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Terpenes are a lot like gluten; all know the name, but few can actually describe it. And even for the ones that can, the explanation usually involves words like hydrocarbon, sesquiterpene, and a bunch of other esoteric vernacular that the academically woke (and wiki-familiar) use to feel superior.
After all, terpenes are just a bunch of plant smells, right? Kind of like essential oils? Well yes, terpenes are aromatic, organic hydrocarbon compounds produced by plants and certain insects but there is much more to it.
Welcome to the timeless junction between “good” and “good enough”. So, if reading isn’t your thing, feel free to hit the eject button right now, move on, and enjoy the smelly definition above. If, however, there remains a lingering desire to plumb the depths of all things terpy, please understand that we’re going deep, here.
What are terpenes made of?
As mentioned above, terpenes are aromatic, organic hydrocarbon compounds produced by plants and certain insects. In other words, certain living things make smelly oils built from the hydrogen and carbon. In nature, these chemicals are used to repel dangerous animals that may harm the host while attracting beneficial ones (like bees for flower pollination). But aside from serving the purposes of the entities from which they were naturally produced, terpenes have been exploited by mankind for hundreds of years - for a wide variety of purposes.
But don’t let the mind expand too far on that one; our focus here is on the perspective of chemists. These lab-coated individuals are trained to see the world relative to what it is composed of - literally. To them, everything, anything, and everyone is ultimately a compilation of smaller and smaller categorizations of building blocks called elements. Elements can themselves be broken down into increasingly tiny segmentations, but let’s focus instead on how they combine.
While any scientific pursuit can trace roots back to the beginning of recorded time, our exploration into terpenes starts with the periodic table of elements; the raw material that terpenes are made from. Pre-socialist Russia saw the great Dmitri Mendeleev publicize his work regarding the periodic table back in in 1869. Mendeleev’s magnum opus built upon the composite work of peers and predecessors, compiling and organizing the world’s identified elements into a universally recognized, practically applicable format. This was accomplished primarily by structuring known elements in increasing order relative to their atomic weight - all the while leaving room for yet undiscovered elements in the gaps that formed.
Atomic weight can be calculated by averaging the mass that occurs throughout the naturally occurring isotopes of an element. Isotopes are variations of an element that have the same number of protons, but differing numbers of neutrons. So, there could be a bunch of pure oxygen molecules that could differ in their overall size. This diversity necessitates the averaging of the element’s respective mass.
Perhaps a bit long-winded, but the importance of this data only applies to those who value true purity in their terpenes. Imagine a trained chef preparing a meal relative to a regular person. The chef will probably do a better job. But this isn’t cooking. This is chemical extraction. Therefore, an understanding of the chemical actions that occur throughout extraction, storage, etc., are a big part of what separates Abstrax apart from other businesses that perform similar roles.
What do terpenes do?
Returning to the very first paragraph of this article, many terpenes possess powerful smells. This is super important because of how the human brain interprets those specific triggers. A smell totally avoids the brain’s thalamus – primarily responsible for interpreting visual, auditory, somatosensory (sensations like pressure), and gustatory (taste) stimulus. Instead, scent will immediately register within the olfactory (smell) bulb. This organ directly plugs into two other critical parts of the brain: the hippocampus and the amygdala. Both play integral roles within the body’s limbic system; responsible for regulating human survival instinct, memory, and emotion.
Do terpenes have effects?
So yes, while walking around an art gallery may result in some beautiful sights, the smell of your favorite grandma’s homemade cookies (or your favorite Abstrax blend) will register on a much deeper level. Take two types of tea, for example: lavender against peppermint. Lavender has a high content of the terpene linalool. When ingested, linalool produces a pleasantly calming, relaxing effect. Peppermint tea, on the other hand, is high in the menthol, resulting in an energizing sensation. These is one of the contributing factors to the prevalence of terpenes in the perfume, aerosol, food, and cleaning industries to flavor their various products to enhance scent, flavor and effect.
What are the health benefits of terpenes?
