Terpenes: What is Myrcene, and What Does it Do?
Updated: Sep 20
Myrcene is a terpene found in cannabis, as well as other plants. While public knowledge about cannabis is slowly growing, more people are becoming aware that there’s so much more to this plant than just a high – so what is the deal with myrcene? What are the effects of myrcene?
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a class of chemicals responsible for the taste and aroma of different plants. There are over 20,000 known terpenes, and almost all plants have them. In the wild, terpenes are responsible for keeping predators away from, and attracting pollinators to, the plants.
While terpenes are found in pretty much any plant, they’re having a moment in the spotlight right now. The legalization of cannabis has spurred new research into the chemical compounds and potential uses of this plant family, and with that, a refreshed look at terpenes is taking place.
It was once thought that therapeutic use of terpenes was limited to aromatherapy, but new research shows that these compounds have many beneficial effects of their own, when used in certain ways or in conjunction with other terpenes and cannabinoids.
What is Myrcene?
Myrcene is the most prominent terpene in cannabis, with over 40% of mainstream cannabis strains having myrcene as the dominant terpene. It has an earthy, peppery, and kind of spicy scent that might be familiar; it’s also the dominant terpene in hops, which are used to make beer. It’s also found in lemongrass, mango, thyme, and cardamom.
Myrcene has a reputation for being sedating, with many users claiming that indica strains (more relaxing cannabis strains) are those that are higher in myrcene. While this isn’t entirely true for all strains across the board, myrcene from other plant sources have a long history of use as a relaxant or sleep aid in folk and traditional medicine.
Effects of Myrcene
Myrcene has a bunch of benefits, especially when used in conjunction with other terpenes and cannabinoids - this creates what’s known as the “entourage effect”, where two elements are much stronger together than both of them separately. While myrcene has some excellent properties on its own, some of its best effects come when combined with other terpenes or cannabinoids to utilize the entourage effect.
Some of the beneficial effects of myrcene are:
Antibiotic: Myrcene has powerful anti-bacterial effects - one study showed that myrcene alone suppressed the growth of staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes staph infections.
Anticancer properties: Research suggests that myrcene may help fight cancer by inhibiting the spread of cancer cells into healthy tissue. One study showed a positive relationship between myrcene and another terpene, pinene, in fighting breast cancer.
Analgesic: Myrcene has pain-relieving benefits as well, especially powerful when combined with THC. Certain plants containing myrcene, such as lemongrass, have been used for pain relief in traditional European folk medicine going back centuries.
Anti-inflammatory: A 2015 study showed that myrcene has therapeutic benefits for patients suffering from osteoarthritis. Not only did myrcene lower inflammation and pain in patients, but also slowed the damage to cartilage tissue associated with the disease.
Muscle Relaxant: Myrcene has a history of use as a mild sedative in traditional medicine, and when combined with THC, this effect is much more pronounced: myrcene is probably best known for inducing the “couch-lock” effect so commonly associated with THC use.
While myrcene on its own isn’t psychoactive, it greatly enhances this effect of THC. One “old wives tale” among cannabis users has been that eating a fresh mango before smoking cannabis increases the high; this one is actually true, due to the myrcene found in mango.
The Bottom Line
While, as always, more research is needed to unlock all of the mysteries of this terpene, it’s worth repeating that myrcene is just one of hundreds of compounds found in the cannabis plant. We’ll be covering more terpenes as well as specific cannabinoids later on - for now, enjoy!