You are likely aware of the fact that cannabis affects your mind and body, and that it can cause you to experience a ‘high.’ Most people have heard of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound within cannabis that is most responsible for creating this high.
However, fewer people have heard of, or understand, the function of terpenes. Terpenes are important components in the cannabis plant because they interact with the other components to influence the overall experience and effect that cannabis has on your body. You may wonder whether terpenes can also get you high or what role they play in the process of getting you high.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are natural aromatic compounds that can be found in many types of plants and some animals. They are particularly important in the cannabis plant where they are produced in high concentrations.
Terpenes are responsible for providing the characteristic aromas and flavors of the plant. Their function within the plant is typically to attract pollinators or to repel predators.
Terpenes also have various physiological and cerebral effects on the body when they are consumed. For example, many terpenes have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects. This makes them suitable for treating a variety of medical conditions.
Types of terpenes in cannabis
There are more than 150 different types of terpenes found in various combinations and amounts across all the individual cannabis strains.
These terpenes all have their individual properties that subsequently alter the effect that a cannabis strain has on your body. This also helps to distinguish strains from each other.
Some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis include myrcene, limonene, linalool, pinene, humulene, and caryophyllene.
How does cannabis get you high?
Cannabis contains compounds called psychoactive cannabinoids that are essential for causing the high you experience when using it. There are numerous cannabinoids found in cannabis, with the most common psychoactive cannabinoid being THC. THC travels through the bloodstream to organs and is absorbed into the brain. It then interacts with cannabinoid receptors by directly binding to them.
The activation of these cannabinoid receptors affects cognition, memory, reward, anxiety, sensory perception, and the functioning of the brain. It also causes the effects that are recognized as a ‘high’.
THC also stimulates nerve cells to release higher levels of dopamine than would be released under normal circumstances. Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that is also associated with its rewarding properties and the euphoric high.
A cannabis high can be associated with several reactions and effects. It depends on the person, the amount used, and the cannabis strain, but typically it can invoke feelings of relaxation, euphoria, a heightened sensitivity perception, increased happiness, and an increased appetite.
Can terpenes get you high?
The research to date is scarce. However, the current evidence suggests that although terpenes have various effects on the body, they are not a cannabinoid and are not psychoactive. This means that terpenes cannot directly get you high.
However, some studies have described pinene and linalool, two types of terpenes, as psychoactive compounds because they may alter brain function and change behaviors associated with cognition. Likewise, some types of terpenes may elevate your mood and invoke relaxation or feelings of euphoria.
Despite this, except for beta-caryophyllene, all of the terpenes that have been discovered in cannabis so far do not bind to the cannabinoid receptors. This means terpenes cannot get you high in the traditional way that THC does.
Although terpenes cannot get you high on their own, it is thought that they can influence how THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors. By doing this, terpenes may synergize with THC, enhance its effects, and subsequently influence the high that THC causes. This is a process known as the entourage effect. While some terpenes may increase the psychoactive effects of THC and contribute to a greater high, other terpenes may diminish the negative side effects of THC that make people high, paranoid, and anxious whilst maintaining the effects users want to experience.
Further studies have indicated that terpenoids, a modified class of terpenes, also contribute to the entourage effect with THC when it binds to cannabinoid receptors.
Overall, however, the research is still limited, particularly in the area of human-based studies.
Which terpenes can affect THC and your high?
Many terpenes interact with THC via the endocannabinoid system to influence your high.
Myrcene provides cannabis strains with a pleasant, earthy, musky, and spicy scent. It is found in cannabis strains that are more Cannabis indica dominant.
Researchers believe that myrcene interacts with THC in a way that enhances its psychoactive effects on the body via the entourage effect. It is not known whether this effect is direct or indirect, however, it is believed that myrcene can regulate the affinity that THC has for the cannabinoid-1 (CB1) receptor.
Additionally, it is thought that myrcene can lower the resistance to the blood-brain barrier and increase its permeability. This makes it easier for cannabinoids, like THC, to be absorbed into the brain so that they can more rapidly bind to the cannabinoid receptors and exert their psychoactive properties that cause you to become high.
It has been suggested that low levels of myrcene in a cannabis strain could contribute to a more energetic high. On the other hand, high levels of myrcene have been shown to contribute to ‘couch-lock’, a term that is used to describe physical sedation and a relaxed euphoric high. These differing properties suggest that the dosage of the terpene can influence the effect it has on THC and the high you get.
Beta-caryophyllene is slightly different from other common terpenes because studies have shown that it can bind to the cannabinoid type 2 (CB2) receptor. However, beta-caryophyllene still does not have any psychoactive side effects, so like other terpenes, it cannot directly get you high in the way that THC does.
Limonene is another common terpene found in cannabis. It is known to give cannabis strains an intense, fresh, and citrusy scent.
By working in synergy with THC, limonene is thought to help elevate your mood and provide you with energizing effects, thereby having the potential to affect the intensity of your high caused by THC.
Pinene gives cannabis strains a grassy, forest-like scent.
Interestingly, unlike some of the other terpenes, pinene is thought to modulate negative side effects of the high, particularly those that are experienced by an overdose of THC, such as short-term memory impairment.
At the same time, pinene is also thought to increase alertness and attention. Pinene influences dopamine levels, which is also thought to contribute to the high that is caused by cannabinoids.
How to consume terpenes for the best effects
For the best effects, it is important to consider the method of ingestion. Vaping and using tinctures provide a more rapid absorption compared to consuming edibles. This means the terpenes will reach your bloodstream faster, enabling them to take part in the entourage effect sooner and apply their effects on the body.
Many types of terpenes can be found in natural food sources or essential oils. For example, pinene is found in pine nuts and basil, myrcene is found in mangoes, and limonene is found in citrus fruits. Although these have healthful benefits, you should keep in mind that ingesting terpenes from these plant sources will not result in a high unless they are consumed alongside THC in cannabis.
If you want a more energetic high, you should consider cannabis strains that contain limonene and small amounts of myrcene. These may include Berry White and Do-So-Dos strains, among many others.
On the other hand, if you are seeking a high that is relaxed whilst still euphoric, you should focus on strains that have greater concentrations of myrcene. Some popular examples are Mango Kush, Special Kush, White Widow, and OG Kush.
The bottom line
Currently, there is not a lot of evidence that can describe the connection between terpenes and getting high. It is known, however, that terpenes are not intoxicating and that they are not directly responsible for giving you the high that is associated with using cannabis.
Rather, it is thought that terpenes are important for enhancing your overall experience with cannabis, including the high caused by THC, and for influencing how it makes you feel.
Terpenes can influence the high THC gives us because cannabinoids and terpenes synergize with each other through the entourage effect.