan Russo noted that pinene inhibits the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which affects different brain functions like attention and alertness. The terpene may also play a vital role in memory and learning by slowly breaking down acetylcholine and alleviating the effects of THC, like short-term memory loss. (4)

So what do modern studies say about the potential benefits of pinene?

Potential Benefits of Pinene

Pinene has been the subject of many recent studies. And while the early findings are promising, a majority of terpene studies use quantities far greater than those found in commercial cannabis products. Other studies are conducted on such a small scale - or exclusively on animals - and further research is needed before conclusive results can be drawn. As such, cannabis consumers shouldn’t expect these benefits from their next bowl of Blue Dream.  

Anti-anxiety. Pinene may help increase energy, combat anxiety and provide other nootropic benefits by improving blood flow to the brain. (5)

Anti-inflammatory. In 2014, researchers found pinene to have anti-inflammatory effects on human chondrocytes, the cells responsible for cartilage production. It was also found to hinder the formation of interleukin-beta, a form of white blood cells, by targeting the cytokines – the chemical signals between the white blood cells and infection. By reducing the cytokines, the immune system is suppressed and thus reduces inflammation. (6)

Antioxidant. A 2016 study found that pinene blocks the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), harmful molecules which can cause damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids. The same study found that pinene boosted the expression of chemicals that help combat ROS, including catalase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase, and homo oxygenase. (7)

Researchers also believe pinene could be an effective component in the treatment of various psychiatric disorders, though research is currently in the preliminary stages. (8)

Cannabis Strains High in Pinene

Pinene is often linked to more cerebral effects, such as feelings of calm, clear-headedness and focus. It’s most commonly identified in sativa cultivars, though it’s rarely the dominant terpene in a given cultivar. The concentration of specific terpenes found in a cannabis strain depends on environmental factors during cultivation.

Strains that test high in pinene include: 

  • Blue Dream
  • Grape Ape
  • Gelato
  • Harlequin
  • Cannatonic
  • Cotton Candy Kush

Pinene is a simple but powerful and multi-faceted terpene. Its refreshing scent and ability to alleviate the effects of THC have made it a popular terpene among consumers looking for strains with an earthy, pine aroma and uplifting effects.

Research has shown pinene may have a variety of medicinal applications for conditions like arthritis, dementia, asthma, acne and stress due its anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, antimicrobial and neuroprotectant properties. But more research is needed to verify these early findings, and cannabis consumers shouldn’t expect any of these benefits just from smoking a pinene-dominant strain.

Resources

  1. Chen, Weiqiang, Ying Liu, Ming Li, Jianwen Mao, Lirong Zhang, Rongbo Huang, Xiaobao Jin, and Lianbao Ye. 2015. “Anti-Tumor Effect of α-Pinene on Human Hepatoma Cell Lines through Inducing G2/M Cell Cycle Arrest.” Journal of Pharmacological Sciences 127 (3): 332–38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jphs.2015.01.008.
  2. Diniz, LúcioRicardo Leite, Marcelode Almeida Pinheiro, RafaelMatos Magalhães, DanielleMesquita Torres, RodrigoCardoso Cavalcante, FranciscaSheila Xavier Mota, EmanuelaMaria Araújo Oliveira Coelho, et al. 2015. “Gastroprotective Effect of Alpha-Pinene and Its Correlation with Antiulcerogenic Activity of Essential Oils Obtained from Hyptis Species.” Pharmacognosy Magazine 11 (41): 123. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-1296.149725.
  3. Guzmán-Gutiérrez, S. L., R. Gómez-Cansino, J. C. García-Zebadúa, N. C. Jiménez-Pérez, and R. Reyes-Chilpa. 2012. “Antidepressant Activity of Litsea Glaucescens Essential Oil: Identification of β-Pinene and Linalool as Active Principles.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 143 (2): 673–79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2012.07.026.
  4. Russo, Ethan B. 2011. “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects.” British Journal of Pharmacology 163 (7): 1344–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x.
  5. Salehi, Bahare, Shashi Upadhyay, Ilkay Erdogan Orhan, Arun Kumar Jugran, Sumali L.D. Jayaweera, Daniel A. Dias, Farukh Sharopov, et al. 2019. “Therapeutic Potential of α- and β-Pinene: A Miracle Gift of Nature.” Biomolecules 9 (11): 738. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom9110738.
  6. Rufino, Ana T., Madalena Ribeiro, Fernando Judas, Lígia Salgueiro, Maria C. Lopes, Carlos Cavaleiro, and Alexandrina F. Mendes. 2014. “Anti-Inflammatory and Chondroprotective Activity of (+)-α-Pinene: Structural and Enantiomeric Selectivity.” Journal of Natural Products 77 (2): 264–69. https://doi.org/10.1021/np400828x.
  7. Porres-Martínez, María, Elena González-Burgos, M. Emilia Carretero, and M. Pilar Gómez-Serranillos. 2016. “In Vitro Neuroprotective Potential of the Monoterpenes α-Pinene and 1,8-Cineole against H2O2-Induced Oxidative Stress in PC12 Cells.” Zeitschrift Fur Naturforschung. C, Journal of Biosciences 71 (7-8): 191–99. https://doi.org/10.1515/znc-2014-4135.
  8. Weston-Green, Katrina, Helen Clunas, and Carlos Jimenez Naranjo. 2021. “A Review of the Potential Use of Pinene and Linalool as Terpene-Based Medicines for Brain Health: Discovering Novel Therapeutics in the Flavours and Fragrances of Cannabis.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 12 (August). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.583211.

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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