BlogThe potential of Alpha-Pinene in medical cannabis treatments

The potential of Alpha-Pinene in medical cannabis treatments

9 min read

Sarah Sinclair

What is Alpha-Pinene

In our educational series, we’ve been exploring the effects of terpenes—beyond their aroma—to better understand their importance in medical cannabis treatment. Here we take a closer look at the potential of Alpha-Pinene. 

While they often get as much air time as cannabinoids, terpenes play an important role in enhancing the therapeutic effects of medical cannabis, with their own medicinal and therapeutic properties, which could help improve treatment outcomes. 

This time around we’re focusing on one of the most abundant terpenes found in nature, responsible for the fresh, woody aroma reminiscent of heading outdoors and venturing deep into the forest: Alpha-Pinene.

Contents

What is Alpha-Pinene?

Alpha-Pinene is a naturally occurring terpene, found in the oils of many species of coniferous trees, particularly pine.

Its distinctive, woody aroma is commonly associated with pine forests. But it can also be found in non-coniferous plants like rosemary, eucalyptus, citrus fruits and some cannabis strains.

This pleasant scent and potential therapeutic benefits makes it a favourite for essential oils used in aromatherapy and herbal remedies, as well as traditional medicine. 

Unique characteristics and chemical structure 

Alpha-Pinene is a bicyclic monoterpene. Its structure includes a six-membered ring with a double bond, fused to a four-membered ring.

What is the vaporisation temperature of Alpha-Pinene?

The vaporisation temperature, or boiling point, of Alpha-Pinene is approximately 155-156°C (311-313°F). At this temperature it transitions from a clear liquid to a gaseous state which can be inhaled. 

Is Alpha-Pinene safe?

Pinene isomers have been approved as safe for use in human food and cosmetic applications globally, and evidence shows that both Alpha-Pinene and Beta-Pinene are non-toxic.

How Does Alpha-Pinene Work?

Alpha-Pinene, like many terpenes, can interact with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS), although it does not bind directly to cannabinoid receptors in the same way that cannabinoids like THC or CBD do. 

More research is required to better understand how Alpha-Pinene works in the body, but it is thought to interact with a number of signalling systems. For example, one study found that Alpha-Pinene can exert effects on the brain through its ability to act as a ‘positive modulator of the major inhibitory neurotransmitter’, as well as influencing multiple neurotransmitter, inflammatory and neurotrophic signals.

It is likely that Alpha-Pinene interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors indirectly to enhance or modulate the effects of the cannabinoids, working synergistically with these compounds, as well as other terpenes found in cannabis to enhance the overall therapeutic effects of the plant.

Therapeutic Benefits of Alpha-Pinene

Alpha-pinene has associated with a number of therapeutic properties, and so is often found in herbal remedies and traditional medicine.

One review paper highlighted it as a relevant candidate for further investigation as a novel medicine for the treatment of “stroke, ischemia, inflammatory and neuropathic pain (including migraine), cognitive impairment (relevant to Alzheimer's disease and ageing), insomnia, anxiety, and depression.”

Meanwhile, researchers elsewhere said that although most studies have not examined the bioavailability of pinene, it is clear that it has “antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiallergic properties.”

It is also likely that Pinene contributes to the health and wellbeing benefits now widely acknowledged as resulting from forest bathing. 

Anti-inflammatory properties

Evidence, although limited, suggests that Alpha-Pinene has anti-inflammatory properties and can protect against oxidative stress, making it an interesting compound for the treatment of inflammatory-related conditions, such as arthritis.

It has been found to provide analgesic or pain-relieving effects in inflammatory, migraine-associated, and neuropathic pain in preclinical animal settings. 

One study found evidence that Alpha-Pinene can “directly inhibit pro-inflammatory cell signalling pathways to suppress inflammatory response” in laboratory trials, and may also exhibit antioxidant and neuroprotective activity.

The authors concluded that the combination of these properties may point to Pinene as a compound suitable as a treatment for “chronic neurological conditions affecting the central nervous system, such as chronic pain-based conditions.”

Some early evidence has even suggested that Pinene may have “similar or better efficacy” than existing medications used to treat certain conditions, such as opioids, although more research in humans is needed. 

Bronchodilator effects

Alpha-pinene may also have effects which are beneficial for those with respiratory conditions, not only reducing inflammation, but also acting as a bronchodilator. According to one study, in human participants, this may “make it of value to patients with asthma”. 

Meanwhile, in a separate study it was determined that treatment with Pinene was associated with a reduction in clinical symptoms in a mouse model of allergic rhinitis, suggesting the compound is “a promising anti-allergic agent”.  

