What is Pinene?
Pinene is one of the most common terpenes in the plant world and is produced in significant quantities by basil, cedar, pine, and conifer trees, dill, eucalyptus, oranges, parsley, rosemary, and hundreds of other plants, including cannabis. Pinene has distinctive aromas of pine and fir.
Pinene is one of the principal monoterpenes that is important physiologically in both plants and animals. It tends to react with other chemicals, forming a variety of other terpenes (like limonene) and other compounds. Pinene is used in medicine as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, bronchodilator and local antiseptic. Clinical studies indicate that the effects of THC may be lessened if mixed with pinene.
What is Alpha-Pinene?
Terpenes, like α-pinene are fragrant oils secreted by cannabis trichomes (stalk-like glands) as a defense mechanism, primarily against insects. As its name implies, α-pinene has a strong scent of pine and can be found in high concentrations in conifer trees. However, α-pinene can also be found in plants such as: parsley, rosemary, mint, and sage. Furthermore, terpenes like α-pinene have been found to provide possible medicinal benefits to humans.
A 2012 animal model study of acute pancreatitis showed anti-inflammatory effects related to α-pinene. Another study in 2014 showed that α-pinene had both anti-inflammatory effects and was protective towards human cartilage cells (chondrocytes). The researchers concluded α-pinene may have value in the treatment of arthritis.
A study published in 2010 demonstrated α-pinene can significantly inhibit the growth of microbes including some bacteria and yeast. In 2011, α-pinene’s activity against an infectious bronchitis virus was tested. Researchers concluded α-pinene may possess anti-viral properties against this pathogen.
Effects on Human Lungs
Alpha-pinene was studied in 2011 for its effects on the human respiratory system through inhalation. Researchers found low concentrations of inhaled α-pinene resulted in an airway-dilating effect. This suggests it may have a beneficial effect for people with asthma.
Possibly the most compelling evidence for the health benefits of α-pinene was found in a study published in 2000. Researchers noted inhibition of acetylcholinesterase activity in humans resulting in improved memory. This characteristic may improve short-term memory deficits caused by intoxicating doses of THC.
Alpha-pinene is what gives an evergreen tree its distinctive, fresh scent. Generally regarded simply as a pleasant aroma, scientific studies over the past few decades have also found promising health benefits of this commonly occurring terpene.
What is Beta-Pinene?
Beta-pinene (β-pinene) is one of the two isomers of pinene, along with its sibling alpha-pinene (α-pinene). Beta-pinene is most known for it’s a woody and piney smell. It is one of the main compounds released by forest trees.
Because both β and α-pinene share the same plant sources, they also share similar therapeutic qualities and characteristics. The main differentiator between these two terpenes is their smell. Whereas α-pinene possesses the unmistakable fresh and earthy scent (think pine and rosemary), β-pinene has a fresh, woody, and spicy aromatic quality (think dill, parsley, basil or hops).
β-pinene is commonly used in fragrance, essential oils, cooking as a flavoring additive and it also can serve as a preservative.
Both α-pinene and β-pinene are perhaps most noted in the scientific community for their ability to increase mental alertness, clarity, and overall cognitive functions. They also have been researched for their significant applications in bronchodilation, pain relief, epilepsy and cancer treatment, and neuroprotection. The pinenes are also widely recognized as an anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, (targeted at treating conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia), antiseptic, and antioxidant.
Bae G et al; Protective effects of alpha-pinene in mice with cerulein-induced acute pancreatitis; Life Sciences; 2012 Oct; 91(17-18): 866-871.
Rufino A et al; Anti-inflammatory and chondroprotective activity of (+)-α-pinene: structural and enantiomeric selectivity; Journal of Natural Products; 2014 Feb; 77(2): 264-269.
Gil M et al; Comparative study of different essential oils of Bupleurum gibraltaricum Lamarck; Pharmazie; 1989 Apr; 44(4): 284–287.
Yang Z et al; Comparative anti-infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) activity of (-)-pinene: effect on nucleocapsid (N) protein; Molecules; 2011 Jan; 16(2): 1044-1054.
Falk A et al; Uptake, distribution and elimination of alpha‐pinene in man after exposure by inhalation; Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health; 1990 Oct; 16(5): 372–378.
Nissen L et al; Characterization and antimicrobial activity of essential oils of industrial hemp varieties (Cannabis sativa L.); Fitoterapia; 2010 Jul; 81(5): 413–419.
Perry N et al; In‐vitro inhibition of human erythrocyte acetylcholinesterase by salvia lavandulaefolia essential oil and constituent terpenes; Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology; 2000 Jul; 52(7): 895–902.
Dr. Wright Penniman M.D. is a board certified family physician with 15 years of clinical experience and 4 years of experience as a medical director with a major health insurance company.
Article written by Dr. Wright Penniman M.D.
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