Love the sweet, earthy smell of pine needles on a Christmas tree? Or the flavor boost that spices like oregano and dill can lend to your favorite foods? If you do, thank pinene, the very common terpene that gives these and many other plants their distinctive fragrance.
But pinene also has potent healing properties—and that makes pinene-rich cannabis strains especially effective for treating a long list of health conditions such as asthma, arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
Pinene is one of a very large group of terpenes, fragrant oils produced by the glands of many kinds of plants. Because of their strong smells, terpenes ward off predators—but these pungent oils also benefit the human body and brain.
Terpenes are found in so many plants that are used for flavoring food that a number of them are considered food grade, or safe for consumption (though some terpenes are still considered toxic when consumed in large quantities). Terpenes can also be extracted and used alone as essential oils.
Pinene is abundant in the plant world, and cannabis is no exception. Research continues to reveal new information about the properties of the more than 200 terpenes found in the various strains of the Cannabis sativa plant. And numerous studies have shown that the major terpenes have considerable healing properties. Those properties play out in synergy with the other terpenes and cannabinoids that give each strain its unique chemical profile.
Like the more familiar cannabinoid compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), terpenes interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a vast network of receptors located throughout the body and brain. The ECS responds to both endocannabinoids produced by the body and to the nearly identical cannabinoids in cannabis. That explains why pinene, like the other major terpenes, can affect cells and tissues throughout the body.
Pinene has two molecular forms: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. The two are identical except for a single molecule; this accounts for their different features and actions. But both work in conjunction with the rest of a cannabis strain’s overall chemical profile to support health and ease the symptoms of a variety of conditions.
In nature, alpha-pinene is more prevalent than beta-pinene, and the same is true in cannabis. Alpha-pinene is responsible for the distinctive smell of pine needles and of some herbs, including rosemary. It also accounts for the smell of pine oil and turpentine, and it can also appear in citrus peel. Studies suggest that alpha-pinene might have more potent health benefits than beta-pinene does, but the beta form also plays an important role in protecting the body.
Beta-pinene contributes to the fragrance of many cooking herbs including oregano, parsley and dill. In cannabis, it usually occurs in smaller amounts than the alpha version, but its connections to other terpenes create a synergistic effect. For example, beta-pinene appears to play a role in the production of another major terpene, myrcene, and some studies have shown that it can work with the terpene limonene to fight viral infections.
Several studies in recent years have revealed that pinene, particularly alpha-pinene, has a number of significant health benefits, including:
Pain relief: As an extracted oil and as part of a whole plant cannabis strain, pinene can affect the body’s pain receptors to reduce discomfort from conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Antioxidant properties: Pinene can help to protect cells from excessive oxidation, which can break them down and make the body susceptible to a variety of diseases.
Anti-inflammatory features: Pinene can reduce inflammation, which can depress the immune system and stress cells and tissues.
Anti-viral characteristics: Some laboratory research reveals that beta-pinene with limonene can be 100% effective in killing the common herpes simplex virus.
Protection for the gastrointestinal system: Pinene has been shown to protect the lining of the stomach and other parts of the gastrointestinal system against inflammation and lesions from conditions such as ulcers and Crohn’s disease.
Neutralizing THC: Pinene can inhibit the negative effects that come from consuming too much THC, such as short-term memory loss and feelings of fear and paranoia. That’s because it can cross the blood brain barrier and directly affect the behavior of neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA, a chemical that modulates mood, and the brain’s receptors for benzodiazepine medications.
Bronchodilation: Pinene can ease congestion and constriction in the lungs and bronchial areas, making breathing easier for people with asthma and other pulmonary conditions.
Pinene is just one component of the many cannabinoids, terpenes and other substances that make up the whole cannabis plant. It works with all those elements to create an individual strain’s unique profile and boost the healing effects of all those other elements as well.
But some cannabis strains are high in pinene, and most of them are easily identifiable by their distinctively piney smell. Along with supporting the body’s healing mechanisms, the top pinene-rich cannabis strains can promote calm and focus, and balance the effects of too much THC.
Leading the pack of high-pinene cannabis strains are:
Pinene is also available as a pure terpene extract that can be used in vaping and dabbing with other forms of cannabis, or to add to foods for flavoring. It’s also widely sold as an essential oil for aromatherapy.
Pinene in small amounts is considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it can have some toxic effects when it’s ingested or inhaled, particularly when used in various cleaning products such as turpentine.
Just about everyone knows the scent of pinene, even if the name isn’t familiar. But pinene is more than just a nice scent—this abundant cannabis terpene has plenty of healing benefits for both the body and the brain.
Photo credit: Jean Lakosnyk