Terpene Tuesdays: Everything You Need to Know About Alpha Humulene Flavor, Fragrance, and Health Benefits

ACS blog image - Terpene Humulene

Terpene Tuesdays: Everything You Need to Know About Alpha Humulene Flavor, Fragrance, and Health Benefits

In this post –

Next time you’re consuming craft IPAs with your friends, say the following:

“Man, the alpha humulene in this ale is exquisite.”

As you impress your friends with such intelligence, you’ll explain that alpha humulene is a terpene that was first discovered in the hops plant, Humulus Lupulus. Alpha humulene is what makes hops, hops.

However, alpha humulene does so much more than contribute to taste and smell. Its benefits within beer are limited, but within cannabis—it offers vast therapeutic potential.

In addition to contributing to that earthly, freshly-cut-herbs smell you associate with cannabis, alpha humulene also has a host of health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties, which we’ll get into later.

Alpha humulene is present in sativa strains, although it appears in smaller amounts than terpenes like myrcene and caryophyllene. However, it shares the history of its more copious terpene siblings in that it has been used for centuries as a medicinal aid within eastern cultures.

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WHAT DO TERPENES LIKE ALPHA HUMULENE DO?

Imagine you’re a plant. Somehow, you have to figure out how to fend off pesky bugs that want to eat you while spreading your seed so your DNA doesn’t die out, and surviving changing weather conditions–all while stuck to the ground. What do you do?

Answer: terpenes. These natural compounds give plants their fragrance, which works to attract friends, like bees, and fend off predators, like caterpillars.

When it comes to cannabis plants, there are so many strains because different combinations of terpenes create a wide variety of tastes, smells, appearances, and effects. There are over 150 terpenes in cannabis, and they all work with THC, CBD, and the other hundred-plus cannabinoids to create a myriad of psychoactive and healing effects.

Some terpenes, like linalool, are very well known. By “well known,” we mean that if you’ve ever stepped into a yoga studio, Whole Foods, or health-conscious office, you’ve encountered linalool because this terpene is responsible for the relaxing smell of lavender. Others, like myrcene or alpha humulene, are less popular but just as significant.

ALPHA HUMULENE TERPENES AND THE ENTOURAGE EFFECT

A long time ago (in the not-so-distant past), experts thought that the anxiety-reducing, creativity-enhancing, pain-relieving effects of cannabis were due primarily to THC or CBD. Consequently, the goal of cannabis science was to isolate these two cannabinoids for the most potent results.

However, more recent studies on terpenes have changed how we understand the mechanisms of cannabis. The “entourage effect” is a term to describe the synergistic effect of terpenes and THC or CBD, where terpenes and cannabinoids work together to produce more significant results than any one of them can alone.

The entourage effect explains the reasoning behind full-spectrum cannabis products. These products aim to keep as many native compounds as possible to maximize the effects of the plant.

The entourage effect is also the reason why cannabis science is so exciting. The different combinations between terpenes, cannabinoids, and compounds known as flavonoids create so many possibilities. You can create products that relieve pain without lethargy or enhance energy and creativity without anxiety. And if you’re a genuine connoisseur, there’s so much opportunity for diverse scents and tastes to enjoy as well.

ALPHA HUMULENE RESEARCH AND BENEFITS

  • In mice, alpha humulene is a potent anti-inflammatory agent when applied topically and sprayed in the lungs. Its efficacy is comparable to dexamethasone, a common steroid used to treat arthritis and other forms of inflammation.
  • When in combination with other terpenes like caryophyllene (specifically beta-caryophyllene), alpha humulene inhibits the growth of cancer cells
  • In a study on the properties of the essential oil of balsam fir, alpha humulene was found to be active against the staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
  • Another study showed that alpha humulene promotes the activity of a protein that creates new blood vessels, which is a vital step in healing wounds in the body.

As you can see, alpha humulene has loads of potential benefits. However, it’s important to note that its anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial effects have been found in mice studies. Further studies are needed to determine the extent of these effects in humans.

Future research will likely unveil an exciting in-depth picture of alpha humulene’s effects in humans. Its antimicrobial properties are particularly fascinating as more bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. 

And as the rate of cancer grows, any anticancer properties of cannabis are fundamental to investigate further.

DO TERPENES LIKE ALPHA HUMULENE GET YOU HIGH?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Absolutely not.

On their own, terpenes don’t have any significant psychoactive properties. Their effects rely on their relationship with other cannabinoids like THC and CBD, per the entourage effect.

Right now, the only thing we know about alpha humulene in humans is that it gives us the wonderful earthy and spicy smell of hops. While more research needs to be done, we can infer that unlike linalool, which is somewhat psychoactive in that it helps people relax, alpha humulene does its work in the background, potentially chipping away cancerous cells and fighting off bacteria.

SOURCES OF ALPHA HUMULENE IN NATURE 

  • Many plants, like pine trees, orange orchards, tobacco, and sunflowers, emit alpha humulene as part of their fragrance.
  • Alpha humulene makes up over a quarter of the essential oil of spearmint, which is something to think about next time you’re waiting for your date to arrive, and you pop a piece of gum in your mouth.
  • Herbalists can discover alpha humulene in remedial plants like cloves, ginseng, sage, and black pepper.
  • And of course, you’ll find alpha humulene in all your favorite hoppy beers

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WHAT CANNABIS STRAINS HAVE THE MOST ALPHA HUMULENE**?**

  • Candyland: a sativa-dominant strain with a strong sweet flavor and spicy undertone, Candyland produces an energetic and stimulating high that’s great for mood enhancement and euphoria
  • Death Star: an indica-dominant strain with intense aromas of lemon and rubber, Death Star is a common strain for medical use, with positive and calming effects, as well as anti-nausea effects
  • Headband: a fairly common strain known for its capacity to produce pressure across the forehead, Headband produces a strong body high and the kind of positive and creative mood that’s great for a rainy day
  • Original Glue: an indica-dominant strain with a strong diesel flavor accented by mocha and spices, Original Glue produces a profoundly relaxing high with a slow onset, making it an excellent candidate for the treatment of chronic pain, insomnia, or tremors
  • White Widow: one of the most well-known strains, White Widow is a hybrid strain that produces an immediate euphoria and creativity with solid pepper and cedar flavors
  • Thin Mint GSC: a reputable cross of Girl Scout Cookies, OG Kush, and F1 Durban Poison, Thin Mint GSC is a hybrid strain with minty, sweet cookie notes, and it produces a calming, sleepy buzz great for the nighttime

THE BOTTOM LINE

Alpha humulene is a terpene whose anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial effects in mice set the stage for exciting human applications.

Now you know numerous sources of alpha humulene, like beer, sage, and pine trees. But if you want to know if your cannabis product contains this terpene, you need to read the Certificate of Analysis (COA).

COAs list all the cannabinoids in a product, and the most trustworthy brands are the ones that go all the way for you and list the terpenes as well. This is essential knowledge to have not just for safety but also to understand better how different compounds affect you. If this article piques your cannabis knowledge appetite, then make sure to ask your budtender for more information on the terpene profiles in your favorite strains.

At ACS Laboratory, we test for a total of 38 terpenes, including myrcene, linalool, pinene, and alpha humulene. Although terpene testing is not part of the mandatory statewide panel for cannabis or hemp, brands that test for terpenes and make that information readily available for consumers can differentiate themselves and shine a light for those navigating through the complex road of cannabinoid science.

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