An organic compound found throughout many species of plants, alpha-pinene is the most widespread terpene found in nature. Common in many plants, including Cannabis, fennel, eucalyptus, rosemary, and pine, this plant-produced essential oil has great potential for therapeutic use.

Understanding the Benefits of Alpha-Pinene

In an effort to illuminate the medicinal potential of Cannabis and its associated compounds, it is helpful to examine the beneficial properties of each individual constituent. Through forming a more complete understanding of the isolated and conjunctive functioning of Cannabis derived plant-produced compounds, and their positive physiological and psychological effects, the argument for a universal acceptance of Cannabis as a legitimate source of medicine can be solidified. With the examination of alpha-pinene (a-pinene), a widely found organic compound, beginning to yield fascinating potential for scientific and medicinal application, the drive to study these underutilized facets of organismal biology becomes ever more enticing.

In this lesson, we will discuss:

What is alpha-pinene, and where is this terpene found?

What are some low-dosage uses?

What are some high-dosage uses?

What is alpha-pinene, and where is this terpene found?

An organic compound found throughout many species of plants, a-pinene is the most widespread terpene found in nature. Common in Cannabis, fennel, eucalyptus, rosemary, and pine, this plant-produced essential oil has great potential for therapeutic use. Thought to be involved in plant defense against invading pest, a-pinene exhibits strong insect-repellent properties. Found in the glandular head of Cannabis trichomes, its localized production across the surface of the plant lends additional credence to its suspected pest mitigation origins (1).

What are some of its characteristics?

As reflected by the molecular formula, C10H16, a-pinene is an alkene with a reactive four-membered ring. With a boiling point of 313.2 degrees F and a flashpoint of 91 degrees F, the therapeutic properties of this terpene prove relatively easy to administer via combustion or vaporization. Holding scent notes reminiscent of pine or turpentine, the smell of a-pinene is distinctive and highly recognizable (2).

Which Cannabis strains contain alpha-pinene?

With Cannabis expressing a broad profile of terpene production, as dependent on typical strain trait, the establishment of a comprehensive list of Cannabis strains and their associated terpenoid profiles would be highly useful. While a comprehensive list of emerging data is necessarily distant and ongoing, work to begin the compilation process is underway. With the presence of a-pinene being noted in defined C. sativa, C. indica, and hybridized strains, the precise genetic origination of this terpene is uncertain at best. However, a higher presence of a-pinene has been noted in Kush varieties such as Velvet Kush, Blackberry Kush, and Purple Kush (3). By continuing to contribute to the cataloging of strain-specific traits, a more thorough understanding of the unique attributes of Cannabis can be gained.

What are some low-dosage uses of alpha-pinene?

With recognized use in a variety of industries, a-pinene holds huge potential for practical application. Utilized as a flavoring agent, memory aid, anti-inflammatory, and pest repellent, this plant-derived organic compound may offer a realistic solution to some of the current uses of synthetically manufactured chemicals (1).

At a low dosage, a-pinene has been shown to operate as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, effectively aiding in the memory retention process. With potential applications in short-term memory loss reduction, the value of this naturally occurring compound is readily evident. Thought to be able to combat short-term memory loss associated with the ingestion of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), future therapies may couple a-pinene with THC treatment options, in order to counteract memory deficit related side effects (1).

Found to exhibit antinociceptive properties, this terpene shows the potential to prevent pain signals from being received by the brain (4). With fewer side effects than traditional pain management options, a-pinene may serve as a viable treatment option for pain mitigation in the near future. A bronchodilator, also showing potential as a preventative against stomach ulcers, the broadly applicable curative properties of a-pinene make it a great resource for further investigation (1, 5). By continuing to evaluate current treatments, and explore new avenues for medicine, safer, more effective treatment options can be discovered and implemented.

What are some high-dosage uses of alpha-pinene?

At high dosage, a-pinene has been shown to exhibit antibacterial, antimicrobial, and insect-repellent properties (1, 6). Found to have a significant effect in stemming the growth of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a-pinene may serve as a viable treatment option to address this rapidly evolving bacterium. Also showing potential as a broad-spectrum antibiotic and acne treatment, a-pinene may soon serve as a solution for infections of all severity levels (1). As infectious organisms continue to evolve and develop new drug resistances, it becomes imperative to find new treatment options that can effectively address the causes of an infection, without damaging the patient as a result of the need for increasingly larger dosages.

