Pinene is an aromatic compound commonly found in cannabis that smells a lot like–you guessed it–a forest of pine trees. But pinene may bring more to a strain’s experience than just flavor.
Terpenes like pinene are fragrant oils secreted in cannabis trichomes, and while they originally developed as an adaptive protection against predators, these compounds offer us humans a variety of potential benefits. And, fun fact: pinene can also be found in conifer trees, orange peels, turpentine, pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil, and parsley.
Pinene is one of the most commonly occurring terpenes in cannabis. Pinene is currently under investigation for its potential to treat numerous conditions including inflammation, cancer, and respiratory conditions.
What is pinene?
As its name would imply, the pinene terpene has the fragrance of a pine tree. Pinene is found in pine trees and other plants, including cannabis. It’s commonly used in insecticides and as a flavoring agent. One unusual potential use of pinene is as a biofuel in spark-ignition engines. That’s because a pinene dimer (two identical pinene molecules linked together) may have volumetric heating values that rank as high as rocket fuel. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint Bio-Energy Institute have produced pinene synthetically through the use of a bacterium, according to a 2014 article published in the journal American Chemical Society.
What is the difference between alpha-pinene and beta-pinene?
There are two forms of pinene: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Alpha-pinene is more prevalent in cannabis and the most abundant terpenoid found in nature. Researchers are studying whether alpha-pinene can treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions.
What is pinene found in?
The aromatic pine terpene is found in dill, basil, rosemary, parsley, and the essential oils they yield. In addition, coniferous trees, including pine with their fragrant pine needles, are rich in pinene. Besides savoring the refreshing scent of pine trees on a winter day, you may have encountered pinene at your kitchen table. Pine nuts contain pinene oil, as do lime and orange peel. So, if you’ve had orange peel candy, a salad sprinkled with pine nuts, or a slice of key lime pie, you’ve tasted this terpene. In contrast, pinene is known to be highly unattractive to insects, so it’s an ingredient in many repellents.
Therapeutic properties of pinene
The predominant type of pinene in cannabis, alpha-pinene, is also the one that could offer the most therapeutic benefits. Potential alpha-pinene benefits are anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antimicrobial, in addition to respiratory and neuroprotective.
Many plant essential oils that contain pinene have been shown to reduce inflammation. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that alpha-pinene exhibits a number of anti-inflammatory properties in animal cells. The authors of the study concluded that the terpene has the potential to treat various inflammatory diseases. Interestingly, pinene’s anti-inflammatory effects could make it an effective additive to sunscreen. It prevents skin damage caused by ultraviolet light according to a 2018 study published in the journal Life Sciences.
Many studies in animals and other models have concluded that both alpha- and beta-pinene have significant anti-tumor properties. In fact, when consumed together, both forms of pinene appear to have synergistic effects in reducing tumors, as observed in a 2018 study published in the medical journal Chemotherapy. The study also showed that alpha-pinene could be effective in treating prostate cancer in mice.
Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene have also been studied for their antimicrobial effects. One 2012 study published in the Swiss scientific journal Molecules demonstrated that pinene was an especially powerful tool in combating Candida Albicans, a yeast fungus found in the human body that can become harmful if it grows out of control.
Patients commonly medicate with cannabis to elevate their mood, something that makes sense given the results of a 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Beta-pinene, in combination with the terpene linalool, appears to produce effects in mice that are similar to those of antidepressant medications.
A 2011 study published in Molecules tested the ability of alpha- and beta-pinene to fight the infectious bronchitis virus in animal models. The study found that both types of pinene inhibited viral activity in cells, therefore making the terpene a potential aid in resolving bronchitis. The study also established pinene as a possible bronchodilator that could offer relief to those with asthma.
In a quest to understand Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have investigated alpha-pinene’s role in fighting this incurable neurological disorder. Using animal models, scientists concluded that alpha-pinene may be beneficial not only against Alzheimer’s disease but also against general dementia, amnesia, cognitive dysfunction, and overall memory loss, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Is pinene good for anxiety?
In Japan, the practice of shinrin-yoku (which translates as “forest bathing” in English) is a living example of plant-based medicine. Japanese physicians and forestry experts believe that walking through a wooded area of pine and other types of trees can have a relaxing effect on the mind and body. Further, in 2017 the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a comprehensive review of existing research on the practice. The review showed that forest bathing lowered blood pressure and pulse rates and has the potential to lower stress and improve overall health. Thus, pinene, along with many other terpenes found in forests, may have an indirect therapeutic effect on anxiety. More research is needed to understand if pinene may directly affect anxiety.
Pinene’s potential effects and benefits
Just as different cannabinoids have different effects, so do terpenes. These unique attributes contribute to the overall composition of a strain, adding a dimension to each one’s “personality.” Though research is still substantiating pinene’s effects and benefits, the following uses are currently being investigated:
- Bronchodilator (helps open airways)
- Pain relief
- May help combat short-term memory impairment associated with THC
High-Pinene cannabis strains
The abundance of any given terpene is highly dependent on a variety of environmental factors, but there are strains that tend to produce elevated levels of pinene on average, based on data from Leafly’s lab partners. Below, explore strains that tend to produce the highest relative abundance of pinene. Keep in mind that pinene-dominant strains are uncommon (meaning it’s rarely the most abundant terpene in a strain), but it’s commonly seen as the second most abundant terpene in a strain’s terpene composition.
- Big Smooth
- Blue Dream
- Cotton Candy Kush
- God’s Gift
- Grape Ape
- Kosher Tangie
The strain Big Smooth is a rare example of a pinene-dominant terpene profile. While most cannabis strains express high levels of myrcene, caryophyllene, limonene, or terpinolene, Big Smooth demonstrates that unique exceptions are out there!