What is Phytol? What Does This Cannabis Terpene Do?

Phytol 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’ grassiest terpenes, phytol.

What is Phytol?

Phytol Terpene Chart
Phytol Terpenes Chart

Phytol is an acyclic diterpene alcohol, a naturally occurring plant oil produced as a byproduct of the chlorophyll molecule. Chlorophyll, a compound present in all green vegetables, is vital for photosynthesis. In cannabis, crystal-like structures known as glandular trichomes are responsible for terpene production.

A natural component of many plants and vegetables, phytol has a floral and grass-like aroma. In addition to being present in all green vegetables, phytol is also naturally found in yeast and some varieties of green tea.

Although its aroma and flavour aren’t as strong as other terpenes, phytol is a common additive in many household cleaners, goods and fragrances. Phytol is also sometimes used as a flavouring agent in foods and beverages.

In insects, phytol and its metabolites are used as chemical deterrents to protect against predation. This terpene is also used as a precursor for the manufacture of synthetic forms of Vitamin E. Phytol derived from synthetic sources is completely odourless and flavourless and is used in place of naturally occurring phytol in industrial and commercial applications.

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 Phytol?

Phytol, like many other cannabis terpenes, offers a wealth of therapeutic benefits.

Researchers discovered that this terpene inhibits the inflammatory response by reducing oxidative stress and cytokine production in mouse-based animal trials. 

Another study found that this terpene also had antioxidant properties in vivo and in vitro. These in vivo results point to its potential benefits as a pain reliever and an antitumor agent.

While phytol offers some medicinal benefits, this terpene has also caused many cannabis consumers and industry experts to grow increasingly alarmed over its safety and adverse effects when used as an additive in vape products and vape carts.

Phytol is often combined with propylene glycol and cannabis oil to create a thinner agent that’s capable of being vaped. However, a study released in December of 2020 by the medical journal Inhalation Toxicology found that the terpene was not as safe as previously reported.

Other Canadian LPs conducted further studies and independent experiments discovered that phytol inhalation caused lung tissue damage and severe pulmonary injury in lab rats.

These findings warrant caution. However, current studies and reports have only investigated its negative effects when it is an ingredient in vape pens and pure cannabis oil. 

Health Canada has issued no warning against cannabis flower products containing phytol.

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve and innovate, rules and regulations will continue to rise to meet new knowledge and safety standards. While current studies have pointed to phytol’s acute toxicity, it’s unclear whether or not these findings apply to humans or not.

While Health Canada has not explicitly banned phytol’s use in cannabis products, provincial review boards across Canada have effectively banned it from product formulations, effectively removing phytol-containing products from circulation.

Navigating Phytol’s Difficulties

Phytol is one of the most abundant terpenes found in nature and has wide applications both commercially and industrially.

Vape carts and products that contain phytol have been effectively removed from circulation following the footsteps of Inhalation Toxicology’s report. While its use in vape pens and other vaping products is a cause for concern, its presence in cannabis flowers, cleaners and other household goods is completely safe.

Floral, herbaceous and grass-like, phytol is an essential component of cannabis and is responsible for not only helping cannabis plants grow but for giving them their unique terpene profiles, too.

While not as well researched as other cannabis terpenes, phytol nevertheless contains a wealth of untapped potential that only further growth and investment in the cannabis industry can uncover.

Please note that this content on limonene 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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