Before the invention of petroleum-based drugs synthesized by the precursors of big pharma, humans relied on natural remedies to cure their ills. The short and long of it is that these compounds have demonstrable effects on the human body under repeated scientific testing. Unfortunately, the availability of holistic medicines cut into the profit margins of those benefiting from the sicknesses of others. This led to the billionaires John D. Rockefeller (oil) and Andrew Carnegie (steel) collaborating to release the Flexner report back in 1910. This motion effectively destroyed all medical infrastructure in America that was non-reliant on Rockefeller’s oil-based chemicals.
Ironically, despite banishing time-honored methods to the realm of conspiracy theory quackery, humanity is rediscovering the wisdom of old ways - against the will of oligarchs, stockholders, and all the doctors trained to push lucrative treatment options instead of fixing root problems. See, no one can copyright an entire plant - yet. However, the useful components of a beneficial flora can be identified, synthesized (recreated in a lab), patented, and sold to patients at exorbitant rates after they’ve become dependent. So yes, terpenes are reentering the public health spectrum, but it’s difficult to compete with the overly prevalent, easily accessible happy pills that most doctors will readily give prepubescent children.
What are the common terpenes?
Take a walk through a spring garden in bloom and breathe deeply. Those are terpenes, friends. But while there are hundreds of currently identified terpenes, a few appear more readily than others. Some of the most common terpenes are myrcene, pinene, limonene, caryophyllene, and linalool, to name just a few. Here is a little introduction to these regular customers.
- Myrcene: Very prevalent in a certain herbal plant that lawyers prevent us from mentioning, Myrcene is notorious for its sweetly sedative effects
- Pinene (Alpha and Beta): The Japanese developed the idea of “Shinrin-yoku” around 1980. The term itself translates as “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing”. This habit is particularly effective in pinene-dense locations (pine forests), due to the invigorating, energizing sensations associated with the terpene.
- Limonene: A favorite of sanitation product providers, the potent citrus aroma associated with limonene often conjures the idea of happiness and cleanliness in those who take a big whiff
- Caryophyllene: With a very powerful black pepper smell, caryophyllene is the terpene that drug sniffing dogs are trained to detect in the stone-age civilizations that haven’t legalized yet
- Linalool: A mild sedative, linalool has demonstrable anticonvulsant properties, making it an interesting choice for further study toward potential treatments for epilepsy
- Cannabis terpenes: While Abstrax does not carry any cannabis derived terpenes, cannabinoids and terpenes have been a very popular topic lately especially in the CBD industry. Cannabis terpenes are derived from the cannabis plant and are primarily known and popular for their anti-inflammatory effects
So, terpenes smell good. But, they’re amazing for lots of other reasons. Therefore, mankind has relied upon these compounds for hundreds of years for a wide array of needs. In the modern era, the food, beverage, cannabis and aroma industries have thrived on terpene inclusion due to their endless benefits. However, the medicinal and therapeutic aspects of terpenes (essential oils) use have been demonized in recent times. But, the inability of natural substances to be patented means the public still gets access.
Terpenes are composed of pure hydrogen and carbon. This degree of elemental purity is difficult to prolong, particularly as terpenes easily bond with oxygen to become terpenoids. Knowledge is power – particularly when dealing with substances under vacuum that evaporate at room temperatures. We’re doing the science so our customer can enjoy the freshest, fiercest terpenes possible.
- There is a high likelihood you’re smelling terpenes at this very moment
- Terpenes are super useful (food, beverages, tinctures, aromatics, etc.)
- Terpenes break down easily - so keeping them pure is difficult
- Terpenes have amazing effects such as calming, uplifting, energizing and focus enhancing
- Terpenes have many health benefits (anti-inflammatory, sedative etc.)
Farewell, for Now
It should be clear by now that we simply adore terpenes here at Abstrax. There’s a palpable passion coursing through each of the hand-selected personnel working in our labs and offices regarding these wonderful, but largely unexplored compounds. Due, perhaps, to one of their most fascinating aspects: the ability of one terpene to affect the properties of others it encounters – possibly molding end results into unforeseen directions. So, enjoy your terpenes, but remember that they’re exactly like any other substance – don't abuse them.