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Terpinolene’s Therapeutic Promise: What Science Says

Terpinolene may sound like somewhat of a generic name for a terpene, but make no mistake: despite its relative obscurity and generally low levels in cannabis, its effects and aroma have got people from both the science and cannabis communities talking about it. And that’s not easy to do, considering there are over 100 terpenes that we know of in cannabis and more than 20,000 altogether.

The best way to describe terpinolene’s aroma is to take a pine and breathe it in, as the terpene is one of the main culprits behind this distinctive, fresh, woodsy scent. It also exudes some floral and citrus hints.

In nature, terpinolene is found in conifer trees (pine), rosemary, apple and tea trees, sage, lilac, and more. As far as consumer products, like all self-respecting terpenes, terpinolene is well represented in cosmetics and the personal care field, air fresheners, soap and cleaning agents, beverages and flavoring agents.

Now, let’s see what science has had to say about terpinolene’s therapeutic potential so far. Sedating, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties are of particular interest, as the terpene is known for acting as a mild sedative and making people somewhat drowsy, which often lends itself to the aforementioned effects.


Terpinolene has displayed antioxidant activity, more specifically the inhibition of oxidation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is generally linked to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. These findings come from a study that examined the terpene’s synergetic relationship with other nutrients, such as alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene.


An interesting Brazilian study from 2016 explored terpinolene interaction with diclofenac (or Voltaren as is its brand name), a very well-known anti-inflammatory drug. The study was performed on a rat model of chronic inflammatory hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain).

The results are yet another testament to terpenes’ sweeping synergetic flexibility that spans both other terpenes (known as the entourage effect) and prescription drugs. By having the two substances work in concert, the desired effects were achieved with lower doses, doses otherwise deemed “ineffective.”

This is major for patients’ overall quality of life, as lower doses of a prescription drug generally mean diminished or even nonexistent side effects, such as gastric injuries, as the researchers note.


Speaking of inflammation and oxidation and oxidative stress, when they’re left to run rampant, they often mutate into different forms of cancer, which is why anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants can have serious anticancer implications. Same goes for terpinolene.

In an in vitro study on rat brain cells, terpinolene exhibited antiproliferative (inhibiting malignant cell growth, anticancer) and antioxidant properties that led researchers to believe that the terpene is “a potent antiproliferative agent for brain tumor cells and may have potential as an anticancer agent, which needs to be further studied.”

These findings are further reinforced by another study, which found that sage and rosemary reduced the protein expression levels of AKT1, a protein kinase that’s “involved in a variety of human cancers.” The researchers themselves attributed sage’s and rosemary’s anticancer properties to terpinolene, as it “markedly reduced the protein expression of AKT1 in K562 cells and inhibited cell proliferation.”


As mentioned above, terpinolene is anecdotally known to act as a mild sedative, which is why it’s believed cannabis strain with high levels of the terpene often exhibit such effects.

There is some science to back this up. Spurred by their previous study, in which the group of researchers investigated “the sedative effect of inhaled essential oils of Microtoena patchouli leaves in mice and isolated terpinolene as an active ingredient,” they sought to trace the terpene’s powers back to their source.

“Comparison of terpinolene analog activities showed that a double bond in the side-chain or pi bonds in the six-membered ring play important roles in the sedative effect.”

Antibacterial and Antifungal

Different terpinolene-containing essential oils have revealed glimpses of the terpene’s antibacterial and antifungal potential.

Tea tee oil has displayed some efficacy against Botrytis cinerea, a fungus that plagues wine and grapes, with terpinolene and cineole being the oil’s “two characteristic components.” Tea tree oil has also been found to combat yeast fungi and fungal skin and mucous membrane infections such as dandruff.

The essential oil of Heracleum rechingeri Manden from Iran, which also contains terpinolene (6%), has also exhibited antifungal and antibacterial activity, showing “maximum inhibitory activity against Gram-positive bacteria, especially Bacillus subtilis.”


These promising findings have justifiably put some respect on terpinolene’s name, making it a more frequent topic of discussion in both the scientific and natural medicine communities.

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