Understanding Terpenes: Myrcene
Of the hundreds of terpenes that appear in the cannabis genome, none is more common than myrcene (sometimes denoted as β-Myrcene). In terms of aroma, this molecule produces an earthy, spicy, clove fragrance in the strains of cannabis in which it dominates. Because all strains of cannabis feature multiple terpenes, the ratios (relative volumes) in which they appear significantly affect the overall fragrance profile and medicinal efficacy of an individual plant. Myrcene is one of roughly 10 primary, or major, terpenes produced by the cannabis herb.
A 1997 study conducted in Switzerland found that myrcene may constitute up to 50 percent of the terpene volume of an individual cannabis plant. Of equal significance is the fact that myrcene acts as a precursor to the production of other terpenes, similar to how CBG-A is the universal precursor to other cannabinoids, including THC and CBD.
The medicinal efficacy of terpenes and benefits triggered in the mammalian endocannabinoid system (ECS) is surprisingly similar to that of cannabinoids. Myrcene’s major effect is sedative in nature, resulting in relaxed muscles and a reduction of pain. This is of obvious value in a number of conditions involving spasticity, seizure activity, or hyperactivity (including Attention-Deficit/
According to Russo, the available data and findings “support the hypothesis that myrcene is a prominent sedative terpenoid in cannabis, and—combined with THC—may produce the ‘couch-lock’ phenomenon of certain chemotypes that is alternatively decried or appreciated by recreational cannabis consumers.”
Many doctors and researchers recommend myrcene for patients who suffer insomnia, restlessness, and a multitude of forms of anxiety. According to Leafly, “Pair this famously anti-inflammatory terpene with herbal concoctions containing lemongrass or hops for a powerful calm that may put those numbered sheep to rest.”
Myrcene is also a proven anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory. Like another terpene, limonene, myrcene has an effect on the permeability of cell membranes, meaning it acts as a regulator of other terpenes and cannabinoids, enhancing or buffering their effects and potency (similar to how CBD modulates THC).
This unique capability of myrcene allows it to increase the volume of THC molecules that reaches CB1 receptors in the brain and central nervous system, effectively magnifying the potency of this cannabis molecule’s psychoactive effect—while simultaneously amplifying its medicinal efficacy. In this respect, myrcene is an excellent demonstration of the entourage effect.
“It’s the perfect example of the entourage effect in which both terpenes and cannabinoids work together synergistically to produce or enhance a particular therapeutic effect that could not be obtained from a single cannabinoid or terpene,” wrote author Gooey Rabinski in 2015.
In addition to its sedative effect, myrcene delivers anti-carcinogenic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antiseptic benefits. It can also suppress muscle spasms, meaning it shows promise in the treatment of neurological conditions such as dystonia, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s. It is theorized that myrcene’s sedative effect, which can be tranquilizing, might be helpful in the treatment of psychosis.
In addition to the Russo study from 2011 cited above, several other research efforts have revealed the medicinal efficacy of myrcene.
A study published in 2008 in the journal Therapeutics and Clerical Risk Management (and also headed by Dr. Ethan Russo) revealed the analgesic properties of myrcene. The study showed that myrcene displays a pain relieving effect that mimics opium—except without the critical side effect of addiction.
A 2002 research study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology supported the sedative effect of myrcene and its effectiveness for those suffering anxiety, insomnia, and other sleep disorders. “Similar effects were observed for myrcene and limonene at the highest dose (200 mg/kg body wt.), which increased the sleeping time around 2.6 times,” reported the research.
“Our study showed that citral, limonene, and myrcene presented sedative—as well as motor relaxant—effects,” concluded the study’s researchers.