Terpenes in Cannabis

Terpenes in Cannabis

The smell of cannabis is unmistakable and one of the most unique scents to entangle the senses. Whether it is a smell you enjoy or one you dislike; the aromas can be attributed to the terpenes the cannabis plant creates. Terpenes are not specific to cannabis, they are found most often in other flora, they are just more abundant in cannabis. You are probably most familiar with the smell of lavender and the scent of conifer trees those smells are terpenes.

In nature, certain terpenes safeguard plants from pests and grazing animals while others defend the plant against infectious germs, they also help plants recover from damage. The fragrance of particular terpenes will also attract pollinators to the plant. Terpenes are quite the little helpers in nature, and the more we learn they are also quite helpful in the medicine cabinet as well.

Even if you have never used cannabis, you have likely used products containing terpenes. Most essential oils and perfume fragrances are made using terpenes. Some natural cleaning products also have terpenes as the main ingredient because some terpenes have antibacterial properties.

Terpenes are the naturally occurring form of the compound. In the case of cannabis, once the plant is dried and cured, the terpenes oxidize and become terpenoids. While many use these terms interchangeably, there is a difference in their meaning.

Terpenes can further be broken down into three different subtypes: monoterpenes, diterpenes, and sesquiterpenes.

Monoterpenes are the most simple and are made up of only two isoprene units. Examples of monoterpenes would be limonene and a-pinene, which are extremely pungent fragrances. Myrcene is also a monoterpene and is thought to cross the blood-brain barrier, giving certain strains their punch.

Sesquiterpenes contain three isoprene units and are more bitter. The most common sesquiterpene is B-caryophyllene the only cannabinoid to be known to bind to the CB2 receptor. This terpene is beneficial in the treatment of pain and inflammation

Diterpenes are composed of two monoterpene subunits and four isoprene units. The most common diterpene is phytol which is found in nearly all cannabis as it is a degradation of chlorophyll. This terpene is helpful to aid in relaxation.

As you begin breaking down the various terpenes it becomes clear there is some synergy occurring. The terpene profiles of particular cannabis flowers are what lends to their classification of Indica, Sativa and hybrid.

While THC is the psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant making it responsible for the “high”, there is research suggesting that terpenes may also affect the endocannabinoid system. These terpenes are thought to interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system creating a psychoactive effect of their own, as in the case of B-caryophyllene binding to the CB2 receptor.

According to the theory of the Entourage Effect, terpenes are also a key player in helping to boost the medicinal benefits of other cannabinoids. As the field of research broadens, we will have a deeper understanding of exactly how terpenes are being used by the body to enhance the psychoactive and medicinal effects of THC and other cannabinoids. We do, however, know they are absolutely beneficial for the mind and body. Advancements in research will just allow for a better understanding of how to use them to their full potential.

Dispensaries in legal states recognize the advantages of terpenes for the mind and body, which is why they have been adding them to their oils, edibles, and topicals. A simple internet search for “cannabis terpenes” will return a whole host of options for buyers. The popularity and easy accessibility of terpenes truly speak to their benefits.

There are more than 400 terpenes that can be found in cannabis. However, experts have only linked some of them to have medicinal benefits. Combing through the various terpenes can be daunting, therefore, we have compiled a simple glossary below for a quick reference.


ALPHA-BISBOLOL- Has a pleasant floral aroma that scents the chamomile and candeia tree. This terpene is found mainly in cosmetics due to its sweet smell and healing properties for the skin. This terpene is an antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory. The positive effects of this terpene are currently being more closely researched by experts in the cannabis industry. Alpha-bisbolol is a sesquiterpene.

BETA-CARYOPHYLLENE- Sometimes also known as, b-caryophyllene or simply Caryophyllene, is recognized by its spicey peppery aroma. This terpene can be found in cloves, rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon and basil. It is the only terpene known to bind to the body’s Endocannabinoid System. Beta-Caryophyllene offers potent antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is also known to relieve anxiety and pain. It can be used to reduce cholesterol and prevent osteoporosis. Studies have shown Beta-Caryophyllene to help treat seizures. Beta-Caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene.