Having likely originated as a plant-produced pest mitigation measure, the direct applicability of a-pinene to agriculture seems evident. The inherent insect-repellent properties of a-pinene make it a potential candidate for long-term replacement of the current regimen of toxic chemicals used in many commercial pesticide treatments (1). By utilizing the natural compounds that evolved in answer to the threat of invading pests, a cleaner, more ecologically conscious approach towards agriculture can be established.

Through current research into its uses in aromatherapy, a-pinene has been found to provoke an olfactory stimulation response leading to an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. This response led to a reduction in heart rate and an overall feeling of physical relaxation (7). Found in cypress and tea tree essential oils and incorporated into aromatherapy massage, a-pinene is utilized for its anti-anxiety and fatigue reduction properties (8). Providing a significant mentally elevating, therapeutic effect, the use of essential oil blends containing a-pinene may prove of great future value to the field of mental health.

Conclusion

Common in Cannabis, fennel, eucalyptus, rosemary, and pine, a-pinene is the most widespread terpene found in nature (1, 2, 4). With low dosages having a broad range of applications, including use as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, anti-inflammatory agent, antinociceptive, ulcer preventative, and bronchodilator, a-pinene shows great potential for medicinal use (1, 4, 5). At higher dosages, a-pinene has been shown to have a significant effect against MRSA and can be employed as an anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, or insect repellent (1, 6). Utilized in aromatherapy to elicit an elevated mental state and relaxation response, the therapeutic qualities of a-pinene make it a likely candidate for incorporation into the next generation of mental health treatments (7, 8). With current and emerging applications in food preparation, medicine, and agriculture, further exploration into the beneficial properties of a-pinene may prove a valuable avenue for continued scientific investigation (1).

With fewer side effects than traditional pain management options, a-pinene may serve as a viable treatment option for pain mitigation in the near future.


RESOURCES

1) Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x

2) National Center for Biotechnology Information. Alpha-Pinene. PubChem Compound Database, CID:6654. Retrieved February, 20, 2019, from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/alpha-pinene

3) Elzinga, S., Fischedick, J., Podkolinski, R., Raber, J. C. (2015). Cannabinoids and Terpenes as Chemotaxonomic Markers in Cannabis. Natural Products Chemistry & Research, 3(4). Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2329-6836.1000181

4) Him, A., Ozbek, H., Turel, I., Oner, A. C. (2008). Antinociceptive activity of alpha-pinene and fenchone. Pharmacologyonline, 3, 363-369. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266416515_Antinociceptive_activity_of_alpha-pinene_and_fenchone

5) Pinheiro, M. A., Magalhães, R. M., Torres, D. M., Cavalcante, R. C., Mota, F. S. X., Coelho, E. M. A. O., Moreira, H. P., Lima, G. C., Araújo, P. C. C., Cardoso, J. H. L., Souza, A. N. C., Diniz, L. R. L. (2015). Gastroprotective effect of alpha-pinene and its correlation with antiulcerogenic activity of essential oils obtained from Hyptis species. Pharmacognosy Magazine, 11(41), 123-130. doi:10.4103/0973-1296.149725

6) Leite, A. M., Lima, E. O., Souza, E. L., Diniz, M. F. F. M., Trajano, V. N., Medeiros, I. A. (2007). Inhibitory effect of b-pinene, a-pinene and eugenol on the growth of potential infectious endocarditis causing Gram-positive bacteria. Revista Brasileira de Ciências Farmacêuticas, 43(1). Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1516-93322007000100015

7) Ikei, H., Song, C., Miyazaki, Y. (2016). Effects of olfactory stimulation by α-pinene on autonomic nervous activity. Journal of Wood Science, 62(6), 568-572. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10086-016-1576-1

8) Kuriyama, H., Watanabe, S., Nakaya, T., Shigemori, I., Kita, M., Yoshida, N., Masaki, D., Tadai, T., Ozasa, K., Fukui, K., Imanishi, J. (2005). Immunological and Psychological Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2(2), 179-184. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ecam/neh087