EducationThe potential of terpenes for depression symptom relief

The potential of terpenes for depression symptom relief

10 min read

Sam North

The potential of terpenes for depression symptom relief

With the rise of depression diagnoses over the past 3 years globally, and also specifically here in the UK, it should come as anything but a surprise that researchers and healthcare professionals alike are keenly interested in finding new ways to help manage depression.


One study, from early 2021, put the number of adults battling depression in the UK at over 21% (which is more than double the pre-pandemic figures of 10%). And while we have seen a slight decrease in the rates of self-reported and diagnoses of clinical depression in the years since, the numbers still remain staggeringly high.

The 'gold standard' of conventional depression treatments such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) have long been seen to dramatically reduce the symptoms of depression in many people, however, they simply don't work for everyone.

And drugs like SSRIs do come with a risk of side effects, which can range from pretty mild to more than slightly serious. There are also dependency issues with such drugs, so if you decide to stop taking them, sudden withdrawal can also be an issue.

This is where medical cannabis and the terpenes that it contains may be able to play a role.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic phytochemical compounds that give plants their distinctive smell, cannabis included. They are the base of many essential oils, and they can be found in different herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, and even some animals.

While the old thinking will have you believe that Sativa and Indica were the only two differentiating factors when it comes to cannabis, this is not necessarily true. As the research delves deeper into how cannabis affects both human physiology and psychology, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a bunch more at play, with the specific range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and even flavonoids all being instrumental in the effects of cannabis. This is commonly referred to as the entourage effect.

Scientists believe that five specific terpenes in particular may play a role in helping to reduce the symptoms of depression.

In today's article, we are going to look at these five terpenes, their effects, and benefits, and how they may be able to help in managing the symptoms of depression.

What are the best terpenes for depression?


Most abundantly found in citrus fruits (outside of cannabis), limonene has been shown to help with a wide range of physical and mental health conditions, including depression.

One study looked at the effect of lemon essential oil on mice. Limonene is found in large concentrations in lemon essential oil. The researchers found the mice had a boost in norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, all of which are key brain chemicals that can impact mood. The mice also had increased activity in the hippocampus, which is associated with better memory and learning.

It has also been shown to reduce anxiety levels, which can play a huge role in how depressed a person feels.


Found in many plant species, but most commonly in pine needles and cannabis, pinene is well known for its effects on memory and alertness. It has also been found to reduce the symptoms of depression, as well as reducing stress levels.

One study looked at the effects of two terpenes, linalool and pinene, on rats. Researchers found that both had a positive effect on reducing internal chemical depression indicators and that both had antidepressant-like activity.

Another study, again focusing on mice and pinene, found that pinene offered high antianxiety properties that lasted up to five days after inhalation.


Myrcene is the most abundant terpene in cannabis, along with mangos, hops, and lemongrass. It has been shown to have strong sedative effects, and it is thought that this could play a role in relieving the symptoms of depression.

While there are no currently available studies to back up this hypothesis, myrcene has been found to have a positive effect on sleep quality and duration. This could be hugely beneficial for those who struggle with depression-induced insomnia, or just a lack of quality sleep in general when depressed.

It has also been shown to have anxiolytic, antioxidant, anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties.


The odour that linalool provides is often used in perfumery and offers a floral, spicy wood, almost lavender-like fragrance. It is found in a wide range of cannabis strains, and while the need for more peer-reviewed research is needed, it has been widely applied both in traditional and modern herbal medicines.

A recent review of the available literature suggests that linalool has strong anxiolytic, antidepressant, and anti-inflammatory effects. It also found that it could influence both the monoaminergic and neuroendocrine systems, which are both linked to depression. This could suggest that linalool has a direct effect on reducing depressive states, while also potentially offering longer-term effects.


Beta-caryophyllene is a common terpene found in many herbs and spices, such as black pepper, oregano, and basil. It is among the most abundant terpenes in cannabis, and it has been shown to be a selective agonist of the cannabinoid receptor CB2. This could mean that it has mood-altering properties, making it potentially useful for those suffering from depression.

