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What Exactly are Cannabis Terpenes?

What Are Cannabis Terpenes

terpenes in cannabisCannabis has many powerful benefits, but there’s just something about it’s aroma that soothes the mind and body. Yet, each cannabis strain has it’s distinct flavor and aroma.

I always wondered about this. At first, I assumed additives find their way into my concentrates; however, a careful search yielded a stunning discovery – terpenes.

Whether you use vapes, concentrates, or smoke cannabis flower, terpenes are the reason behind the tasty diesel, woody, pine, herbal, spicy, coffee, skunky flavors, and so on. Terpenes are directly responsible for the sensory experience we appreciate from our favorite cannabis product.

In reality, it is now known that the potency of CBD or THC in a given strain isn’t the only vital elements. Terpene concentrations also offer potent benefits resulting in a highly beneficial entourage effect.

This is a surprise as it challenges what we know about Sativa and Indica strains. Before now, we thought these strains were the reasons why cannabinoid concentrations in different cannabis products offer different impacts.

Ready to learn more about terpenes? Let’s talk about terpenes and their unique relationship to understand what happens when medicating with cannabis.

What Are Terpenes?

marijuana terpenesTerpenes are unique, organic hydrocarbons (with molecular formula C10H16). They are responsible for the unique flavor and aroma of every cannabis strain. Terpenes are formed from cannabis trichomes. Their creation also depends on how and where you grow your cannabis plants. So the light intensity, temperature, and other growing conditions will determine what terpene concentrations you have at the end of the day. These cannabis trichomes are mushroom-shaped, crystal-like resin glands, which you can find all over the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant.

Terpenes are also volatile and can evaporate quickly. This is why the cannabis plant easily releases its fragrant scent into the atmosphere. The most common terpenes in the world are menthol and camphor. Menthol is popular in cough drops, which we have all used at one time in our lives.

It is most interesting to know that plants develop terpenes as the first defense line against pests and animals. This is why terpenes like linalool are useful as insect repellents. Plants also use terpenes to lure pollinators via their attractive scent.

How Are Terpenes Different From Cannabinoids?

First and foremost, terpenes are not cannabinoids. The main difference between terpenes and cannabinoids are the way the body absorbs and uses them.

Cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) activate the body’s endocannabinoid system. While the THC causes the ‘high’ effect through that activation, CBD counters it and does not create any euphoria.

Terpenes, on the other hand, are solely responsible for the gorgeous scents from cannabis plants. Unlike cannabinoids, you can also find them in different flowers and essential oils in plants.

In the cannabis world, terpenes also influence the results and benefits from cannabis by interacting with cannabinoids in the plant. This entourage effect is the sole reason terpenes have become a critical study in developing and understanding all the fantastic benefits of cannabis plants.

Functions Of Terpenes

Terpenes offer diverse physiological effects, which we associate with the cannabis plant. For instance, the beta-caryophyllene is the only terpene that binds to CB2 receptors. Thus it results in powerful antioxidant and antibacterial effects.

Another study in 2017 showed that CB2 receptors are essential in dopamine production in mice.

This is why beta-caryophyllene is a viable treatment for stress and anxiety. The beta-caryophyllene activate the CB2 receptors that lead to pain and inflammation reduction.

Therefore, terpenes offer an ‘entourage effect’ which boosts the particular therapeutic properties of the cannabis plant. This entourage effect is vital to using cannabis as medications. Every cannabis strain has varying terpene content levels resulting in a unique terpene profile, which influences the results you would have.

Unique Cannabis Terpene Profiles

We stated earlier that terpene concentrations depend on growing conditions, but it honestly goes beyond that.

Growing conditions will also influence the different terpenes in each strain and their ratios. Every specific terpene profile (ratio, terpene types, and structure) depends on your cultivation practices. A slight change in temperature, age, maturation, climate, soil type, and so on leads to a unique terpene profile.

For instance, Strawberry Cough offers a fruitier and sweeter taste, to Super Lemon Haze that provides a distinct citrus aroma. These profiles further influence the type of ‘high’ (or no high) and sensory experience you can expect. It also affects the medicinal and therapeutic outcomes you can expect.

Terpenes are similar to CBD in one aspect. High terpene content may alter the psychoactive effects of THC. It may also mitigate the mental high of THC and may boost its medicinal effect. Therefore, different terpene profiles will affect your mood, physical state, and sense of relief differently.

Cannabis products will rely on these terpenes as our body responds differently to each terpene profile. This specific response patterns for different people help us find out which strains work better for us. The more you experiment with diverse strains and terpene profiles, the more you can learn what works best for your symptoms.

Types of Cannabis Terpenes

Scientists have not discovered all terpenes types in cannabis; however, they have identified about 120 of them, even as there are over 80,000 identified terpenes in all plant species. 

Yet, terpene’s entourage effects do not stop at the benefits you can expect from every single type. Combinations of different terpenes yield varying results for other people. Current scientific methods can not provide all the answers on the mechanism behind these varying levels, but at least, we can know what to expect with common terpenes in your cannabis products. 

Here are some of the common primary and secondary terpenes:

terpenesPrimary Terpenes


Myrcene – has a distinctive earthy, flowery pungent smell. It offers analgesic, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties to the body. A 2002 study suggested its use for treating insomnia because it has motor relaxant properties and can induce sleep.

