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Super Class Terpenes: Humulene

Updated: Jan 19

An October 2022 study entitled "Effects of Super-class Cannabis Terpenes Beta-caryophyllene and Alpha-pinene on Zebrafish Behavioral Biomarkers" that was published in the journal Scientific Reports suggested the existence of a special subclass of terpenes that it dubbed super class terpenes.

"There are more than fifty cannabis terpenes most commonly found in North American cannabis strains, eight of which predominate to form a 'Terpene Super Class,'" explained the study.


The eight super class terpenes identified by this pinnacle study include alpha-pinene, beta-caryophyllene (BCP), humulene, limonene, linalool, myrcene, ocimene, and terpinolene. Higher Learning LV investigates each of these important terpenes in our Super Class Terpenes series.

  • Read our exclusive summary of this peer-reviewed research study here.

  • Listen to the C3 Podcast episode regarding this study here.


"More than fifty cannabis terpenes are commonly found in North American cannabis strains, eight of which predominate to form a 'Terpene Super Class.'"

 

Humulene Overview

Humulene, also known as alpha-humulene (α-humulene) and alpha-caryophyllene (α-caryophyllene), is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis/hemp/marijuana. This popular phytomolecule delivers an aroma and flavor that is earthy, woody, and spicy. '


"Humulene is produced by cannabis, basil, black pepper, cloves, sunflower, and tobacco."

Humulene can be found in the cannabis cultivars (strains) Candyland, Deathstar, Gelato, GSC (formerly Girl Scout Cookies), Headband, Pink Kush, Sherbert, Skywalker OG, Sour Diesel, and White Widow. It and the terpene BCP (another sesquiterpene) feature the same chemical formula, but have different molecular structures.


This terpene is produced by many botanical species beyond cannabis, including balsam fir trees, basil, black pepper, cloves, coriander (cilantro), elders, ginger, ginseng, oranges, sage, spearmint, sunflower, and tobacco (among others).

Basil is a top source of humulene


Like other terpenes and cannabinoids, humulene features multiple avenues of efficacy and may act as a positive therapeutic agent for a number of disease states, disorders, and conditions. Humulene's potential medicinal benefits include efficacy against systemic inflammation and the hundreds of diseases and disorders involving inflammation.


"Humulene's potential medicinal benefits include efficacy against systemic inflammation and the hundreds of diseases and disorders involving inflammation."

It has also been found to convey anticancer and offers the relatively unique capability to suppress appetite. This simple characteristic may make this common terpene of use in the treatment of eating disorders, obesity, and diabetes. Like alpha-pinene, humulene can act as an insecticide (insect repellant).


Multiple research studies have revealed that humulene is one of three terpenes—along with BCP and myrcene—that are commonly found together in particular cultivars and chemotypes of cannabis and hemp.


Humulene Fast Facts

  • Aroma: Herbal, earthy, woody, spicy

  • Flavor: Earthy, floral

  • Boiling point: 210° F (99° C) (PubChem)

  • Molecular: Monocyclic sesquiterpene

  • Source cultivars: Gelato, GSC (Girl Scout Cookies), Sherbert

  • Medicinal efficacy: Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer

  • Producing plants: Basil, black pepper, cloves, ginseng, tobacco

  • Uniqueness: Suppresses appetite (like THCV)


Research Studies

Peer-reviewed scientific studies have revealed a range of potential positive medicinal outcomes delivered by humulene, including dominant anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties.


The research reported that the terpene humulene "has been shown to exert anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities."

A 2022 study entitled "Synergistic Inhibitory Effect of α-humulene and Sclareol on Human Pancreatic Cancer Cells" that was published in the Journal of Functional Foods investigated "the anticancer activities of humulene...in combination on pancreatic cancer cells and its underlying mechanisms." The research reported that the terpene humulene "has been shown to exert anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities."

The study's authors explained that pancreatic cancer "is a devastating malignant disease with a very poor prognosis" and that novel approaches to treating patients suffering this cancer are being pursued and are of extreme value. "It is important to develop novel anti-pancreatic cancer agents and effective combination therapies that may improve the outcome of pancreatic cancer patients," reported the research.

Humulene "decreased the [cancer] cell viability" and had similar effectiveness against all three pancreatic cancer cell lines.

The study revealed that humulene, in a dose-dependent manner, "decreased the [cancer] cell viability" and that it had similar effectiveness against all three pancreatic cancer cell lines tested. It reported that humulene caused cancer cells to die in a genetically preprogrammed mechanism called apoptosis in which the cells essentially commit suicide, killing themselves. "The number of apoptotic cells increased in a dose-dependent manner after the cells were treated with humulene," reported the study.


The research also noted that humulene caused cancerous tumors to shrink in size. The study's authors concluded that humulene "synergistically decreased the viability of pancreatic cancer cells."

A 2021 study entitled "Pharmacological and Toxicological Activities of α-humulene and its Isomers: A Systematic Review" that was published in the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology conducted "a systematic review to identify the pharmacological and toxicological activities of α-humulene and its isomers.


Humulene presents "potential for the development of new drugs" that treat cancer.

"Terpenes are defined as one of the main metabolite groups in plant essential oils, being widely used in the cosmetic and food industries," reported the study. It noted that terpenes are hydrocarbons formed from isoprene units that "constitute important objects in studies that seek to identify substances from traditional medicine with therapeutic purposes."


The research concluded that humulene presents "potential for the development of new drugs" that treat cancer due to the terpene's "significant anti-tumor and cytotoxic action against cancer cells." It noted that this terpene may also offer antimicrobial advantages.


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