There are an estimated 55,000 terpenes (sometimes called terpenoids). Many of them produce a pleasant smell.
Terpenes are often associated with hemp, but they’re a large class of compounds produced by many plants on a wide scale. We’re all familiar with terpenes whether we’re aware of it or not. Terpenes are everywhere.
Think, “the smell of pine trees.”
The unmistakable smell of a pine tree is a result of the terpenes in that species of tree. Unique strains of hemp have distinct smells, too, and those smells are the result of each plant’s special combination of terpenes.
These fresh and pleasant smells are used by some plants to draw pollinators, while others use them to ward off unwanted bugs.
But how can these little compounds help us? More specifically, how do they benefit our dogs? Let’s find out.
Before we get into it, let’s do a little myth-busting.
If you type “terpene” into Google, your results page will likely get flooded with cannabis websites. Without regards to the plant, many of these sites and businesses aren’t well-informed or reputable.
(Many of them are reputable, too, but some of the shady resources float to the top.)
That’s an unfortunate truth! The point is, marketing gives terpenes a bad name. In reality, terpenes are everywhere in nature. Many of the wonderful smells in the world are the result of terpenoids.
Let’s explore a few notable examples before we get into a hemp-specific discussion.
Terpenes We’re All Familiar With
Terpenes are behind many of the lovely aromatic plants we love. The smells of lavender, mint, rosemary, orange, black pepper lime, lemon, hops, and flowers are all powered by terpenes.
The same terpenes that cause the smell are associated with the health benefits of those plants as well. So, the next time you see terpenes used as a cannabis-specific idea, know that there’s a much wider perspective out there.
The Benefit of “Full-Spectrum” Products
Full-spectrum hemp products are those that contain all of the natural terpenes and cannabinoids present in the original plant.
- Terpenes contribute to smell and can offer health benefits
- Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system, produce various physiological effects, and can improve some aspects of health
- These products aren't proven by the food and drug administration to treat, cure, or prevent disease or illness.
Hemp plants naturally produce countless terpenes and cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the dominant cannabinoids in hemp, but hundreds of secondary terpenes and cannabinoids work together to paint the full picture.
These secondary compounds are often ones that produce health benefits that we’re looking for in dogs and humans. Many companies strip the plant of secondary cannabinoids and terpenes when they “synthesize” their products.
A synthesized product contains one cannabinoid without any of the others, and that cannabinoid is CBD or THC in most cases. The end-product of this process is called an isolate or hemp extract.
What is The Entourage Effect?
Research indicates that full-spectrum hemp oils and products are more effective than isolates when it comes to treating health issues.
This may be due to the fact that cannabinoids and terpenes work off of one another. One cannabinoid may be more effective in the presence of terpenes than it would be if it were used alone. In this way, full-spectrum products become more than the sum of their parts.
The improved result of cannabinoids and terpenes used together is referred to as “The Entourage Effect.” As a result, it's important to find hemp products with a full terpene profile.
Think of it this way: Paul McCartney wouldn’t be as good if he didn’t have John, George, and Ringo. The band complements the singer, just like full-spectrum aspects complement the dominant cannabinoid.
Make sense? Without John, George, and Ringo, you lose the beautiful harmonies!
Full-Spectrum Terpenes for Pets
It’s very important to find full-spectrum products for your pets.
Why? — Because isolates are often loaded with additional chemicals and additives that may or may not be dangerous to your animal.
Companies add chemicals to create flavors or make their products more tolerable to humans and animals. This can lead to health complications depending on the company and the product.
It’s also extremely important that you never give your animal hemp products made for humans. Their digestive abilities are different from ours. Something as simple as sweetener is fine for us, but it could actually be fatal to your dog.
When shopping for pet hemp, look for these three terms:
- Third-party tested
Full-Spectrum: products contain all of the wonderful benefits of natural plants and don’t sacrifice quality in favor of artificial chemicals.
