That sense memory you get surrounding a Christmas tree? The smile that comes to your face as you smell a freshly peeled orange? And, for fans of cannabis, that anticipation you feel for a truly dank aroma? Thank terpenes for all of it.
Terpenes are aromatic chemical compounds. Although many people automatically think of marijuana when they hear “terpenes,” these plant aromatics lend their smell to many species. Citrus, lavender, pine, and black pepper all get their characteristic fragrances from terpenes.
Most plants exude aromas that are synergistic blends of terpenes. These arise in nature to protect the plant in its habitat from disease, pests, and animals.
One of the reasons we associate terpenes with cannabis is that they exist in high concentrations in this plant—just like any plant with a particularly notable odor, whether pleasant or not. The cannabis aroma can roam around considerably, from fruity and sweat, to skunky and sour, to earthy and woody, and to minty or spicy. However, especially for those who regularly enjoy cannabis, the aroma of a great cultivar is immediately apparent, and that smell is part of the overall experience. Some companies even sell strain-based terpene formulations that are THC-free but mimic the smell and taste of individual strains.
Terpenes can also produce health effects in the human body, via aromatherapy, but also in other ways. Research in this area is ongoing. Read on to learn more about terpenes generally and what we know about their possible health benefits specifically to deepen your cannabis appreciation and experience.
Terpenes are organic compounds that lend flavor and aroma and flavor to plants, including cannabis. Although they are not psychoactive, terpenes not only produce the smell and taste of cannabis, but also interact with its cannabinoids to influence its effects. Most directly affected by both intensity and spectrum of light, terpenes form inside cannabis trichomes.
Technically, terpenes are hydrocarbon compounds made up of five-carbon isoprene units. These compounds combine to produce a variety of basic molecular skeletons that interact with enzymes to produce the effects that terpenes are known for.
From a user’s standpoint, you might be seeking out terpenes if you choose cannabis products based on how they smell, or if you enjoy dabbing sauce due to the flavor.
What Are Terpenes?
We all have experience with terpenes because they are the chemicals that cause aromas. Terpenes lend an orange the scent of citrus, and give lavender its smell as well. But these chemicals also impart other effects, such as the uplifting or relaxing moods that citrus or lavender scents can bring with them. This simply has to do with the complex way that terpenes and the human body interact.
A huge, diverse class of organic compounds, terpenes are produced by some insects and many plants, especially conifers. They tend to have distinctive aromas, and may protect their plants by preventing disease, deterring creatures that eat them, and attracting pollinators and predators that target herbivores.
Derived from resin, abundant terpenes as well as less common examples like carene, are the major components of turpentine and rosin. Terpenes are also major biosynthetic building blocks. Manufacturers isolate terpenes and use them to create essential oils and scent and flavor products such as lotions, shampoos, perfumes, and even foods.
Terpenes are actually a type of aromatic oil, and in terms of the cannabis plant, they are produced in the trichomes—the same structures that produce cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. These pungent oils are the reason that cannabis has its familiar smell, yet each cultivar smells unique, with notes of berry, citrus, earth, mint, pine, skunk, spice, wood, or more.
A host of factors influence how a particular species develops terpenes, climate, including age and maturation, fertilizers, soil type, and local weather. As in any aromatic flowers and plants, the forces of adaptation shape how terpenes developed in cannabis plants.
Researchers have identified approximately 200 unique terpenes in the cannabis plant. Isoprene, a 5-carbon molecule, is the foundation of all terpenoid compounds. Different types of compounds, including monoterpenes, diterpenes, and sesquiterpenes, have distinct numbers of repeating units of these isoprenes.
Each cannabis strain or cultivar tends to have its own composition of terpenes, although there is considerable confusion on the ground about which “strain” is which. Still, a familiar strain such as Blueberry will have a smell that does in fact suggest berries, and that’s down to terpenes. Other families of cultivars might be known for skunky overtones, and they are named as such.
The research in this area is just beginning, but there is much we already know about terpenes. Cannabis terpenes bind with the same receptors located throughout the mammalian body that cannabinoids do. In other words, terpenes as well as cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN bind with receptors throughout the body and brain’s endocannabinoid system to produce effects. Specific terpenes may relax muscles, induce sleep, elevate mood, reduce stress, increase energy, or reduce inflammation, depending upon which receptors they react with.
For example, terpenes such as myrcene appear to promote relaxation. Camphor, used as an essential oil, can reduce irritation and inflammation. Searching for cultivars based on terpenes and desired effects is reportedly more effective for many people, and there are definite trends among strains. For example, terpinolene is typically found in cultivars such as Ghost Train Haze, XJ-13, and Jack Herer—strains that users find energizing and uplifting.
The effects any one terpene might produce change depending on the other terpenes and cannabinoids that are present in the body of the user. This is called the entourage effect, a phenomenon that simply refers to the way that cannabinoids such as CBD and THC, along with terpenes and hundreds of other whole plant compounds, work together synergistically.
