Understanding Cannabis Terpenes

What they are & their function in regards to cannabis and the plant world.


When you examine the profile of your favorite cannabis strain, what do you look for?

Many of us draw our attention directly to THC and CBD content, and most strains have been bred to maximize either one or the other. However, we also tend to look at the scent and flavor, both of which derive from terpenes.

What we're discovering is that a plant’s terpene profile can matter just as much as the percentage of THC or CBD found in a cannabis strain. They not only provide scents and flavors, but can produce therapeutic effects while acting synergistically with other terpenes and cannabinoids to either strengthen or dull them.

Some have even been found to connect to either CB1 or CB2 receptors just as THC and CBD do in the endocannabinoid system. Learn More: Discovering the Endocannabinoid System

What is a Terpene & What are Their Purpose?

Terpenes are organic compounds that give off odor and produce a taste, excreted by a large population of plants - not just cannabis. These terpenes come in the form of pungent oils that give plants their distinct aroma, flavor, and even color.

But why are scents, tastes, and colors important? Think of pollination. Bees are attracted to certain flowers based on their scents and the designs they see on the pedals (like arrows towards a landing zone). Without terpenes to create an aroma that attracts bees, flowers wouldn't get pollinated, causing that species to die out.

Another purpose terpenes serve is to repel the enemies of a plant, whether an insect or animal, in order to ensure its survival.

A third reason terpenes are important is because they can attract predators of the plant’s enemies. One example is the maize plant: Caterpillars that attack maize have caused it to evolve to emit volatile terpenes that then attract parasitic wasps. These are natural enemies of the caterpillars, and by attracting wasps, caterpillars avoid the maize.

It's truly amazing how one tiny excreted compound with an aroma/taste can determine whether a plant survives or thrives. Terpenes are a perfect example of the delicate dance nature plays out day to day.

Terpenes in Cannabis

When heat is applied and cannabis smoke is inhaled, terpenes create the distinct flavors and odor you experience like pine, citrus, fruit, musk, and mint. Analysis shows that cannabis strains with higher terpene content tend to win greater favor of judges at Cannabis Cup competitions.

Researchers have identified more than 100 different terpenes in cannabis, each strain having its own unique profile and as a result, its own distinct scent, flavor, and reaction within the body. The implications are that cannabis can be bred to virtually unlimited combinations depending on the desired effect, making it a truly customizable treatment.

Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

Because of the 100+ terpenes found in cannabis and their ability to interact with both each other and other compounds in a synergistic manner, there are thousands; millions of ways they can be expressed via the plant's genetics. The act of synergy between terpenes in the cannabis world is often referred to as the Entourage Effect.

A plant with a high percentage of THC and low percentage of CBD can be expected to impact the body and brain a certain way. But the effects of the plant also depend heavily on the terpene profile as well, some terpenes inhibiting THC or CBD's effects while others tend to enhance them.

Understanding this Entourage Effect is vital in understanding how cannabis affects the body. We currently know (only just recently) that terpenes can affect how THC is processed in the brain and how THC passes the blood-brain barrier. They can also impact how neurotransmitters are produced and degraded in the brain.

In continued research and growing our understanding of terpenes, we hold the key to unlocking the full capabilities of an already magical plant.

Impact of Terpenes on Cannabis Industry

Imagine you desire a strain with the following characteristics: smells like lemon, helps you sleep, fights cancer, and is anti-inflammatory. With enough time, those specific plant characteristics can be bred into a cannabis strain designed for this exact experience.

For this reason, cultivators have the motivation they need to attempt at breeding new strains. This will then push the demand for terpene testing, thus leading us to a more enlightened level regarding both cannabis and the synergistic effects of terpenes.

Common Terpenes in Cannabis & Their Effects

Here are some of the more common terpenes found in cannabis as well as many beauty products, cosmetics, and fragrances. Learn More: List of the Major Fragrances & Flavors Cannabis Produces

Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis plants. It has a musky aroma with hints of fruit, similar to cloves. Medical effects include analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic. It blocks the actions of a number of carcinogens. It also has a sedative effect, providing a calming and relaxing feeling. When working synergistically with THC, myrcene increases its psychoactive impact.

Limonene has a citrus fruity aroma and is commonly used in ointments and skin creams. It has been shown to promote weight loss and prevent and treat cancer. It also is used to treat bronchitis.

Caryophyllene has a hoppy aroma and has been shown to treat anxiety and depression. Hops and cannabis are plant cousins.

Alpha-Pinene and Beta-Pinene have a pine aroma. Pine trees get their odor from pinene. Pinene has shown to have anti-inflammatory qualities.

Terpineol has a pine or clove aroma. It has antioxidant properties.

Borneol has an earthy camphor aroma. Medicinal uses include analgesic, anti-septic and can be used as a bronchodilator and to help insomnia.

Linalool has a floral aroma with hint of spice. Linalool is found in cannabis but is common in a number of flowers and fungi, including mint and cinnamon. Linalool has anti-inflammatory properties, is anti-cancerous, and can help modulate motor movements.

Eucalyptol has a spicy aroma. It is used in fragrances and as a cooking spice. It is also commonly used in cough suppressants and mouthwash.