What are Terpenes? Where do terpenes come from? What do terpenes do?
If you’ve ever wondered where cannabis strains get their unique aromas, it’s all about the terpenes. Some are sweet while some are sour, but they’re all complex. All flowering plants have terpenes; the sweet ones lure insects towards the plant while the pungent terpenes keep predators away. When you smell cannabis, you’re actually smelling the terpenes in the plant. Familiar aromas are pine, mint and citrus.
The same plant parts that produce cannabinoids (THC, CBD and others) also produce the oily terpenes. So far, scientists have identified over 100 cannabis terpenes. As it turns out, each strain’s terpenes are unique. Terpenes are more than just a pretty smell though. Some actually bind to the same receptors that cannabinoids do, while others serve as gatekeepers to determine how much THC passes to the blood-brain barrier, or by altering production rates of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Scientists are just now beginning to explore the further medical benefits that terpenes may offer.
Many modern cannabis labs have started to routinely test terpene content of various strains to provide consumers with a better understanding of the benefits offered by each strain. Batches of cannabis vary in terpene content, so that ‘s why it’s important to have laboratories test. Environmental factors like climate, soil, fertilizer and more affect the terpene content of each plant, so a lab test is the only way to be sure.
Check out our CBD Dabs w/ Strain Specific Terpenes!
Ready to learn more about terpenes?
Let’s dive in a take a whiff of the most common terpenes cannabis has to offer.
Limonene terpenes are found in all kinds of citrus fruits and smell like—yep, citrus. Strains high in limonene help to relieve stress and elevate mood. Medically, limonene has been found to have a whole host of benefits—it is both antifungal and antibacterial. It may even be a strong cancer fighter, and it also helps with gastrointestinal issues like heartburn. Limonene is typically found in small trace amounts in cannabis, mostly in sativa strains, although there are some indicas with high limonene.
*High Limonene Cannabis Strains: OG Kush, Super Lemon Haze, Jack the Ripper, Lemon Skunk
Pinenes smell like (you guessed it) pine and have been used medically for asthma due to their amazing bronchodilation effect. Pinenes are also found in other plants like rosemary, basil and pine needles to give those plants their piney aroma. Pinenes do counteract some of the effects that THC has on the body, and many people choose strains high in pinenes to help stay alert and to help with memory.
*High Pinene Cannabis Strains: Jack Herer, Chemdawg, Bubba Kush, Trainwreck, Super Silver Haze
Linalool is another citrusy, floral terpene most known for being in the lavender plant. Lavender is known to be soothing, and so are strains of cannabis that are high in linalool. They are commonly used recreationally for sedation and anxiety, and medically as anti-depressants and for anti-anxiety. Linalool is also has strong anticonvulsive properties.
*High Linalool Cannabis Strains: G-13, Amnesia Haze, Lavender, LA Confidential
If you’re looking for something a little spicier, pick strains high in caryophyllene. This terpene has a peppery, spicy aroma that smells very woody or can even smell like cloves. Caryophyllene is also found in cloves and black pepper. It is used medicinally to alleviate inflammation and is particularly good for arthritis and alleviating the inflammation that results from autoimmune disorders. Caryophyllene also has gastroprotective effects and is good for ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues.
Think musky when you think of myrcene. This terpene is very earthy and has a very relaxing, sedating effect. Medically, myrcene is used to induce sleep and relax sore muscles. It has also been effective against pain, inflammation and even depression. Plants like lemongrass, thyme and hops also have lots of myrcene.
*High Myrcene Cannabis Strains: Pure Kush, El Nino, Himalayan Gold, Skunk #1, White Widow
Like myrcene, another terpene called humulene is also found in hops as well as plants like coriander. In fact, humulene gives beer its characteristic “hoppy” aroma. Like myrcene, it too is very earthy and woody, and is an excellent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. It is effective against pain and is also an appetite suppressant. Humulene is very prominent in cannabis sativa strains.
