Many people equate the recreational use of cannabis to drinking alcohol: They’re both legal and intoxicating ways to enjoy time with others. The government has treated them similarly by creating regulations and taxation schemes—and by prohibiting them during various periods in our history.
However, the connection between beer and cannabis is even more complex—thanks to the presence of terpenes.
I’ve written before in this space about cannabis terpenes and their effects on the mind and body. It turns out that beer—specifically, the hops that are used in the beer-making process—also include terpenes.
Terpenes are organic compounds produced by a variety of plants. Beers can be distinctly different based on the variety/varieties of hops used to make them. So … if hops include terpenes, and terpenes cause varying effects on people, it stands to reason that different beers could have different effects on people, too. Right?
To figure out whether this hypothesis was valid, I reached out to the Independent’s resident Cicerone (the beer equivalent of a sommelier), Brett Newton, the writer of our beer column, Caesar Cervisia. We met outside at of his local favorites, Las Palmas Brewing, in downtown Palm Springs. With a glass of saison in hand, I dug into the issue.
To recap Brett’s credentials: Brett hails from the East Coast, including stints in Connecticut and Yonkers, N.Y., but moved to the California desert at the ripe age of 10 years old. I learned, among other things, that he does not like Los Angeles very much; and that he once had hopes of becoming a professional musician, but a mild quarter-life crisis instead prompted him to lead the Coachella Valley Homebrewers Club, host a beer podcast, and work for multiple local craft-beer makers.
Now to the question at hand: I asked Brett whether he thought certain beers created different effects in people, based on his experience. His reply was a definite yes—with a caveat that after a certain number of beers, none of the subtle effects from terpenes matter, since the effects of alcohol are clearly stronger.
His most obvious example was his experience with IPAs, or India pale ales. IPAs are super-hoppy by their nature. Brett said he’s determined, both from personal experience and by watching others, that IPAs can create a mood-lifting effect—a kind of happy euphoria that is not created by other beers. Beta-pinene, heavy with the scents of fresh wood and spice, is a terpene known for creating an effect of alertness and clarity. You can find this terpene in the hops often used in making pale ales and stouts.
According to Brett, Belgian beers can cause a mild calming or contemplative effect. Humulene is a terpene found in some of the hops that make these beers. It has an analgesic and mild sedative effect—and is a well-examined terp in clinical studies.
Caryophyllene is a spicy and musky terp that’s known for a stress-relieving effect that reduces anxiety. The terp has antioxidant and anti-inflammation impacts as well—and you can find it in hops that are often used to make saisons, wild ales, American blondes and ambers.
Just from observation, Brett said he thought that lagers can create a friendly and open feeling. It turns out that linalool, a terpene with a soothing, floral scent of lavender, tends to illicit a sense of calm in essential oils—and it’s found some of the hops used to make lagers, too.
And now for the disclaimers: While it is interesting to learn which hops include which terpenes, each hop variety represents a blend of terpenes, just as cannabis varieties do. Also: We are just beginning to understand the health benefits of terpenes, and the quantities in which they may have positive effects.
You can, of course, do your own research by purchasing beer at any outlet you’d like—and you can start your journey into hop research at hoohhops.com/bine-hop-research. After chatting with Brett, who knows as much about beer as anyone in the Coachella Valley, I am convinced that the connection between the terpenes in cannabis and the terpenes in beer is real—and deserves further exploration.