Myrcene, also sometimes called beta myrcene, is a monoterpene and a significant component of numerous plants and fruits. These include cannabis, ylang-ylang, bay, parsley, wild thyme, lemongrass, hops,cardamom, and the mango fruit. While myrcene is present in many plants, commercial production comes from beta-pinene, another terpene found primarily in turpentine. Myrcene is notable as the most prominent terpene contained in cannabis, according to a 1997 study conducted by the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture. The study reported that myrcene comprises up to 65% of the terpene content in a cannabis plant.
What is myrcene?
The most abundant terpene in cannabis, myrcene may be recognizable for its earthy scent and flavor profile. Some perceive a balsam fragrance in the terpene, while others describe it as smelling of clove or musk. As a component of hops used in beer, myrcene may be experienced as having a peppery or spicy taste. Like other terpenes, myrcene is theorized to be part of the entourage effect, which means that it works in conjunction with cannabinoids to potentially treat a multitude of physical and mental ailments.
What is myrcene used for?
Myrcene’s primary commercial use is as an intermediary in cosmetics and fragrances. In folk medicine, lemongrass tea is believed to help with insomnia by naturally tranquilizing the mind. As lemongrass contains the myrcene terpene, you may have encountered it either in a relaxing tea or as a flavorful ingredient in Asian cuisine. Any dish made with parsley also contains myrcene. Sink your teeth into a juicy mango, and you’ll experience myrcene. Wash down a platter of lemon-thyme chicken with a bottle of beer and experience a double dose of the terpene.
How common is myrcene in cannabis?
Myrcene is the most abundant terpene in modern commercial cannabis. When we look at thousands of samples of cannabis flower tested by Leafly lab partners, we see this clearly. On average, myrcene represents over 20% of the terpene profile in modern commercial strains, although individual samples vary widely in their terpene content.
Myrcene is also the most likely cannabis terpene to be dominant in flower. A strain’s “dominant” terpene is simply the terpene present at the highest level. In modern commercial cannabis, only a limited number of terpenes show up as dominant even though there are many more cannabis terpenes in a strain’s overall profile.
If you picked a random flower product off of a shelf in a legal state, you could expect it to be myrcene-dominant about 40% of the time. This reflects the relative lack of chemical diversity in modern commercial cannabis. There’s a lot of room for breeders to experiment with increasing the chemical diversity of strains, potentially even creating novel strains with terpene profiles that are unlike anything commercially available today.
Therapeutic properties of myrcene
There is a long list of myrcene’s potential therapeutic benefits. Like other terpenes, such as bisabolol, myrcene is believed to have a potential anti-inflammatory effect, in addition to possible anti-tumor, sedative, and other health benefits.
A 2015 study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology used human cartilage cells to investigate myrcene’s potential effects on osteoarthritis. The researchers found that myrcene had an anti-inflammatory influence on the cells while it slowed damage and disease progression. They also noted that this assertion warrants additional research.
Any list of potential myrcene effects should include its possible anti-tumor properties. Due in part to its anti-inflammatory effects, the myrcene terpene may contribute to the death of cancerous tumors. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the Korean Society for Applied Biological Chemistry suggested that myrcene may play a role in encouraging anti-metastatic activity in human breast cancer cells. Because the study was performed on cells and not directly on humans, more research is necessary to determine if myrcene could have a direct impact on killing malignant tumors in cancer patients.
In popular culture, cannabis strains high in myrcene have been reported to produce “couch lock,” or sedation. Although there is no clinical evidence to support these claims, there was one study published in 2002 in the journal Phytomedicine that showed myrcene may have a sedative effect in mice at very high doses. Myrcene increased barbiturate sleeping time when compared to a control group, which demonstrates the terpene’s prospects as a sedative. The study concluded that myrcene, in elevated amounts, may sedate and reduce locomotion in animals. Additional insight is needed into the terpene’s related effects on humans and if it is indeed capable of producing couch lock.
The myrcene terpene may have the ability to protect against ultraviolet light-induced aging in human skin, according to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine. By acting partially as an antioxidant, myrcene may very well be a beneficial additive to anti-aging and sunscreen lotions.
Can myrcene get you high?
The myrcene terpene consumed on its own will not get you high. However, high levels of myrcene are often associated with the experience of fast-acting and powerful highs. Research published in 2016 in the journal Nutraceuticals suggested that this sensation may be due to the myrcene terpene playing a key role in facilitating the transport of cannabinoids into your brain. Additionally, myrcene has been linked to enhanced transdermal absorption, potentially opening up another avenue for greater cannabinoid uptake.
Ultimately, myrcene’s effects on the blood-brain barrier and other factors related to blood flow make it a key player in the entourage effect. That said, it will not produce psychoactive effects if consumed in isolation.
High-myrcene cannabis strains
What popular strain names tend to be associated with the highest levels of myrcene? These prolific strains tend to produce high levels of myrcene.
- OG Kush
- Blue Dream
- 9 Pound Hammer
- Grape Ape
- Granddaddy Purple
Strain names commonly classified as indica, sativa, or hybrid can be found with high levels of myrcene, including popular sativa-dominant hybrids like Tangie and Blue Dream. You’ll also notice myrcene is common in both THC and CBD strains alike.
Myrcene levels in indica and sativa strains
A common claim we hear is that you can tell whether a strain will have “indica” or “sativa” effects by knowing its myrcene levels. It’s often stated that strains with more than 0.5% myrcene by weight will produce “indica” (relaxing) effects, while strains <0.5% myrcene by weight will produce “sativa” (energizing) effects. If this claim was true and reliable, we would expect to see a clear difference in myrcene levels between strains labeled as indica, hybrid, and sativa. Indicas should have mostly >0.5% myrcene by weight, sativas should have mostly <0.5%, and hybrids should be in the middle.
When we use lab data to look at myrcene levels across strain names based on their popular indica, hybrid, and sativa designations, this is generally not what we see:
On average, flower products tend to have similar myrcene levels across indicas, hybrids, and sativas. There is also no clear indication from the data to support a general rule such as, “more than 0.5% myrcene = indica.”
This claim may have originated from the common belief that myrcene is sedating and may be responsible for the “couch lock” effect many consumers sometimes feel with cannabis consumption. But do we know that this is actually true? What’s the evidence that myrcene produces sedating effects in humans?