While many growers talk about their plants as being “trees,” most cannabis doesn’t actually taste like tree leaves or pine needles, that is, unless it is rich in pinene. This terpene is one of the most common terpenes in the natural world and is responsible for pine trees and other conifers, as well as many herbs, smelling like they do. It also is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis and has numerous well-documented medical benefits.
What is Pinene?
Pinene is a terpene with two main isomers, alpha-pinene (α-pinene) and beta-pinene (β-pinene), while α-pinene is a monoterpene, β-pinene is a bicyclic monoterpene. As α-pinene is the primary one found in cannabis, and the terpene “most frequently found in Nature,” when I say “pinene” in this article, that is just a shorthand for α-pinene. Both forms of pinene are commonly found in pine trees and other conifers, as well as a range of other plants, such as rosemary, basil, and parsley.
Pinene in Cannabis
The same 1997 Swiss study which showed myrcene to be the most commonly found terpene in cannabis also found α-pinene to be the third most common. The pinene content they found varied between 2.3% and 31%. Some particular cultivars known to have higher amounts of pinene include: Jack Herer, Lemon Skunk, Purple Kush, Romulan, Blue Dream, and Cannatonic (just to name a few). Pinene will impart a spicy, herbal scent to cannabis, like it does to pine trees.
Pinene Is a Folk Remedy for Tuberculosis
While pinene has been researched as a treatment for a wide range of medical conditions, one area where it has traditionally been used for centuries is as a treatment for lung/breathing conditions, most notably, tuberculosis. Since the earliest origins of the sanatorium, they have been located in areas with pine trees. Examples abound, such as America’s first sanatorium in New York’s Adirondack pine forest or the aptly named Pinewood Hospital in Pinewood, England. Before we had research to support the claims of the sanatorium movement, “Pine trees were a common feature of TB sanatoria at the time, as they were believed to purify the air.”
Dr. Ethan Russo is a world-renowned cannabis researcher, and in his 2011 study, “Taming THC,” he reported that pinene “is a bronchodilator in humans at low exposure levels,” which is great news for athletes. Since then, a 2014 study found pinene to be “a promising anti-allergic agent” which helped combat allergic rhinitis. Multiple studies have shown pinene “has wide potential … to inhibit the growth of bacteria” including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and infectious bronchitis virus. It seems that the sanatorium movement was correct in their belief that pine trees had some medical benefits to sufferers of TB.
Medical Effects Of Pinene
Beyond its impact on lung health and fighting bacterial infection, pinene has a wide range of other medical impacts. Pinene has been shown to have “significant anxiolytic-like activity,” meaning it reduces anxiety, and “significant antiulcerogenic activity,” which means it helps prevent ulcers.
When it comes to pain management, pinene has been shown to help with inflammatory and neuropathic pain, as well as nociceptive pain. Related to its pain-relieving effects, multiple studies have shown pinene to have anti-inflammatory effects against numerous inflammatory diseases, including acute pancreatitis.
Just like many other cannabinoids and terpenes, pinene is an effective tool to combat various types of cancers, though it has also been suggested that the benefits could be “limited.” Similar to pinene’s medical effects against tuberculosis, which were observed as a result of environmental exposure, mice kept in an environment rich in pinene showed “reduced melanoma growth.” Pinene has been shown to control the growth of cancers through a range of methods including inducing apoptosis, activating natural killer cells, and inducing tumor necrosis factor-alpha.
Unlike the stereotype of cannabis harming your memory, pinene has clear benefits for improving memory in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The main way that pinene improves memory is by inhibiting the production of acetylcholinesterase, which “could counteract short-term memory deficits induced by THC intoxication.” For these reasons, pinene has been suggested as a “treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.” Pinene has even been shown to protect “against brain damage associated with stroke and ischemia.”
Can Pinene Be Harmful?
As we saw in our previous Cannabeginner on myrcene, while there are numerous medical benefits associated with terpenes, there also can be potential harms. Considering terpenes are natural defenses for plants, it makes sense that there could be toxic effects on people as well as other predator species (bugs, fungus, etc). The research on pinene is mixed, while one study referred to it as a “common indoor air pollutant,” a cytotoxicity evaluation “revealed that limonenes and α-pinene are non-toxic.”
When the National Toxicology Program studied α-pinene, they found “the toxicity data available for α-pinene are inadequate for assessing potential human health effects.” The data they analyzed did show that reports of pinene toxicity generally noted “potential respiratory and skin irritation.” Overall, it appears that pinene has a relatively safe profile.
A Quick Hit
Pinene is one of the most common terpenes in the world and in cannabis cultivars, which has long been used as a folk remedy for tuberculosis and other lung issues. Modern research has proven the folk remedies were based on some science, as pinene has antibacterial effects, works as a bronchodilator, and has a range of other medical benefits against cancer and a host of other illnesses.