BORNEOL-This terpene has a minty scent and can be found in rosemary, mint and camphor. This acts as an excellent natural insect repellant which makes it terrific in the prevention of the West Nile Virus. One study found it kills breast cancer. Chinese herbal medicine practitioners use this terpene widely in acupuncture. Borneol is a monoterpene.

CAMPHENE-If you have ever smelled fir needles you know the scent of camphene. The inviting whiff of musky earth is a dead giveaway but is sometimes confused with Myrcene. This terpene is also found in cypress oil, bergamot oil, nutmeg and valerian. Many are familiar with its profile in camphor oil, a staple item that used to be found in medicine cabinets all across the country. Ask your grandmother, she probably still has some. It is widely used as a topical for psoriasis and eczema. Research has found this terpene to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Mixed with Vitamin C it becomes a powerful antioxidant. Camphene is a monoterpene.

DELTA 3 CARENE-Can be found in a plethora of plants such as rosemary, basil, bell peppers, cedar and pine. This terpene is described as sweet like a cypress tree. This terpene is an excellent aid for those suffering from osteoporosis, arthritis and fibromyalgia. The research surrounding its ability to help the brain retain memories could be an important step in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. Strains rich in this terpene, such as Jack Herer, OG Kush, and Super Lemon Haze (to name a few) have shown promise in helping these patients. Delta 3 Carene is a monoterpene.

GERANIOL-The comforting smell of rose grass, peaches and plums ignites the senses with a whiff of this terpene. Besides cannabis, it is also found in lemons and tobacco. Geraniol is a favorite in bath products such as body lotions and bath gels. Its medicinal properties are shown to be a neuroprotectant, it also serves as an antioxidant. It can also be used as natural insect repellant. Geraniol is a monoterpene.

HUMULENE- Has a lovely woody, spicy, earthy aroma and was the first terpene found in hops. It can also be found in clove, sage, ginseng, and black pepper. New research shows this terpene is anti-proliferative, which means it prevents cancer cells from growing. Furthermore, some studies show it to be an effective tool in suppressing the appetite, making it an excellent option for help with weight loss. Yes, some terpene profiles can help suppress your appetite, surprising since cannabis is usually known to increase the appetite. Humulene is a sesquiterpene.

LIMONENE- A prevalent terpene found in many Sativa strains but also found in foods such as citrus and cardamom. Limonene is antifungal and antibacterial. This terpene is recommended as a mood elevator and an anxiety reducer. Limonene is a monoterpene.

LINALOOL- Described by many as a spicy floral terpene and is found in more than 200 plants including citrus and lavender. This terpene can also be found in hops. Linalool has been used for thousands of years for its sedative properties. It is also used to treat anxiety and depression. Linalool is a monoterpene.

MYRCENE- This is thought to be the most abundant terpene found in cannabis however, it is also found in sweet basil, thyme, mango and hops. This mighty terpene is antibacterial and antifungal. It helps to induce sleep, reduce anxiety and lessens the effects of diabetes.  Myrcene is a monoterpene.

PINENE- The most common terpene found in the wild. Pinene was given its name due to its piney woodsy scent. Pinene helps aid with memory concerns as well as respiratory issues. Many cannabis users enjoy pinene for its anti-inflammatory properties. Pinene is a  monoterpene.

TERPINEOL-Gives off a floral-like scent akin to apple blossoms and lilacs with a hint of citrus. The taste is described as being similar to anise and mint. This terpene is commonly found in cosmetics, perfumes and flavors. Terpineol is known for its “couch lock” effects which makes it a go to for those who are looking to unwind after a long day.  It also offers antibiotic and antioxidant properties. A study published in the Anticancer Research Journal showed Terpineol appears to inhibit tumor growth and help fight cancer. The study concluded it worked best in patients with small cell lung carcinoma. Terpineol is monoterpene.

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