*High Humulene Strains: Girl Scout Cookies, White Widow, OG Kush, Sour Diesel, Headband
Herbs like sage and rosemary have high amounts of terpinolene, as does essential cypress oil. Terpinolene is used in many American soap and perfume products and its piney aroma with a hint of citrus also lends itself well as an insect repellant. Terpinolene acts as a depressant on the central nervous system and is used to create sleepiness or drowsiness. It is well-versed at quieting an excited mind because it reduces psychological stimulation and anxiety. Terpinolene research has shown promise at inhibiting the growth and proliferation of several types of human cancer cells.
The similarly named terpineol is often found in cannabis strains that also have high pinene levels. Because of this, the pinene aroma usually overpowers the terpineol, but when isolated, the terpineol reminds people of lilacs and flower blossoms. This terpene has a relaxing and calming effect, and has antibiotic properties. Terpineol research has shown the terpene to be anti-malarial as well.
Think peppermint when you think of the terpene phellandrene. It has a slight citrus scent too and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to sooth digestive disorders. Turmeric leaf oil is high in phellandrene, so the terpene is very effective against systemic fungal infections. In a laboratory, phellandrene is very easy to identify because it easily can reach crystalline form when combined with certain solvents and solutions. Scientists first discovered phellandrene in eucalyptus oil. For years, the terpene was misidentified as either pinene or limonene, but now it is recognized as a distinct terpene. Many plants like garlic, ginger, lavender, fir, dill, parsley and cinnamon contain phellandrene, which explains its predominant use as a perfume or food flavoring.
Camphene has the strong odor of fir needles and wet woodlands. Researchers have shown that this terpene could play a significant role in cardiovascular disease. Studies in rats have shown that it reduces both cholesterol and triglyceride levels, so it shows promise as a cholesterol- and lipid-lowering drug—without all the side effects like liver damage and intestinal issues caused by regular pharmaceuticals. In addition to its medicinal uses, camphene is also used as a food flavoring and fragrance.
Although it smells like roses, geraniol is an effective mosquito repellant, but is also used to scent many bath and body products. Medicinally, it is used to treat neuropathy, a condition that affects the peripheral nerves, particularly in diabetic patients. About eight percent of people over the age of 55 have some form of neuropathy.
The terpene careen has a pungent but sweet odor and naturally occurs in many plant essential oils like fir, cypress and juniper berry. The terpene is a central nervous system depressant and is often used to remove excess body fluids like sweat and mucus. Carene can be an irritant when inhaled, and is thought to be somewhat responsible for coughing and scratchy throat when people smoke cannabis strains high in careen. The terpene is also naturally occurring in many citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines and mandarins so it is used as a flavoring in numerous products.
“P” is for pulegone and peppermint. This terpene is found in minor amounts in cannabis, but higher levels have been found in the herbal rosemary plant. Rosemary is a powerful agent against acetylcholine, a brain chemical. By breaking acetylcholine down, nerve cells in the brain can more effectively communicate with each other. Pulegone might also counteract the short-term memory loss that is sometimes associated with cannabis strains high in THC. Some studies also show that pulegone may have sedative properties and may reduce fever. and fever-reducing properties.
Sabinene’s “home for the holidays” aroma is filled with orange, spices and pine. Early studies show that sabinene might have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Researchers are closely looking at sabinene as a possible plant-based medicine or food supplement in nutraceutical products. Several plants have the terpene sabinene—evergreens like the Norway spruce, the basil plant and the black pepper plant. The seeds of the Myristica fragrans tree, which supplies the spice nutmeg, have high sabinene content.
Now that you know all about Terpenes, take a look at our CBD Dabs w/ Strain Specific Terpenes!
1.) Medical Jane. Terpenes in Cannabis. https://www.medicaljane.com/category/cannabis-classroom/terpenes/#terpenes-in-cannabis
2.) Leafly. Terpenes: The Flavors of Cannabis Aromatherapy. https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/terpenes-the-flavors-of-cannabis-aromatherapy
3.) Guimaraes AG, Serafini MR, Quintans-Junior LJ. Terpenes and derivatives as a new perspective for pain treatment: a patent review. Expert Opin Ther Pat. 2014 Mar;24(3):243-65. doi: 10.1517/13543776.2014.870154.