The answer to the question on whether the terpenes found in cannabis can make one high is not a simple yes or no. The best answer you can get goes along the lines of “It’s complicated.”
And it is not surprising considering that cannabis is such a complex plant. In fact, this complexity is exactly what made the line separating medical and recreational cannabis a blurry one. This complexity is the very reason why government heads, lawmakers, medical experts, and ordinary people are still debating over whether the drug should be legalized, and to what extent.
Now, let’s go back to terpenes. What are they in the first place?
Terpenes are the aromatic organic compounds you can find in many plants, including fruits, and flowers. It is a volatile unsaturated hydrocarbon in a plant’s essential oil that gives it its unique scent and flavor. In other words, terpenes are not exlusive to cannabis; they are also present in other plants. Actually, they are even present in some insects, too.
Terpenes are considered the foundation of aromatherapy as they also contribute to the therapeutic properties of essential oils.
In cannabis, the terpenes are what lend cannabis its own natural flavor and aroma. This is the reason why different cannabis variants and strains are associated with distinctive earthy, piney, minty, berry, citrusy, or diesel-like flavors.
Terpenes also help modify the effects of marijuana in our body. This includes influencing the medicinal benefits of the drug. How? Let’s say that there are certain terpenes that aid the cannabinoids in their pain-relief function. Then there are terpenes that also help with the soothing and relaxing effects of cannabis, or with its energy-boosting effects.
Then, of course, some terpenes also help enhance the “high” that THC creates.
So while terpenes themselves do not give you a high when you smoke a joint, the level of high you get is actually dependent on the kind of terpenes present, as well as on the other active compounds that interact with these terpenes.
In other words, the presence of terpenes can either inhibit the “high” effect of THC or make a cannabis user really high.
Now, what specific terpenes have an influence on the “high” experience?
There’s myrcene, which makes up more than half of the total terpenes that are present in cannabis. Myrcene enhances the potency of THC, or the ability of THC to create a high among users. However, while myrcene plays a role in THC’s psychoactive effect, this terpene also has medicinal value. It has anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antimutagenic, and analgesic properties.
Alpha and beta-pinene can also affect a user’s high, but they work differently than the myrcene because they actually pull back THC’s potency. The pinene traverses the blood or brain barrier faster and once it is in the brain, it quickly dissipates the potency of THC. But that’s not the only work of the pinene as it is known to have antibacterial, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory components, too.