Through the wonders of science, we know that cannabis and other fragrant plants get their bountiful array of aromas from organic compounds called terpenes. Researchers have identified more than 100 different terpenes in cannabis plants (some reports claim more than 200) and each strain develops its own unique blend of aromatic, flavorful compounds that we can smell in the flowers and taste in the smoke. Here we focus on a terpene often found abundantly in cannabis: myrcene.
Myrcene (β-myrcene) is a compound found in the essential oils of many plants other than cannabis, such as bay, cardamom, basil, parsley, hops, mangoes, and wild thyme. It was named after Myrcia sphaerocarpa, a South American shrub with high levels of myrcene and long-standing reputation of having medicinal value. It's a monoterpene, which means it's among the smallest of the terpenes, and it plays an important role as a precursor to several other terpenes.
Cannabis strains with high levels of myrcene emit aromas of fresh earth and spicy herbs, and the smoke tastes like a mix of musky cloves and tangy citrus fruit. We find high contents of myrcene in White Widow, Pure Kush, Lovrin 110, and Himalayan Gold, to name a few, and it is this terpene that instills the famous “couch-lock” effect associated with potent indica strains. Myrcene also lowers the resistance across the blood-to-brain brain barrier and acts to increase the saturation levels of CB1 receptors, which react with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. This is where we get the idea that eating ripe mango before consuming cannabis will facilitate a quick onset of intense cerebral effects.
Myrcene has potent anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, and pain relieving properties, and we value its ability to mitigate the effects of diabetes and prevent peptic ulcer disease. The terpene's sedative effects are also helpful for treating pain, muscle tension, and insomnia. As we learn more about terpenes in cannabis and the role they play in the entourage effect of full-plant medicine (the idea that compounds in marijuana work best when taken together rather than individually), we're confident we're going to hear a lot more about myrcene in the future.