Terpene

Entourage effect

Terpenes [tur-peens] are a large and diverse class of organic compounds (carbon-based chemicals), produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers (evergreens), and by some insects. They often have a strong odor and may protect the plants that produce them by deterring herbivores and by attracting predators and parasites of herbivores.

Terpenes have gained public awareness through the growth and education of medical and recreational cannabis. Organizations and companies operating in cannabis markets have pushed education and marketing of terpenes in their products as a way to differentiate taste and effects of cannabis. The entourage effect, which describes the synergy of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other plant compounds, has also helped further awareness and demand for terpenes in cannabis products.

Terpenes are the major components of rosin (a solid form of resin obtained from pines and some other plants) and of turpentine, a solvent obtained by the distillation of resin harvested from living trees, mainly pines. Terpenes are also major biosynthetic building blocks. Steroids, hormone chemicals, for example, are derivatives of the triterpene squalene.

Terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as fragrances in perfumery and traditional medicine, such as aromatherapy. Synthetic variations and derivatives of natural terpenes and terpenoids also greatly expand the variety of aromas used in perfumery and flavors used in food additives. Vitamin A is a terpenoid.

Terpenes are hydrocarbons, an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. They may be classified by the number of isoprene units (a common organic compound) in the molecule; a prefix in the name indicates the number of terpene units needed to assemble the molecule. Hemiterpenes consist of a single isoprene unit. Isoprene itself is considered the only hemiterpene. Monoterpenes consist of two isoprene units. Examples of monoterpenes and monoterpenoids include terpineol (present in lilacs), limonene (present in citrus fruits), myrcene (present in hops), linalool (present in lavender), and pinene (present in pine trees). Polyterpenes consist of long chains of many isoprene units. Natural rubber consists of polyisoprene.

Terpenes are useful active ingredients as part of natural agricultural pesticides. Terpenes are used by some types of termites to ward off predatory insects, through the use of a specialized mechanism called a fontanellar gun. Higher amounts of terpenes are released by trees in warmer weather, and may be a natural form of cloud seeding. The clouds reflect sunlight, allowing the forest temperature to regulate. The aroma and flavor of hops comes, in part, from sesquiterpenes, which affect beer quality. Terpenes are also major constituents of Cannabis sativa plants, which contain at least 120 identified compounds.

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