Terpenes can also mitigate or intensify the effects of cannabinoids such as THC, just as other cannabinoids like CBD can. For example, one strain with a fairly high THC level may create much more or less paranoia, or a much stronger feeling of couchlock instead of energy. This is the entourage effect in motion, an expression of a different combination of cannabinoids and terpenes in a unique body.
Many independent labs test for terpene content now, so it’s far easier to get a sense of the effects you may be getting from terpenes. It pays to keep track of new cultivars you try and what their profiles look like so you can get a better sense of your preferences.
Properties and Uses of Terpenes
In the broader natural world there are numerous uses for terpenes, which serve as active ingredients in agricultural pesticides, for example. Trees release more terpenes in warmer weather, which may seed clouds naturally.
Are terpenes bioavailable? This depends on which terpenes, and how you consume them. Obviously, to get the most from your cannabis, you want the cannabinoids and terpenes to be bioavailable, or accessible to your body.
In pharmacology, bioavailability refers to how much of a substance reaches circulation system. If you were injecting your cannabinoids and terpenes, they’d go directly into your bloodstream—but this is impossible, dangerous, and unpleasant. Most users smoke, vape, eat, or otherwise consume cannabis, meaning metabolic and digestive processes reduce how much of these compounds are bioavailable.
Even so, there is research to support that terpenes can produce effects that improve mood and stress levels, and that the entourage effect between cannabinoids and terpenes is real.
Many researchers believe that cannabidiol, or CBD mitigates some of the effects of THC, such as feeling paranoid or stoned. The idea is that by blocking some of the cannabinoid receptors, the effects are more balanced. For example, scientists found that people with epilepsy experienced fewer side effects and improved symptoms after taking a CBD-rich, whole plant extract compared with patients who took a purified CBD isolate. This suggests that terpenes and other cannabis compounds affect how the body uses CBD.
In fact, various individual terpenes have been researched and have proven beneficial medical effects on the body. For example, alpha pinene—the terpene that lends certain cannabis cultivars the aroma of fresh pine—could help preserve the acetylcholine molecule. This has been implicated in memory formation, so pinene may help offset the short-term memory impairment that THC and, by extension, cannabis, is famous for.
A study from 2020 examined whether four terpenes, varying in amounts in C. sativa, might act as agonists at cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1R). The terpenes in the study were linalool and a‐humulene in the medium to high concentration range, b‐pinene in low to medium amounts, and geraniol at low levels, and the results do suggest an entourage effect.
More research from 2020 supports the entourage effect. In this study, researchers reviewed the literature on cannabinoid effects, and discussed the possibility of adding terpenes and terpenoids to enhance cannabinoid activity on psychiatric symptoms. The scientists also reviewed possible underlying mechanisms for the anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects users of cannabis experience. The team found that these natural, terpene-rich products may be important in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders.
In fact, decades of research supports the idea of the entourage effect, in humans and other mammals, treating a variety of issues.
Both cannabinoids and terpenoids enhance cortical activity, increase blood flow, and kill respiratory pathogens, including MRSA. Research indicates that interactions between terpenes and cannabinoids synergistically treat addiction, anxiety, bacterial infections, cancer, depression, epilepsy, fungal infections, inflammation, and pain.
The ongoing trend toward terpenes in the cannabis industry is fueled in large part by dabbing’s immense popularity. Dabbing cannabis concentrates allows users to enjoy the smells and flavors of the product to a greater extent. Although vapor chasers often enjoy vaping at higher temperatures, research indicates that lower temperatures are best for avoiding carcinogens and other toxicants.
Terpenes vs Terpenoids
As terpenes have become a popular buzzword among cannabis connoisseurs, people have begun to use the terms terpene and terpenoid interchangeably. However, while practically speaking this might not matter, there is an important technical difference.
Terpenes are carbon and hydrogen compounds: hydrocarbons. After cannabis is cured and dried, the oxidation process denatures the terpene atoms which become terpenoids.
Terpenes and Terpenoids in Cannabis
The 15 to 20 thousand fully characterized terpenoids comprise the largest group of plant chemicals, with over 200 reported thus far in the research on cannabis. Terpenes represent less than one percent of most cannabis assays, yet they may make up 10 percent of the content in trichomes.
Typically, monoterpenes such as myrcene, limonene, and pinene predominate in cannabis. However, these headspace volatiles do suffer diminished yields once they are dried and stored. Before processing they lose potency at a rate of about five percent; like in extracts, this often results in a higher relative proportion of sesquiterpenoid terpenes such as caryophyllene.
Phytochemical polymorphism is part of how terpene expression works, meaning that terpenes will be expressed differently in various types of plants. For example, a cannabis plant with lower fan leaves might produce higher concentrations of sesquiterpenoids with bitter flavors to deter grazing animals, while other flowering plants might produce limonene to deter insects.
From an evolutionary standpoint, the complex variations that terpenes seem to occur in naturally appear to fulfill diverse ecological roles. As light exposure increases, so does terpenoid production. However, terpenoid production decreases with soil fertility. Careful control over all conditions is essential to proper growth and development, especially for medical strains.