Memory enhancement: Potential cognitive benefits and studies supporting this

Some research has highlighted the neuroprotective properties of Pinene and its potential benefits for cognitive function not only in terms of neurological conditions and memory, but also in treating psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The results obtained from one study showed that Alpha-Pinene exhibits “a neuroprotective effect”, capable of “interfering with pathologic processes which lead to neuronal death during ischemic stroke”. 

Elsewhere, researchers found that Pinene increased production of cortical acetylcholine (which plays a key role in arousal, attention, sensory processing, and memory) and exerted antioxidant effects in the hippocampus, suggesting this mechanism contributes to its “pro-cognitive effects”. 

This is supported by further studies highlighting its effects on memory. In a rat model of Alzheimer’s, researchers found that Pinene “improves spatial learning and memory and reduces anxiety-like behaviour.”  

While another study found that memory impairment caused by kainic acid was “notably diminished” following treatment with pinene.

In light of these neuroprotective properties and its impact on memory, there is some research that suggests that Pinene could be relevant in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, although more specific studies are needed.

Several studies have also examined the effects of Pinene on mood, particularly its anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects, with promising results. 

Antimicrobial effects: How it can combat certain bacteria and fungi.

Several studies have investigated the antimicrobial effects of Pinene and it has been shown to be effective against some common food-borne pathogens, such as MRSA, B. cereus, E. coli, and Campylobacter jejuni. 

One paper points out that α-pinene has “wide potential in antimicrobial therapy in order to inhibit the growth of bacteria as an isolated result or as a synergist of antibiotics”, however its effects were linked to its “concentration, the interaction with certain bacterial strains and in some cases the concomitant action of antibiotics”.

The authors concluded that further research should explore the effectiveness of Pinene in the contexts of the “most diverse microorganisms that affect human health”. 

It noted that both Alpha-pinene and Beta-Pinene “exhibit various biological activities, which makes them useful for various applications and uses, e.g, as fungicidal, flavours, fragrances, antiviral, and antimicrobial agents”.

Which Cannabis Strains are Rich in Alpha-Pinene?

Alpha-Pinene can be found in many different cannabis strains, although Pinene-dominant strains are relatively uncommon. 

Some of those currently prescribed in the UK include:

  • Releaf T22 Druid Haze
  • ECS Lite C 16 Maluti CBD
  • TGOD T23 Organic Maple Kush

Alpha-Pinene FAQs

What does Alpha-Pinene smell and taste like?

Alpha-Pinene has a distinctive aroma and taste. The most prominent and recognisable scent is that of fresh pine needles, with woody undertones and some subtle herbaceous notes, similar to rosemary or basil. Overall, it has a very fresh and clean scent, reminiscent of being outdoors in nature.

Similar to its aroma, the taste of Alpha-Pinene is predominantly pine-like, providing a fresh and slightly resinous flavour, with earthy and herbal hints. Some people might detect a slight bitterness from Alpha-Pinene, as is the case with many terpenes.

Can Alpha-Pinene affect mood or cognition?

While more research is needed to fully understand the extent of alpha-pinene's effects on mood and cognition, current evidence suggests it does have potential benefits.

It has been shown in studies to have a positive effect on memory, suggesting that it could help combat some of the short-term memory loss resulting from THC. It is also thought to have neuroprotective properties which could have potential in treating neurological conditions, due to its interactions with neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Meanwhile, Alpha-pinene is also thought to have anxiety-reducing and antidepressant properties, making it a potentially effective mood-booster, although more in-depth studies are needed to better understand these effects. 

How is Alpha-Pinene used?

Outside of cannabis, Alpha-Pinene’s characteristics make it popular for use in a wide range of other applications, such as:

  • Aromatherapy.
  • Perfumes, air fresheners and cleaning products.
  • A flavouring agent in food and beverages.
  • As a starting material in the synthesis of other chemicals e.g. to produce camphor, an important compound in medical and cosmetic products.
  • As a component in the production of turpentine and related products, which are used as solvents and in the manufacture of resins and adhesives.
  • In pesticides and insect repellents.

To sum up…

Boasting a number of therapeutic properties, Alpha-Pinene shows promise in the treatment of chronic conditions such arthritis, asthma, and neurodegenerative diseases, due to its anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and antimicrobial effects. 

Studies have also highlighted its potential to improve memory, reduce anxiety, and ease depression, suggesting it could help mitigate some of the side-effects of THC and leave you feeling more uplifted. 

While most of this research is in the early stages, we do know that Alpha-Pinene plays an important role in the entourage effect, alongside an array of other terpenes, which you can read more about via our blog.

As always, remember that cannabis is a very personalised medicine and everyone responds differently to different treatments, so please consult with your cannabis clinician before making any changes to your treatment plan.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

Sarah, a distinguished journalist with over a decade in publishing and communications, now excels in cannabis health and policy journalism in the UK, advocating for informed health decisions through her award-winning work.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.


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