What is Humulene? What Does This Cannabis Terpene Do?

Humulene is one of many different terpenes found within various plants, insects and essential oils.

Terpenes are aromatic oils and compounds that give fruits, plants, and some varieties of insects their unique aroma and smell.

In nature, these compounds have several purposes,  including attracting or repelling predators or pollinators, aiding in reproduction, and providing protection against the elements.

Within cannabis, pinene is one of the most abundant terpenes out of more than 150 different varieties, providing cannabis strains with their unique aroma, flavour and supposed effects. Terpenes are a critical component of consuming cannabis, but not many know what they are, where they come from, or their reported effects.

This article is part of a series on cannabis terpenes and is designed to highlight one of cannabis’ hoppiest terpenes, humulene. 

What is Humulene?

what is humulene

Humulene is a naturally occurring sesquiterpene, a class of terpenes recognized for their pungent odours, anti-inflammatory effects and bactericidal properties. Compared to monoterpenes, a family of terpenes that many cannabis terpenes belong to, sesquiterpenes are less volatile and more aromatic. In cannabis, crystal-like structures known as glandular trichomes are responsible for terpene production.

Humulene is an isomer of β-caryophyllene and can also be referred to as α–caryophyllene or α humulene (alpha humulene). While this terpene shares the same chemical formula as its β-caryophyllene counterpart, its chemical structure is different, giving it other properties and effects.

The humulene terpene is found naturally mixed with its β-caryophyllene counterpart but can also be found in pine trees, the balsam fir tree, and ginseng. The terpene is also found in the flowering cone of common hops (Humulus Lupulus), many herbs such as sage and ginger, and black pepper’s essential oil.

Humulene has a spicy, woody and hoppy aroma and is often used in holistic eastern medicinal practices and traditional Chinese medicine.

Compared to other terpenes, the humulene terpene is one of the most dominant terpenes in the cannabis plant. This terpene can comprise the majority of a strain’s overall aromatic profile, giving cannabis strains a spicy, hoppy aroma.

In plants, humulene serves as a supplement for a plant’s defence capabilities. Its aromatic profile is an effective deterrent against insects such as the yellow fever mosquito and fruit flies. 

Within the life cycle of the cannabis plant, humulene plays an active role in protection. Humulene’s phytotoxic and anti-fungal properties dissuade pests and prevent fungal infestations.

This cannabis terpene’s subtle yet earthy aroma and herbal notes make it a popular addition in household cleaners, insecticides and other chemicals.

In addition to providing different cannabis strains with their unique aroma and flavour profile, studies suggest that terpenes can exhibit some pharmacological effects.

When combined with other terpenes and THC and CBD, a reaction known as the entourage effect may promote relaxation, stress relief, and other psychoactive effects. The entourage effect has some scientific basis backing for it, but research regarding its effects is inconclusive.

What are the Reported Effects of Humulene?

Humulene has a wealth of reported beneficial effects. Its history of use in holistic eastern medicinal practices promotes its antibacterial properties and potential as an anti-inflammatory and an appetite suppressant to promote weight loss.

This terpene is a fundamental element of many essential oils in Chinese medicine and is also present within balsam fir oil.

A Planta Medica study published in 2003 found that balsam fir oil rich in humulene could prevent tumour growth by producing Reactive Oxygen Species, which kill cancer cells.

Another study published in 2016 supports humulene’s ability to promote antitumor activity in mice, with further research being required to confirm its potential in humans.

Balsam fir oil has also been found to have antibacterial properties. One 2006 study found that small amounts of humulene within the oil eliminated all of the Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph) bacterium present within their trial.

The terpene humulene could also be partly responsible for weight loss. Weight loss was observed in a study where mice were administered alpha-humulene, but it’s unclear by what mechanism this was achieved. Humulene is also known as a ‘dietary cannabinoid’ with anorectic effects, making it an effective appetite suppressant.

In another mice-model trial, a study published in 2009 from a European journal found that humulene exhibited anti-inflammatory behaviour in an experimental model of airway allergic inflammation. When high concentrations of alpha humulene were administered to mice, the terpene reduced allergic inflammation in their airways significantly. These results point towards humulene as a potential substance to treat allergies.

Caryophyllyene’s Hoppier Counterpart

Found naturally in spices, herbs and the hops plant, humulene is just one of many terpenes influencing the flavour and aroma of our favourite cannabis strains. Especially prevalent within the strains of Sour Diesel, Pink Kush, Girl Scout Cookies, White Widow and Bubba Kush, humulene is one of the most dominant terpenes present within cannabis.

While further research is needed to unlock the medical potential of this cannabis terpene, Planta Medica and many other journals like it have found resounding success with humulene in their animal and bacteria trials. However, whether or not the medical community can replicate these findings in humans remains yet to be seen.

Please note that this content on humulene and terpenes is intended to act as entertainment and a general educative aid and is not intended to act as or substitute healthcare advice from a professional healthcare service or qualified healthcare provider. If you have any questions or concerns, please consult your physician or a qualified healthcare provider.

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