Let’s face it: We have barely scratched the surface when it comes to analyzing the marijuana plant. As far as the mainstream is concerned, the only compounds that matter are THC and CBD. These are the two most abundant cannabinoids in weed and are the subject of the greatest level of research.
However, we are doing the magnificent plant a grave injustice. It has well over 100 cannabinoids and more than 200 terpenes. Published studies have indicated that there may be more than meets the eye with these hidden compounds.
The Phellandrene terpene is a prime example. It is a lesser-known terpene that has seldom been researched but could have some genuine medical benefits. Until marijuana prohibition ends in the United States, however, it will prove difficult to delve deeper into a plant which requires a LOT of investigation.
What Are Terpenes?
You’ll probably be shocked to learn that there are over 20,000 terpenes, and the marijuana plant only contains about 1% of them! Terpenes are what enable us to smell the wonderful aromas of citrus fruits and essential oils. Marijuana strains with a relatively high terpene content smell and taste fantastic. Terpenes are even responsible for lavender’s relaxing effects.
According to the ‘entourage effect,’ marijuana’s potential healing effects are as a result of the terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids combining. It is now believed that terpenes can reduce or intensify the potency of your high.
In general, marijuana flower contains around 20-30% cannabinoids and less than 2% terpenes. However, improved breeding techniques and technological advances mean that some strains can have up to 7% terpenes. It seems that if a plant has a single terpene that comprises at least 2% of its total compounds, the impact and flavor will knock your socks off.
If you have conducted some detailed research, you will have heard of terpenes such as Myrcene, Pinene, Limonene, and Linalool. These terpenes, along with four others, are often classified as primary terpenes because they are the most abundant ones in weed.
They are followed by a list of 20+ ‘secondary’ terpenes. These compounds are not well-researched, but there is some data on them. Phellandrene is one of the most interesting of these secondary terpenes.
What Can Phellandrene Do for Me?
It’s hard to say due to the lack of research. Federal prohibition has clearly impacted studies because the organic compounds, alpha-phellandrene, and beta-phellandrene, have been used in holistic medicine for a long time and were officially discovered over a century ago. Before their discovery, these compounds were assumed to be pinene and limonene.
Once the compounds were tested in eucalyptus oil, it was found that they comprised a pair of isomeric compounds rather than one as initially thought. As phellandrene is easy to absorb, it has become a popular addition to cosmetic products, like many other terpenes. It may be ‘mysterious,’ but you can find it in essential oils such as Lavender, Pine, Cinnamon, Dill, Mint, Black Pepper, and Ginger Grass.
The two organic compounds share similar chemical properties and molecular structure. They are technically known as monoterpenes and are ‘double-bond’ isomers. You will find alpha-phellandrene mainly in eucalyptus oil whereas beta-phellandrene is isolated from the oils of Canadian balsam and water fennel.
Both compounds are not water-soluble but are miscible. In other words, you can mix them in ether. If you mix them with ether, you can create something similar to the colognes and perfumes you purchase. Incidentally, you may be benefitting from phellandrene if you enjoy forest-fresh fragrances. In cuisine, these compounds could feature in dill potato salad, cinnamon French toast, or even mint chocolate chip ice-cream.
Phellandrene – The Studies
There has been some research on the effects of the compound. A study by Tisserand and Young, published in Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition) in 2014, investigated the effects of alpha-phellandrene. The researchers discovered that the compound helped to reduce pain sensitivity and increased energy levels.
However, it also found that it could cause adverse skin reactions in certain situations. For example, undiluted alpha-phellandrene was ‘moderately irritating’ to rabbit skin. At a concentration of 8%, it was not sensitizing although it produced one reaction at a 4% concentration in 25 volunteers. Also, a 5% concentration was sensitizing to 4 out of 11 patients with dermatitis.
A 2015 study by Piccinelli et al., published in Nutritional Neuroscience, looked at the antidepressive and antihyperalgesic actions of alpha-phellandrene and limonene. The study tested the compounds on rodents and found that when they were combined, the terpenes produced the desired properties. However, the team did not determine whether phellandrene would display the same traits by itself.
A study by Shu-Ling Hsieh et al., published in Taylor & Francis Online, in July 2014, researched alpha-phellandrene’s effects on liver tumor cell death. It suggested that the terpene may have potential anti-cancer properties.
As an aside, it seems as if phellandrene could have benefits as a fungicide. A 2017 study by Ji-hong Zhang, published in Botanical Studies, measured the ability of alpha-phellandrene to inhibit the growth of fungus on post-harvest tomatoes and other plants. It transpired that the terpene showed an ability to control the Penicillium cyclopium fungus in the tomatoes.
The main issue is that the studies in question were either conducted on rodents, or in very small sample groups. The other problem is that phellandrene is not available in large concentrations in any marijuana strain. It has been found in strains such as SAGE, Ace of Spades, Jack Herer, and Trainwreck, but only in very small quantities.
Research to date has not found evidence of phellandrene providing beneficial effects based on the tiny amounts found in various weed strains.
Final Thoughts on Phellandrene & Terpenes
Phellandrene could have therapeutic potential, but research is limited. Even if it turns out to be a beneficial terpene, it is found in quantities so small that it is unlikely to have an effect. If this seems like a problem, modern breeders and scientists have possibly found a solution. Those in the industry who believe in the power of terpenes say it is important to focus on maximizing terpene content post-harvest rather than settling for a high THC or CBD level.
At present, there are vaporizer companies selling e-liquids with 20% terpenes, 40% THC, and 40% CBD. If it is conclusively discovered that phellandrene, or any other terpene for that matter, is highly beneficial, you can bet that some company will be selling high-Phellandrene products!
While there are already thousands of marijuana strains, many of them focus on THC or CBD. In the future, it seems likely that a slight shift towards terpenes will be made. If terpenes are the way forward, savvy cannapreneurs will find a way to bring them to the public in greater quantities.