Humulene: Super Cancer Fighting Terpene


And killing cancer cells is but one of the medicinal benefits of humulene.

Terpenes: the compounds in cannabis, and other plants, that produce the smell and taste that we love so much. Different terpenes produce different smells. Linolool, for instance, is found in lavender. Humulene, a type of Sesquiterpene found in cloves and black pepper, produces a rich, woody smell. But, even more than that, it also has therapeutic qualities that make this terpene an important one in the search for ways that cannabis can help heal.

close up of trichomes on a cannabis plant

Trichomes are rich in aromatic terpenes. Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

There are over 20,000 terpenes in plants, all of which have unique scents, tastes, and medicinal benefit.  Researchers are slowly uncovering the importance of terpenes, and have even gone on to produce synthetic terpenes for medicinal use.

What are Sesquiterpenes and why do they matter?

Close up of Cannabis Cola

Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

While many compounds are barred from entering the brain by the protective blood-brain barrier, some Sesquiterpenes are able to make it through. The blood barrier typically acts as an absolute obstacle. While this is good to protect the brain, it causes problems in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. If drugs can’t get through, how can they treat diseases of the brain?

This is why Sesquiterpenes are so important – the CAN get across this barrier.

close up of trichomes and resin on cannabis plant

Image Credit: Helen M Clark

What Can Humulene Do?

Humulene is a type of Sesquiterpene, originally discovered in the hops flower, or humulus lupulus from which humulene derives its name. These are the same hops found in beer, though it may not have quite the same positive benefits when consumed through a frosty pint as it will taking it right from cannabis.

With woody, earthy, spiced flavour notes, this terpene is responsible for the tanginess of ginger, the woody notes of sage and clove, and that warming, sometimes delightfully bitter taste of beer. And, of course, the earthy notes of cannabis.

Close up of cut down hops

Image Credit: Itor

Humulene is part of cannabis’s defense system against animals and bugs. It functions as an antibiotic, antifungal, antidessicant, and antibacterial. And this means that it can also act as an antibiotic for humans.

Our ancestors knew of these properties; their medicinal concoctions often included high-humulene ingredients in order to combat nasty bacteria and illness. Now, modern-day scientists are rediscovering these benefits.

Animation of Apoptosis

Image Credit: Kateryna Kon

Researchers are engaging in more studies to determine the full beneficial range of humulene, among other terpenes. Scientists have uncovered evidence that humulene may be responsible for apoptosis (cell suicide) in cancer cells. This is because humulene triggers the production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that causes apoptosis. Furthermore, this terpene is anti-proliferative, thereby limiting the spread and growth of tumour and cancer cells.

That may seem like enough of a reason to have a greater intake of humulene, but there are actually more benefits than just anti-tumour. Humulene is also an anti-inflammatory that effectively competes with the steroid dexamethasone for dramatically reducing inflammation.

Close up of Balsam Fir Branches

Image Credit: Shutterstock

As mentioned above, it’s also antibacterial. In particular, researchers have shown that the humulene in balsam fir – a product that was used in ancient and folk medicines – is antibacterial. This terpene is so powerful that it can actually regulate staph infections!

We all know cannabis can help to relieve pain. But did you know that humulene may be one of the terpenes helping with this? That’s because humulene is analgesic, or a pain reliever. So when you take cannabis to reduce pain, humulene helps to kick that pain in the butt.

Cannabis Buds in Glass Bowl

Image Credit: Shannon Peddell

Finally, humulene is an appetite suppressor. This last one may come as a surprise – most people associate cannabis with the munchies. But, humulene is currently being investigated as a weight loss tool.

Talk about a super terpene! The wonders of cannabis and its compounds never cease to amaze. It’s an exciting time for cannabis research – we’re looking forward to see where research into humulene and its cancer-killing abilities goes from here! Strains that are high in humulene include: Jack Herer, Chem Dog, Bubba Kush, Greenhouse Skunk, and Super Lemon Haze.


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