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

Terpinolene terpene effects
By Rebecca Olmos Updated October 22nd, 2022

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

Traditionally, when choosing the perfect cannabis strain, consumers look at THC percentages and labels of indica, sativa, or hybrid to find a cultivar that best fits their needs. However, as growing practices, lab testing, and cannabis research have developed, more patrons are now looking at which terpenes are most prominent in strains to help guide their selection. Terpenes are chemical compounds found in cannabis, herbs, fruits, and other plants that give them their unique scent. When consumed, terpenes may also contribute to the different effects that users experience, like relaxation, energy, and a sense of relief. 

Terpinolene is a terpene found abundantly in apples, sage, turmeric leaf, pines, nutmeg, and cardamom. It gives off floral, citrus, and pine scents and is known for its overall fresh fragrance. Terpinolene’s possible benefits and effects (all of which require further study) include being antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, sedative, and a pain reducer. 

While many commercially available strains have relatively low levels of terpinolene — far lower than the quantities used in preliminary studies about the terpene’s potential benefits — it may assist (via the entourage effect) in determining the effects, flavors, and aromas of some of the most coveted cannabis strains.

terpinolene effects

How Does Terpinolene Work?

Scientists refer to terpinolene as alpha-terpinolene or TPO. It is a monocyclic monoterpene, a single ring of atoms extracted from plants. In nature, terpinolene is considered a primary terpene because it is ample in many plants and herbs like lilac, nutmeg, cumin, tea tree, and sage. In cannabis, it is less common, appearing as the dominant terpene in about 1 in 10 strains.

Terpinolene is very much a supporting player in the cannabis plant. Often found in sativa dominant cultivars, this aromatic terpene can also be abundant in some indicas and hybrids.

A 2013 study found that terpinolene, on its own, provided mice with sedating effects.  In terpinolene strains, effects are often classified as more energizing and creative. This may be the result of the entourage effect and the way terpinolene interacts with other terpenes and cannabinoids. (1, 2)

Potential Benefits of Terpinolene

Terpinolene has demonstrated antioxidant properties, and the terpene is often reported to offer antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Emerging research has also suggested terpinolene may help reduce the proliferation of cancer cells in rats. However, early stage studies often lack the human trials, number of participants, and peer review necessary to claim a definitive benefit.  

Here are a few interesting studies to better understand the direction modern research is taking:

  • A 2005 study found that terpinolene may be a means of treating heart disease when combined with other flavonoids by preventing the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol resulting from damage by free radicals. (3)
  • In a study done in 2013, researchers observed that terpinolene may help to reduce the spread of brain tumor cells in rats. (4)
  • Researchers have found that terpinolene’s antibacterial and antifungal properties may make it an effective agent in the fight against staphylococcus aureus (staph) and escherichia coli (E. coli). It was even found to be effective against Propionibacterium, which is responsible for causing acne.
  • There is also interesting research that terpinolene may help repel pests like mosquitos. (5)

While all of these preliminary findings are exciting, consumers should note that terpinolene is not an accepted treatment for any of these conditions. 

Cannabis Strains High in Terpinolene

Terpinolene’s scent is complex, with notes ranging from piney to woodsy. Its overall fresh fragrance has made terpinolene a common ingredient in soaps, lotions, and perfumes. Beyond its fresh scent, its status as an antioxidant makes it a common addition in beauty products that aim to brighten the skin, increase moisture and reduce fine lines.

Although research has shown that it has sedating effects on mice, terpinolene strains are often sought after for their uplifting, creative, energetic effects. 

Strains that test high in terpinolene are rare but include: 

  • Jack Herer
  • Ghost Train Haze
  • Golden Goat
  • Golden Pineapple
  • Orange Cookies

These cultivars are all THC dominant. Most are classified as sativas with piney, citrusy, and tropical aromas that often provide feelings of euphoria and energy (though the effects may vary depending on the consumer and the genetic make-up of each cultivar).

Orange Cookies is considered a hybrid. It is a cross between Orange Juice – a talkative limonene-rich strain, and Girl Scout Cookies – a relaxing caryophyllene-rich strain, which could be the reason for the more mellow effects of the resulting cultivar.

Although terpinolene is plentiful in nature, it is harder to find in cannabis products. In both contexts, it provides strong smells of crispy freshness with floral, piney, and citrus notes. When found in cannabis, terpinolene effects are most often classified as happy, euphoric, and energetic. 

While terpinolene has been linked to a range of potential benefits, including promising studies around reducing the proliferation of cancer cells, these studies are often limited in scope and have not been replicated in human trials. Further research is needed to fully understand the benefits of terpinolene in humans (and to determine if any of the reported benefits can be achieved from the quantities of terpinolene found in cannabis plants).

Resources

  1. “The sedative effect of inhaled terpinolene in mice and its structure-activity relationships.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23339024/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  2. “Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28826544/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  3. Elstner, EF. “The monoterpene terpinolene from the oil of Pinus mugo L. in concert with alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene effectively prevents oxidation of LDL.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16008117/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  4. “Anticancer and antioxidant properties of terpinolene in rat brain cells.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24084350/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  5. Lei, CL. “Evaluation of monoterpenes for the control of Tribolium castaneum (Herbst) and Sitophilus zeamaise Motschulsky.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19662572/. 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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