What Are Terpenes?

Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes (or "terps") are fragrant essential oils that give cannabis its aromatic diversity from one strain to the next. Although frequently found in cannabis, they are not unique to cannabis as they are found in other fruits, plants, and herbs. There are more than 20,000 terpenes in existence and at least 100 produced by the cannabis plant. Terpenes give Sour Diesel its funky fuel odor, Lemons its citrusy aroma, and blueberry its signature blueberry smell. To humans, terpenes act as natural guides for us to discover which cannabis strains our endocannabinoid system is most likely to enjoy and gain a benefit from.

What is the Difference Between Terpenes and Terpenoids?

Terpenes and Terpenoids are the compounds in cannabis that give the plant its unique scent. While their differences are slight, their contribution to CBD and the medical marijuana movement could be significant. The difference between terpenes and terpenoids is that terpenes are hydrocarbons, while terpenoids have been altered by oxidation (drying and curing the buds). A simple explanation is that terpenes are wet; terpenoids are dried out. Both terpenes and terpenoids provide the essential oils of many types of medicinal plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as fragrances in perfumery and in medicine and alternative medicines such as aromatherapy. According to a report by Dr. Ethan Russo in the September, 2001 British Journal of Pharmacology, terpenes contain health benefits for people as well. The study revealed wide-ranging therapeutic attributes of terpenoids, including several aromatic compounds found in various cannabis strains.

How Are Terpenes Being Used Today?

Terpenes are becoming more commonly used and talked about throughout the industries of therapeutic medicine and holistic medicine. They serve as a catalyst for the “entourage effect” of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids all of which work together, play off each other, and enhance or downplay the end effects. Like cannabinoids, terpenes bind to receptors in the brain and offer effects that promote relaxation and stress-relief, while others promote focus and acuity. Linalool, for example, is believed to be relaxing, whereas limonene elevates mood. Terpenes are being added to legal cannabis products that are sold on shelves of dispensaries to enhance the taste, smell, and medical benefits. Many cannabis analysis labs now test terpene content along with THC and CBD content, so you may have a better idea of what effects a strain might produce. With their unlimited combinations of synergistic effects, terpenes will certainly open new scientific and medical terrains for cannabis research.

Some of the Most Common Terpenes Found in Cannabis

  • Image courtesy of Leafly.com

    Pinene (pine): Pinene is the most common terpene in the world and has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also found in orange peels, pine needles, basil, and parsley. It’s been known to counter short-term memory loss from THC, improve airflow to your lungs, and promote alertness.

  • Myrcene (earthy, musky, fruity): Myrcene can be found in mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass, and basil, and is the most commonly found terpene in cannabis. It can compose up to 50 percent of a cannabis plant’s terpenes. Myrcene has also been shown to be useful as an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, and a muscle relaxer. Many Indica strains have high levels of myrcene, which contribute to the tired/stoned feeling (if higher than 0.5% myrcene in a strain, it creates the “couch-lock” feeling in users).
  • Limonene (citrus): Like its name suggests, limonene smells like lemons, oranges, mandarins, limes, and grapefruits. It’s also probably found in your favorite cleaning products or perfumes because of its citrusy scent. It’s been shown to elevate mood, relieve stress, and has antifungal and antibacterial properties to boot. It also improves absorption of other terpenes and chemicals through the skin, which makes it great in strains that you use for tinctures, ointments, and other topicals.
  • Humulene (hoppy, earthy): Humulene is found in hops, coriander, cloves, and basil. It’s best known for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to suppress appetite (while many other strains only increase appetite).
  • Linalool (floral, spicy): Linalool is found in flowers and spices like lavender and coriander and is widely known for its stress-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and anti-depressant effects. The linalool terpene balances out the anxious side effects of THC, which makes it a useful treatment of both anxiety and psychosis. Some studies also suggest that linalool can boost the immune system and significantly reduce lung inflammation.
  • Caryophyllene (peppery, spicy): Caryophyllene is found in Thai basils, cloves, cinnamon leaves and black pepper. Studies show that it can help treat anxiety, depression, and act as an anti-inflammatory, which sounds like a big job to handle for one small terpene.
  • Terpinolene (smoky + woodsy): Terpinolene can be found in sage and rosemary, and has slightly sedative, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. It’s also been found to depress your central nervous system, and therefore induce drowsiness and reduce excitement or anxiety.

Design Your Cannabis Experience

As we learn more and begin to understand the benefits cannabis has to offer, cannabis consumers, both medical and recreational, are now able to choose what kind of cannabis experience they want. Some look to cannabis to reduce stress or anxiety; others look to cannabis for inspiration and creativity. The informed cannabis consumer can walk into a dispensary and find cannabis products that will help them feel the way they want to feel. Also, cannabis producers can tailor their products to meet their consumers' needs. The more we learn about the cannabis plant, the better we can use this natural resource.

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