Third-Party Testing: ensures that the product is what it says it is. That means all of the branding, messaging, and packaging information is accurate. It’s an added bonus when a company offers something called “batch testing.”
Batch Testing: tests products on a rolling basis, giving you insights into the specific product coming to your door rather than an average of all products the company makes.
Veterinarian-Formulated: means that an actual doctor is formulating your pet’s product rather than someone who knows nothing about canine or feline biology.
Now that we’ve got a good idea of how to think about terpenes in pet products, let’s dive a little deeper and get a well-rounded understanding of the compounds themselves.
The Absolute Basics of Terpenes
For most of us, things get a little confusing (and frustrating) when we start talking about organic chemistry. That said, it’s still important to have a little context in order to appreciate how terpenes can be so therapeutic to humans and dogs alike.
Let’s start by noting that terpenes are distinguished by the number of isoprene units they have. Isoprene is the “most abundantly produced biogenetic volatile organic compound” in the world.
Not that it matters for our purposes, but the formula for one unit of isoprene is: CH2=C(CH3)−CH=CH2.
A terpene is distinguished the number of isoprene units linked together in its structure. So, if two of those units are linked together, the resulting terpene will be different than if there were just one unit.
This is how terpenes get their fundamental classifications. There are monoterpenes (2 units), diterpenes (4 units), triterpenes (6 units), tetraterpenes (8 units), and sesquiterpenes (3 units).
(You don’t need to know or remember these things. The point of describing them is to illuminate how terpenes can be structurally different, allowing them to produce unique sets of health benefits in dogs.)
An Overwhelming Variety
There are thousands of extensions and variances existing within the categories listed above. The number of isoprene units only signifies the fundamental category, but there could be any number of subcategories and unique types of terpenes that branch out from there.
The important thing to remember? — The number of isoprene units dictates therapeutic benefits.
While terpenes aren’t fully understood by researchers, they’ve found that the number of isoprene units in a terpene distinguishes the therapeutic benefits of that terpene.
According to the research, the following are therapeutic and medicinal benefits associated with fundamental terpene categories.
Benefits of Monoterpenes:
- Antitumor properties
- Antioxidant properties
- Aromatic properties
- Repellent properties (take the distinct smell and repellant properties of citronella, for example)
Benefits of Diterpenes:
Benefits of Triterpenes
Triterpenes are extremely common in species of mushrooms, and may contribute a great deal to the health benefits associated with fungi. Read more here about the health benefits cited above.
Benefits of Tetraterpenes
Benefits of Sesquiterpenes
Understanding Benefits for Pets
The numerous studies linked above investigate terpenes in general. Note that these studies don’t always reference our pets.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of research on how terpenes and cannabinoids interact with our dogs.
That said, research from September 2022 supports the safety of long-term daily CBD product use in healthy dogs. There are other studies that support the use of cannabidiol, but it will take time to get the wealth of scientific proof available when it comes to hemp and humans.
This is why you have to do your research and explore options with your vet’s approval. Companies might make claims that aren’t supported by science, and that’s something to watch out for.
On the other hand, many pet owners praise the use of cannabinoids and terpenes to support things like canine mobility, mood, relaxation, discomfort, and cognitive function. Tens of thousands of individuals say that cannabidiol is one of the key things keeping their aging dog happy & healthy.
So, What’s The Verdict on Terpenes for Dogs?
Full-spectrum products with various terpenes will often produce more health benefits thanks to their role in entourage effect. The specific benefits depend on the type of terpenes and the individual consuming them.
Still, it’s important to note that we’re always engaging with terpenes in nature whether we’re aware of them or not. Almost any aromatic plant is reaching us via the smells of terpenes. Those plants are often ones used in essential oils, and the benefits of those oils are usually associated with their terpenes.
That means that dogs are always interacting with terpenes, too. So, unless your dog has a specific allergy, odds are that terpenes will be a welcome addition to their wellness regimen.
*some references not listed here are embedded where relevant.