Best Terpenes for Cancer: A Practical Guide | CAC
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Best Terpenes for Cancer: A Practical Guide

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Cancer is a complex and potentially lethal disease that affects millions of lives worldwide. While conventional treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are widely used, there is a growing interest in exploring alternative approaches that can complement existing treatments. One area of interest is the potential role of terpenes in cancer treatment.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds. They are found in a variety of plants, including cannabis. The most obvious characteristics of terpenes are their scent and flavour. More recently, however, scientific research has identified that terpenes also have significant therapeutic qualities. These include the potential ability to fight cancer.

Key takeaways

  • Terpenes have potential as a complementary treatment option for cancer due to their unique properties and mechanisms of action.
  • Research is ongoing, and it may take several years before enough evidence supports their widespread use in cancer treatment.
  • It’s important to source terpenes from reputable manufacturers and consult with a healthcare professional before using them, especially if taking other medications.
  • Different terpenes may be more effective in treating different types of cancer, but further research is needed to confirm their potential.
  • Share your experiences using terpenes for cancer treatment by writing a medical cannabis review of your clinic, and help the community gain a better understanding of this emerging therapy. 

Before we proceed, it is important to point out that terpenes, THC, and CBD will not cure cancer. There is currently no known cure for cancer. However, there is evidence to suggest that certain cannabis compounds may have anti-cancer properties and could help in supporting conventional treatments.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic organic compounds. They contribute to the distinct smells and tastes associated with different botanical species. Terpenes can be found in a wide range of natural sources. They are abundant in highly aromatic and/or flavourful plant species such as many fruits, flowers, and herbs.

At present, there are over 20,000 identified types of terpenes. Each type has its own distinct flavour and aroma, and its own range of potential therapeutic benefits.  

Cannabis is a rich source of terpenes. Each strain has its own profile. This chemical profile contributes to its aroma, flavour, and specific therapeutic properties. In cannabis, terpenes are synthesised through the same biochemical pathway as cannabinoids. As a result, terpenes play a crucial role in the overall chemical composition of the cannabis plant.

Best Terpenes for Cancer

How do terpenes help fight cancer?

One important mechanism of action is the ability of terpenes to induce apoptosis, which is programmed cell death. By promoting apoptosis, terpenes can help regulate the cell cycle and prevent the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells. Additionally, terpenes have been found to inhibit angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels that tumours rely on for nutrients and oxygen. By disrupting this process, terpenes can help starve tumours and limit their growth.

Research has also indicated that terpenes can modulate cellular signalling pathways involved in cancer progression. For example, beta-caryophyllene has been shown to interact with cannabinoid receptors, leading to anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Limonene has demonstrated potential in suppressing tumour growth by inhibiting enzymes that promote cell proliferation.

How do terpenes affect cancer treatment?

They don’t yet, but they may soon!

Although the majority of evidence regarding terpenes and their impact on cancer stems from preclinical studies conducted on cell cultures and animal models, there is an increasing interest in clinical research.

Clinical studies are now being conducted to examine the effects of terpenes when used alongside conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The objective of these studies is to evaluate the potential synergistic effects and safety profiles of therapies that incorporate terpenes.

Best Terpenes for Cancer

What Are the Best Terpenes for Cancer?

Some of the best-researched terpenes found in cannabis are limonene, beta-caryophyllene, linalool, myrcene, and pinene. Of these, limonene, beta-caryophyllene and linalool currently show the most promise as potential treatments for cancer.


Limonene, a terpene abundant in citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, has gained recognition for its potential anti-cancer properties.

Research has revealed that limonene possesses anti-tumour effects, effectively inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and inducing programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, in various types of cancers such as breast, lung, and pancreatic cancer. Moreover, limonene has shown promise in reducing the risk of cancer development and progression.

It is believed that several mechanisms of action contribute to limonene anti-cancer. It has been found to modulate several signalling pathways involved in cancer cell growth and survival, such as the MAPK pathway and PI3K/Akt pathway. Limonene also possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which contribute to its potential cancer-fighting abilities.


Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene found in various plants, including black pepper, cloves and cannabis. It has gained attention for its anti-cancer properties. Research suggests that beta-caryophyllene exhibits cytotoxic effects against cancer cells and may inhibit tumour growth. It achieves this by targeting key molecular pathways involved in cancer development, such as the NF-κB pathway, which regulates inflammation and cell proliferation.


Linalool, found in lavender, mint and coriander, shows potential as an anti-cancer agent. It inhibits cancer cell growth and promotes programmed cell death. 

Linalool’s antioxidant properties allow it to reduce cellular damage by scavenging free radicals and modulating oxidative stress. It also inhibits angiogenesis, hindering the formation of blood vessels that supply nutrients to tumours. 

By interfering with critical signalling pathways like PI3K/Akt and MAPK, linalool disrupts cancer cell survival, proliferation and metastasis. These mechanisms suggest linalool’s potential as a therapeutic agent in cancer treatment. 

Best Terpenes for Cancer


What are the benefits of using terpenes for cancer treatment?

Using terpenes for cancer treatment offers several potential benefits. One advantage is the potential for fewer side effects compared to traditional treatments. Conventional cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation often come with significant side effects that can impact patients’ quality of life. Terpenes, on the other hand, are natural compounds found in plants and may offer a more gentle and well-tolerated approach.

Another benefit is the potential for terpenes to complement conventional treatments. Terpenes can be used alongside standard cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy or radiation, to enhance their effectiveness. Research suggests that terpenes may have synergistic effects with these treatments, potentially improving outcomes for patients.

Moreover, terpenes offer the possibility of personalised treatment options. Each terpene has unique properties and can target specific mechanisms involved in cancer development and progression. By understanding the individual characteristics of a patient’s cancer and considering their unique needs, healthcare professionals can tailor terpene-based treatments to suit their condition, potentially improving treatment efficacy.

That said, you shouldn’t look at terpenes as a replacement for standard cancer treatments. More research is required to fully understand terpenes’ potential as a cancer therapy, and they should be approached as a complementary treatment option under the guidance of a specialist doctor.

Risks and considerations

When considering the use of terpenes for cancer treatment, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and key considerations. One significant hazard is the lack of regulation and standardisation in the terpene industry. The production and distribution of terpene products vary, making it difficult to ensure consistent quality and potency. It’s, therefore, essential to source terpenes from reputable manufacturers that prioritise quality control and adhere to stringent production standards.

It’s also important to be aware of the potential interactions between terpenes and other medications, including those used in cancer treatment. Like any treatment, terpenes have the potential to interact with certain drugs. This can affect their efficacy and/or increase the risk of side effects. Consulting with a healthcare professional, such as an oncologist or pharmacist, is crucial to assess the potential risks of drug interactions and to receive personalised guidance based on your specific medical condition and treatment plan.

Best Terpenes for Cancer


When will more research be available on terpenes for cancer treatment?

Research on terpenes for cancer treatment is continually evolving, and new studies are being conducted regularly. However, it may take several years before enough evidence is available to support their widespread use in cancer treatment.

Are terpenes a safe treatment option for cancer patients?

Yes, terpenes are generally safe for consumption when used as directed. However, it’s essential to consult with a specialist doctor before incorporating terpenes into your treatment plan, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking other medications.

What are the three best terpenes for cancer treatment?

As each terpene has unique properties and mechanisms, there is not a specific “best” terpene for cancer treatment. Instead, researchers are exploring the potential of various terpenes such as limonene, beta-caryophyllene and linalool in combatting different types of cancer.

Best terpenes for cancer in brief

While it is obvious that the currently available research is pointing towards terpenes as a potential cancer treatment option, it is worth noting that further studies are still required to fully understand the mechanisms of terpenes in cancer treatment.

Overall, terpenes like limonene, beta-caryophyllene and linalool show promise in fighting cancer through various mechanisms of action. They offer potential benefits such as fewer side effects, complementary treatment options and the possibility for personalised treatments. Remember to always consult with a specialist doctor before incorporating terpene-based treatments into any treatment plan.

Do you have any experience using terpenes for cancer treatment? Share your thoughts and experiences in the review section, and help the community better understand the potential of terpenes in cancer care.