Myrcene also offers anti-nociceptive properties making it useful in treating pain. Varying levels of myrcene also provide different benefits. If you choose a strain with less than 0.5 percent myrcene, you will have an energizing effect, while strains with higher concentrations offer a sedative effect. You can also find it in hops, thyme, lemongrass, and mango.


Limonene – known for its fresh and energizing citrus aroma. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, beneficial for acid reflux and digestive issues. Limonene also helps alleviate stress and improves mood. It is also helpful in treating anxiety, depression and managing cancer. Additionally, limonene finds usefulness in everyday cleaning and cosmetic products. You can find it naturally occurring in juniper, peppermint, fruit rinds, and rosemary.


Humulene – You can find the humulene in abundance in hops, sage, basil, cloves, or ginseng. It has a woody, spicy herbal scent to it. Humulene finds much use in ant-inflammatory, antibacterial products. It is also useful as an appetite suppressant.


Linealool – offers a woody, spicy and herbal aroma, although more delicate. You can find it in many herbal plants such as coriander, birch, cinnamon, and lavender. Linalool finds much use in antibacterial, anti-cancer, anti-fungal, and anti-sedatives. You can also use it in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Alpha-Pinene & Beta-Pinene

Pinene offers an earthy, piney aroma. You can find pinene in abundance in pine trees, where the name hails from. Pinene finds use as anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. It is also known for its gastroprotection abilities and is used in treating gastrointestinal conditions. Pinene also boosts memory and promotes alertness. It finds much use as a bronchodilator.


As said earlier, Beta-Caryophyllene is the only terpene that can directly interact with CB2 receptors. It offers antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Studies also find its usefulness in pain management studies. Beta-caryophyllene is known for its earthy, spicy scent with a hint of citrus. You can find them in cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper.


Ocimene – offers a citrus or woody undertone. It is also found in high quantities in pepper, bergamot, basil, hops, and mango. Ocimene was once thought of as the terpene plants develop as one of its defense mechanisms as it repels pests.


Terpinolene – has anti-cancer, anti-sedative and antioxidant properties. It is also known for its multi-dimensional aroma that smells like herbs, pine trees, citrus, and florals. You can find terpinolene in lilac, conifers, tea tree, and apples.


Eucalyptol – known for its potent antibacterial, antioxidant, insecticide, and anti-fungal properties. It is best known for its positive effect on pain and inflammation. It is found in cardamom, sage, bay, cardamom, and tea tree leaves.

Secondary Terpenes


Camphene is excellent for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. It is useful for cannabis-based lotions, salves, and creams. You can find it in rosemary, ginger, and nutmeg.


Phellandrene is known for its spectacular minty aroma. It has anti-depressant properties and can be used in treating pain sensitivity. However, research is still early on its full therapeutic value.


Borneol is known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. It is excellent for improving circulation, relaxation, and alleviating digestive issues. It also helps fight fatigue and decrease anxiety and stress.

You can pick it out by its camphor-like aroma with a slightly earthier edge.


Isoborneol is a cannabis terpene known for its musty, sweet flavor. It has antioxidant, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that it can inhibit the herpes simplex 1 virus. You can find it in mugwort.


Sabinene is known for its woody and spicy aroma. It is a cannabis terpene known for aiding digestion. It also finds use in treating skin conditions and arthritis. Studies have also shown that it can positively improve liver function.


Phytol is mostly found in green tea. It is known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies also show that it may have potent antioxidant properties and can inhibit inflammatory response by reducing oxidative stress and cytokine production. You can distinguish it from other terpenes by its balsamic, floral aroma.

Why Test for Terpenes?

terpene testingNo matter what strains you harvest, you cannot tell the final terpene profile of your cannabis plant. As said earlier, a slight change in temperature, age, maturation, climate, soil type creates a spectacular terpene profile. You need to submit it for terpene testing. Furthermore, the terpenes concentration in cannabis products is actually lower than you can find before the cannabis goes through the extraction process. It is easier to find a diverse array of terpenes in each marijuana strain.

So, the end product usually lacks the whole-plant phytochemical profile. This is why hemp-derived CBD edibles, oils, and topicals have been found to have lower amounts, and terpenes may not even be present in every formula. This is why it is equally important to identify your finished products or flowers to ensure you are fulfilling your customer’s desires.

Testing equally helps you determine how safe your products are. For example, Myrcene might be the most common terpene in a cannabis product; however, it is not safe at higher concentrations. So, it is vital to test for it to have just the right amount. Many other terpenes may be unsafe at higher temperatures as well. Therefore, testing helps get rid of the risks.

One way to maximize your terpene concentrations is to choose high-quality CBD products so that you can enjoy a maximum number of terpenes and cannabinoids.

The Future Of Terpene Testing

Terpenes play an important role in cannabis as medicine and plant. From chronic pain relief to anti-inflammatory effects, there are dozens of use for it. Therefore, terpene testing brings a unique edge to cannabis. It may allow medical marijuana patients to enjoy an impressive list of therapeutic properties.

Studies do not entirely understand the biochemical abundance or combinations and how they influence their benefits yet; moreover, the entourage effect that comes from terpenes and CBD or THC is highly beneficial. There are speculations for its use in a significant number of cutting-edge products, including skincare products. Nevertheless, the numbers lost during extraction is a cause for concern, but emerging science may uncover better extraction pathways to gain more from the plant – not just CBD and THC.

We expect that future cannabis products will have higher concentrations of rare cannabinoids and trace terpenes, thereby delivering higher health and wellness benefits.