How to administer terpenes for depression

There are many ways that terpenes can be taken to help with the symptoms of depression. The most common method is inhalation, either through a diffuser or through smoking or vaping cannabis that has the right terpene profile, but they're anything but the only way.

Vaping cannabis is the healthiest inhalation option, as the process of vaporization does not produce any smoke or tar. When you vape dried cannabis flower, the device heats up the plant material to the point of releasing the terpenes and active cannabinoids into an inhalable vapour, but without burning any of the plant material. Cannabis extracts and concentrates are also very common for vaping, and these often come with higher levels of terpenes and cannabinoid percentages than dried cannabis flowers.

Edibles are another extremely popular method of consumption. Eating an edible or consuming a drink, such as a tincture, may take longer to feel the effects, but it can also offer a more potent experience with a longer duration. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration, as it is not uncommon for patients to accidentally overconsume while waiting for the effects to kick in.

Terpene-infused topicals are another way to benefit from the effects of terpenes without the need to ingest them. These topical products are formulated with specific combinations of terpenes and cannabinoids (or even no cannabinoids at all), so they can be tailored to the individual needs of the patient.

And then we have aromatherapy. Aromatherapy has been used for centuries and involves the inhalation of essential oils, which are produced from plant material. Terpenes in essential oils can be used to create a pleasant scent, but also offer therapeutic benefits. Inhaling the aroma of these powerful plant compounds has been found to be helpful for inducing relaxation, reducing stress, and improving mood.

Possible side effects

There are very few side effects associated with the application of terpenes to treat depression or as an adjunct treatment. As with any form of medication, all terpene products should be used according to the instructions.

As with all medicinal cannabis health solutions, they are anything but a one-size-fits-all remedy, and the right product should be tailored to an individual’s particular condition. Cannabis is a unique plant, and in today's social climate, it is sometimes touted as a “miracle cure” for many ailments. This is simply not the case.

The truth is that, sure, cannabis has a vast array of potential therapeutic applications and can be an effective tool in the treatment of a vast array of health issues. But it should always be taken as an addition to a treatment plan, and not as a standalone solution.

Before making any decision regarding medicinal cannabis and your health, it is important to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. It is also important to remember that there are many distinct types of cannabis and that we all react to terpenes and cannabinoids differently. Finding the right combination for you may take some trial and error.

When looking for alternative options for depression treatment, there are a few key factors to consider.

First and foremost, it is important to ensure that you are using a reputable source.

Secondly, be sure to look for products that are lab-tested and come with the proper warning labels.

Finally, be sure to use caution when experimenting with new cannabis products, as they may have unintended side effects that could be detrimental to your health. With awareness and caution, terpene-infused products can be an effective addition to any depression treatment plan.

If you are thinking about adding a cannabis-based product to your treatment plan, it is essential to understand the possible side effects that come with cannabinoid administration.

THC can cause mild anxiety, paranoia, and short-term memory loss. It can also cause an increase in heart rate. CBD is non-psychoactive, but can still cause belly bloating and discomfort in some patients, as well as a lowering of blood pressure, red eyes, and fatigue. It can also have a negative impact on some pharmaceutical medications, so always check with a qualified medical professional before taking any cannabis-based product.

Terpenes can also be administered effectively in conjunction with other non-pharmaceutical treatment options. Mindfulness training (meditation) has been proven to be an effective way to reduce stress and improve mood, as has exercise, yoga, and massage therapy.


While the need for more research into the role terpenes (and cannabis in general) may play in reducing depression remains ever present, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that terpene-based products may be an effective addition to treatment plans for mood disorders.

Here at Releaf, we offer a comprehensive medicinal cannabis service. From the initial consultation with a doctor that is registered to prescribe medicinal cannabis, through the process of deciding which product best suits your needs, to setting up a delivery service for the product itself.

We believe in taking an individual approach to health and acknowledge the importance of tailoring both your treatment plan and the products you choose to best suit your needs and lifestyle.

If you would like to learn more, get in touch with us today. We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have and discuss the possible benefits medicinal cannabis could bring to your everyday life.

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Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

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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