The Pinene Terpenes in Cannabis Can Help You Breathe Easier

Pinene terpenes that can be used to improve breathing.

Pinene is a bronchodilator that can also lessen the effects of THC. Image Credit: By Ryland zweifel on shutterstock.

A growing body of research points to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as a promising mechanism for treating or healing a wide variety of health conditions. So far most of the research on the interaction of cannabis with our ECS, in particular its CB1 and CB2 receptors, has focused on THC, and more recently CBD. But the cannabis plant contains at least 110 other cannabinoids, as well as aromatic chemical compounds called terpenes — and these could provide us with additional health benefits. 

Terpenes — along with cannabinoids — are produced in the cannabis plant’s trichomes, the sticky, crystal-like hairs found on buds. Terpenes are present in other plants as well, serving as a defense mechanism against herbivores and attracting their predators. They also give each plant its distinct aroma: limonene in citrus fruits, linalool in lavender, eucalyptol in eucalyptus, and so on.

Pinene, or alpha-pinene, is one of the most intriguing cannabis terpenes, for reasons that will be discussed shortly (it’s also the most prevalent terpene in nature, according to a 2011 paper in the British Journal of Pharmacology). Aside from cannabis, it’s found in pine trees and nuts, oregano, rosemary, and more. Synthetic pinene is often used in cosmetics, aromatherapy, and cleaning products for its earthy, wooded scent. 

But it doesn’t just smell good — a number of studies (and already common uses) point to pinene’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties. Pine and other tree resins are known to fight bacteria, and juniper berry and tea tree oil — which both contain pinene — are common essential oils used to treat acne. Terpenes make up around 2 percent or less of the cannabis plant’s total composition, but when paired with cannabinoids, they seem to be extra mighty. In what’s known as the entourage effect, terpenes aid cannabinoids in their activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors, theoretically increasing the healing power of each component.

The Many Medicinal Benefits of Pinene

It may seem counterintuitive (depending on how you ingest it), but consuming pinene via cannabis may actually help improve your breathing. In a 1990 study conducted by Scandanavian researchers on the effects on pinene inhalation in humans, the terpene was shown to be a bronchodilator, expanding the airways of the lungs and allowing more air to flow through. This suggests that pinene, in small doses, might be helpful in the treatment of asthma. A more recent study published in Inhalation Toxicology, however, cautioned that exposure to certain amounts of terpenes, including pinene, for a prolonged period may cause upper airway irritation.

For those who use cannabis with a high percentage of THC for its therapeutic benefits, pinene offers some relief from the not-always-desired effects of THC intoxication. It’s an antidote contained in the cannabis plant itself: Studies show pinene can counter the effects of THC, such as impaired or unclear thinking and short-term memory loss. 

Pinene also has anti-inflammatory properties, according to a study in the Journal of Natural Products, making it a possible component in treatments for osteoarthritis. The same holds true for pancreatitis, another inflammatory condition. One study published in Life Sciences showed that pinene reduced damage from the disease in mice. Pinene’s anti-inflammatory properties are even more potent when combined with linalool, according to a 2017 study on essential oils.

The terpene also holds promise as an anti-tumor compound. Research published in 2017 reviewed the effects of forest bathing on human health by studying how a variety of terpenes from Korean forests affected immunity, cancer, and neurons. Pinene was noted for reducing inflammation, having “chemotherapeutic potency,” and protecting neurons. As an antibiotic and antibacterial, pinene is a possible ingredient in treatments for anti-infectious bronchitis virus and in fighting general bacteria, as reported in the journal Molecules. It can also help relieve swelling and pain. 

Still, while the existing body of research suggests we can be hopeful about pinene’s place in medicine, more studies are needed to confirm how effective pinene and other terpenes are both at boosting the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids on the ECS, and in treating conditions on their own.

Niamh Tumilty
Niamh Tumilty
Niamh Tumilty is a writer and multimedia producer for cannabisMD where she is constantly evaluating the continued growth of CBD and its presence in the news. Her research and writing on cannabis and CBD can be found at niamhtumilty.com.

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