Terpenes in Cannabis: Phellandrene


Phellandrene has two common isomers: alpha hellandrene (α-phellandrene) and beta hellandrene (β-phellandrene). Although it is commercially isolated from various species of eucalyptus, both isomers are also present in substantial quantities in cannabis oil. It is also found in black pepper, cinnamon, dill, garlic, ginger, grand fir, lavender, and parsley. In all of these plants, the amount of phellandrene contained within them can vary a great deal throughout the year but is not understood why. Phellandrene was named after one specific species of eucalyptus plant: Eucalyptus phellandra.

Phellandrene has a scent similar to peppermint but with subtle citrusy notes and peppery notes mixed in as well. This is a very pleasant combination of aromas and tastes, and for this reason, it is often used as a flavoring in the food industry. Because phellandrene oil is easily absorbed through the skin, it is also highly valued in the perfume industry.

Phellandrene is an important substance in traditional Chinese medicine. It is often used to treat digestive disorders as well as fungal and bacterial infections. Several modern laboratory studies have shown that phellandrene kills both gram positive and gram negative bacterial cultures so this substantiates why this ancient healing tactic would work. It is also used on patients complaining of general malaise such as just feeling tired or not having enough energy to accomplish ordinary tasks. Those that practice traditional Chinese medicine also give phellandrene, or herbs containing large quantities of phellandrene, to clients to reduce phlegm and to purify the blood.

In the alternative medicine journal, Nutrition and Cancer, Chinese researchers reported that alpha phellandrene induced necrosis of a human liver tumor (death of the liver cancer cells). They also reported that the mechanism by which this occurred was likely ATP (adenosine triphosphate) depletion. ATP is a coenzyme that is needed to carry energy from place to place in a cell enabling it to carry on normal metabolism and replicate. Without enough ATP present, cells simply cannot continue to function normally and will die. The fact that pehllandrene seems to target the tumor cells and not the normal cells is what makes this study so promising.

Phellandrene has shown great promise in destroying leukemia cells in mice. A study published in July 2014 in the journal, In Vivo, showed that alpha phellandrene increased the presence of macrophages and natural killer cells, also called NK cells, both types of lymphocytes (a class of white blood cells) that can naturally kill off cancer cells before they proliferate. In other words, it is very possible that phellandrene could enhance the body’s own natural defense system against cancer.

A study published in August 2014 in the journal, Anticancer Research, showed that alpha phellandrene stopped the expression of genes associated with DNA damage and uncontrolled cell proliferation in leukemia cells in culture. Another study published in July 2015 in the journal, Environmental Toxicology, showed the phellandrene caused cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) in leukemia cells in mice. All of these anti-cancer studies with phellandrene give hope to new alternative treatments for cancer including cannabis oils containing phellandrene.