Humulene, also known as alpha humulene or a-humulene, is a terpene classified as a monocyclic sesquiterpene. The humulene terpene is a key component of the essential oil from the flowering cone of the hops plant. Humulene is present in plants including cannabis and cannabis-derived essential oils in high concentrations, sometimes as high as 40 percent. The terpene is currently under exploration for its prospects as an anti-inflammatory agent with a capacity to treat allergies.
What is humulene?
Humulene, along with caryophyllene and myrcene, is one of the most common terpenes to occur in cannabis. Humulene shares another connection with caryophyllene: both are present in the hops found in beer. The therapeutic usages of essential oils containing the humulene terpene, such as sage oil, trace back to the remedies of ancient Chinese apothecaries. Even today, Chinese ginseng, which contains humulene, is used for many purposes, notably as an energy booster, a natural antibiotic, and an appetite suppressant.
What is humulene found in?
The essence of humulene is emitted into the atmosphere in a myriad of natural settings. If you've walked through an orange orchard in Florida, a pine forest in Vermont, or a sunflower field in Colorado, then you have had a sensory encounter with the humulene terpene. It is also present in essential oil form in plants such as marsh elders, tobacco, and cannabis. Many herbs and spices also contain humulene — including sage, ginseng, and coriander (cilantro) — all of which have a flavorful bite and are popular in Asian cuisine. Similarly, humulene is credited for giving beer its bitter flavor, thanks to the terpene's abundance in hops.
Therapeutic properties of humulene
Scientific studies have investigated whether humulene effects include anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and other medical benefits. Results have been encouraging, but further research is needed to establish a solid relationship between humulene and beneficial effects on health.
Many terpenes present in cannabis, including citronellol, have shown promise in treating inflammatory conditions. Humulene is among the terpenes that may exhibit anti-inflammatory action, as demonstrated in a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, which reported that humulene and caryophyllene, as elements of Cordia verbenacea oil, “might represent important tools for the management and/or treatment of inflammatory diseases.”
Further support for humulene's health benefits were published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2009. This study, conducted in animals, investigated humulene's potential to combat allergies. Interestingly, the study authors concluded that the terpene could be effective when administered orally or inhaled as an aerosol. The effectiveness of oral humulene was earlier confirmed by a 2008 study in the journal Planta Medica, which also demonstrated that humulene is absorbed when applied topically.
As a component of balsam fir oil, humulene has been tested for its efficacy in fighting several types of cancerous cells. One 2003 study published in Planta Medica found that the humulene in balsam fir oil may have the potential to kill cancer cells by turning off their antioxidant processes, thus arresting tumor growth. Again, much more research is needed before coming to any conclusions.
Role of humulene in cannabis
Most cannabis varieties rank high in the humulene terpene. Cannabis strains with notably high levels of humulene include GSC (fka Girl Scout Cookies), Headband, White Widow, Pink Kush, Bubba Kush, Super Lemon Haze, Sour Diesel, and Skywalker OG. Similar to other terpenes, such as bisabolol, the therapeutic benefits of the humulene found in cannabis are still being studied.
A prominent terpene in cannabis, humulene is distinctive for its association with the hops in beer and has shown potential in treating allergies, tumors, and particularly inflammation.
Major contributions from Dr. Adie Rae.