The more we study the cannabis plant, the more we learn about its wide-ranging therapeutic potential. For example, a lot of people are now using terpenes for anxiety disorders. That’s right: as it happens, CBD and THC aren’t the only cannabis ingredients with the ability to deliver physical (eg. anti-inflammatory) and emotional relief.
A relative newcomer to the cannabis conversation, terpenes have an important role to play in the context of the “entourage effect.” In other words, they interact with and complement their fellow marijuana constituents, contributing to the plant’s overall impact on our bodies and minds. But new research also suggests that terpenes carry significant anti-anxiety properties in their own right.
In this article, we shine a spotlight on a few of the best terpenes for anxiety disorders. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, a brief word about terpenes in general.
What are terpenes?
Without getting overly technical, terpenes are organic, aromatic compounds that lend plants their distinctive fragrance and flavor. That includes foods like apples, oranges, basil, and pepper, to name a few.
Terpenes are also the primary component of essential oils, many of which are known to have medicinal properties. For instance, we have the terpene linalool to thank for lavender oil’s pleasing scent—and, moreover, for its health benefits. Said benefits include stress reduction, headache relief, treatment of fungal infections, and anti-inflammatory effects.
All told, there are over 200 different terpenes in the many strains of cannabis - two such examples are caryophyllene and myrcene. As we noted above, they work in conjunction with other marijuana ingredients to produce both psychoactive and therapeutic effects, from relieving pain and inflammation to managing epilepsy and other seizure disorders. There is evidence that terpenes can also help stave off dementia. It’s no wonder they’re routinely included in CBD oil.
Best terpenes for anxiety
If you’re an adult living in the United States, there’s a good chance you’ve suffered from anxiety at some point. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that about 19 percent of American adults currently have an anxiety disorder. That translates to more than 40 million people.
Anxiety comes in a number of different forms and provokes a variety of emotional and physical symptoms, some of which can be debilitating. Prescription drugs like SSRIs and benzodiazepines can help, but many people are understandably wary of the long list of possible side effects and the risk of dependency. Fortunately, natural alternatives do exist, and terpenes have emerged as one of the top contenders.
So which of the hundreds of cannabis terpenes are best when it comes to relieving anxiety? We zero in on three of them below.
As its name indicates, limonene is abundant in citrus fruits: limes, lemons, grapefruits, and especially oranges. It’s abundant in marijuana, too—if a strain has strong citrusy notes, you can be sure it contains a high concentration of limonene.
Today limonene is commonly added to foods, beverages, cleaning solutions, soaps, perfumes, lotions, etc. But thousands of years before it was employed as an additive, limonene was being used therapeutically.
Several recent studies have confirmed that this terpene is beneficial to our health. In 2013, Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior published a paper concluding that limonene is an effective anti-anxiety agent when used in aromatherapy.
Other studies have found that limonene has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anticancer properties. It can also reduce the risk of heart disease and ulcers.
About half of all the terpenes occurring in cannabis are myrcene, meaning it’s by far the most abundant. Mangoes, lemongrass, hops, and basil contain large amounts of this terpene as well. Traditionally, myrcene is used as a treatment for chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, diarrhea, and dysentery.
Myrcene has notable anti-anxiety properties. Research has shown that it has sedative effects on par with the barbiturate phenobarbital, particularly when combined with other terpenes. Hence, cannabis strains high in myrcene are favored by people who suffer from insomnia, anxiety, or a combination of the two.
Other proven benefits of myrcene include pain and inflammation relief, and anti-catabolic effects.
Famous for its spicy aroma, this terpene is prevalent in cannabis, black pepper, cloves, hops, basil, oregano, and rosemary. Beta-caryophyllene (BCP) is interesting in that it selectively binds to cb2 receptors in your endocannabinoid system, much like THC and CBD do. As a result, it is sometimes classified as a cannabinoid, although, unlike THC, it does not engender any psychoactive effects.
A 2014 study demonstrated BCP’s efficacy to reduce anxiety and depression. In their conclusion, the authors wrote: “The possibility that BCP may ameliorate the symptoms of these mood disorders offers exciting prospects for future studies.”
Besides anxiety and depression, BCP can be used to treat inflammation, pain, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, colitis, diabetes, osteoarthritis, liver fibrosis, and dementia. Furthermore, it is sometimes included in cancer therapies, as it has been shown to interact with certain chemotherapy drugs to slow the growth of tumors.
Best cannabis strains for anxiety
Taking the edge off your anxiety in a way that is natural and efficient is as simple as finding marijuana strains with high levels of the terpenes highlighted above. Ultimately, it will come down to personal preference, so it’s a good idea to experiment with a few of the following strains to see how they affect you.
This hybrid strain delivers a concise, relaxing high thanks to a relatively low THC content outweighed by its CBD content. Cannatonic features high levels of myrcene as well as beta-caryophyllene—a terrific combination for individuals struggling with anxiety, chronic pain, or insomnia.
Also known as GDP, this indica hybrid is a far cry from Cannatonic with a THC content of about 17 percent. Like Cannatonic, though, it contains a lot of beta-caryophyllene. The upshot is a strong, enduring high that is also very calming. Fans of Granddaddy Purple go back to it time and again to manage their stress and reduce anxiety.
Bubba Kush is another indica strain renowned for its sedative powers. This one ticks all the terpene-profile boxes, boasting high levels of beta-caryophyllene, limonene and myrcene. Expect nothing short of full-body relaxation after ingesting Bubba Kush, which has average THC content and a negligible amount of CBD.
As with the previous strain, Northern Lights completes the anxiety terpene hat trick. Myrcene leads the way, followed by considerable doses of beta-caryophyllene and limonene. Rounded out by a modest level of THC and very little CBD, this strain transports you to a serene state where anxiety levels melt away.
This strain is perfect for folks who want relief minus any psychoactive complications, as it contains almost no THC. The high concentration of CBD is augmented by myrcene and beta-caryophyllene, inducing feelings of relaxation, tranquility and restfulness.
Using terpenes for anxiety
For those who aren’t keen on smoking cannabis, there are a few other ways to derive the anti-anxiety benefits of terpenes. The most popular alternatives are vaping and cannabis extracts.
To vape terpenes, you’ll need to purchase a terpene infused THC- or CBD-based vape liquid. One major advantage of vaping is that it doesn’t involve combustion, and therefore doesn’t create “tar”—the carcinogenic substance in cigarette smoke. Burning marijuana also creates tar, and while it’s not as harmful as the tar given off by tobacco, it’s not exactly good for you either. In that sense, vaping terpenes is a healthier option.
As for liquid extracts, they can be found at your local CBD store or marijuana dispensary. When shopping for an extract, keep an eye out for the term “full spectrum” or “broad spectrum.” This means the liquid contains all the active ingredients in the cannabis plant as opposed to just one or two, which facilitates the entourage effect.