A cup of joe is a necessity for many morning routines as you try and pry your eyes open. Coffee beans with their high concentrations of caffeine, usually in the form of a hot drink, are almost culturally ubiquitous; from the Italian espresso to the delightful Kona coffee of Hawaii. Plants have long been sought after for their “pick me up” effects and are a common daytime recommendation for focus, energy and creativity. High concentrations of pinene, in particular alpha pinene, have been associated with these effects.
Pinene, a main component of pine tree sap, is a more complex terpene than other terpenes like limonene and mycrene. One difference is that pinene is a bicyclic terpene, meaning it has two carbon ring structures attached to each other. Carbon ring structures are rad in nature (like freakin DNA!) as they are biosynthetically complex to make and have very interesting biological interactions in plants and animals.
Along with this complexity comes four major terpene structures of pinene, alpha and beta and the +/- enantiomers of both. The difference between alpha and beta versions of pinene is a shifting of the double bond from inside the ring to outside of the ring which moves hydrogen atoms around as well as positive and negative forces. And the enantiomeric variations are the same molecular structure but in a mirror images, like your right and left hand. These minor shifts in molecular structure have significant changes to the interactions of these molecules with biological organisms and for us lovers of the plant that means different flavors, aromas and effects.
Dementia and other forms of cognition loss, like Alzheimer’s disease, are quickly becoming an epidemic. In fact Alzheimer’s disease has been estimated to be on path to be the leading cause of death in the elderly over 65 by 2050. Pinene, as well as many of the other terpenes or cannabinoids, have exciting medicinal possibilities for dementia. Some of pinene’s medicinal benefits include reducing inflammation, increasing bronchodilation (take a deep breath here…) and being an antibiotic. Pinene has also been discovered to inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. Many researchers have linked forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s to the body’s inability to control the level of this enzyme in the neural pathways of the brain. Without proper control of this enzyme, chemicals that are transmitted between neurons do not function properly and as a result the brain is less capable.