Pharmacologically speaking, terpenoids are versatile. They are lipophilic, meaning they tend to dissolve in or combine with fats rather than water. This means they effectively interact with cell membranes, neurotransmitter receptors, neuronal and muscle ion channels, G-protein coupled (odorant) receptors, and second messenger systems and enzymes.
Myrcene, a monoterpene, and β-caryophyllene and α-humulene, both sesquiterpenes, are present in most cannabis cultivars. Other common terpenes include limonene, linalool, and α-pinene, monoterpenes, and bisabolol and (E)-β-farnesene, sesquiterpenes.
The most common cannabis terpenoids are Generally Recognized as Safe as food additives by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or by other world regulatory bodies. Concentrations of individual terpenoids above 0.05 percent are of pharmacological interest.
Research on animals supports the idea that terpenoids found in cannabis impact the mammalian body and brain. Mice that inhaled terpenoids such as linalool, pinene, and terpineol in the ambient air for one hour demonstrated profound changes in activity levels. This suggests that even at extremely low serum concentrations—such as those like you’d get from a cannabis extract—the terpenoids had a direct pharmacological effect on the brain.
Terpenes and Strains, Cultivars—Or Is It Chemovars?
By now you realize that for every unique cannabis cultivar that has an aroma or flavor you love, there’s a singular combination of terpenes responsible. That’s also how you know when a particular sample of a strain is more or less on point, or higher quality. Each time you vape, dab, or smoke concentrates or flower, terpenes are creating delicious berry, citrus, coffee, diesel, fruity, pine, skunky, spicy, tropical, or woody notes for your palate to enjoy.
Although taste and smell are subjective, scent is one of a few main indicators of quality among cannabis fans, and this has long been true. There is much merit to the idea that consumers should shop based on what smells and tastes best to them—especially for medical marijuana patients.
Every chemically unique strain of cannabis, sometimes referred to as a chemovar, has a singular blend of cannabinoids and terpenes. These together create the experience that the “strain” is known for, although there is some randomness between iterations of any one strain.
There are perhaps thousands of these chemovars, thanks to just as many users breeding cannabis plants. Each has its own unusual name, many referring to the experience, smell, or taste the chemovar should produce. For example, Super Sour Diesel is high in limonene, a terpene that is also found in citrus rinds. The strain is known for its mood-elevating, energizing, and antibacterial effects, and these are also common to limonene chemovars.
However, just because two samples of cannabis are called Super Sour Diesel, doesn’t mean they share the same chemical profile. In fact, in most cases, they will not because so many factors influence the terpene profiles of plants, including growing medium, sunlight, temperature, nutrients, and whether the crop is indoors or outdoors.
Furthermore, in the case of concentrates and vaping oils, terpenes are sometimes added back in. This is both an art and a science. Terpenes at concentrations that are too high are unpleasant and can ruin the product; typical formulations fall in the range of 5 to 15 percent. This is a reflection of the natural ratio, as terpenes typically occur in flower at levels of about two to five percent, and concentrates adjust upward with the other cannabinoids.
Chemotypes, Terpenes, and Effects
There is an almost overwhelming number of chemovars or chemical strains of cannabis available today. But the main question most of us have is how the differences between them affect how we experience them. How does a cannabis chemotype represent its chemical profile, including its ratios of terpenes and cannabinoids—and how does that translate into effects?
Although the classic indica/sativa/hybrid taxonomy persists today in almost any dispensary, the relationship between those phenotypes and chemical makeup is sketchy at best. But the answer isn’t to think about terpenes like horoscopes, either.
Most strains available today are dominant in myrcene, caryophyllene, or both. However, the research doesn’t support the notion that a rigid set of effects or benefits follow each terpene, or that one will dominate another. In all likelihood, any given chemovar is likely to exhibit a spectrum of chemotypes, not a single, unifying chemical signature. This also means that any two plants of the same variety may have slightly different expressions of the chemotype—and this you would expect, given slightly different factors influencing the chemotype.
This explains a lot about why the indica/sativa/hybrid taxonomy doesn’t work well—yet why we cling to it so fiercely. It doesn’t work well because it lacks accuracy, having evolved based on the geographic origins and physical traits of the plant, not its chemical makeup. The terms arose before we even understood what terpenes were, and after humans had already changed the plant’s chemotype via breeding.
Yet we find indica and sativa to be useful terms because they describe general trends in effects. Uplifting or relaxing; energizing or sedating. We recognize these trends in effects, and as users we connect them with certain cultivars.
Recent research concludes that it will be more accurate to classify cannabis cultivars based on cannabinoid and terpene content, not just indica or sativa, in terms of determining their best medical applications.
Chemotypes of Landrace Varieties
Landrace varieties of the cannabis plant are those grown in their native geographical region and environment. Acapulco Gold, Afghani, Durban Poison, and Panama Red are all examples of original landrace strains, now popular and cultivated around the world for traditional and commercial markets.
The terpenes that occur naturally in these landrace varieties of cannabis include caryophyllene, humulene, limonene, myrcene, and pinene. These common terpene profiles expressed in landrace cultivars now have more competition thanks to intensive breeding.
Terpenes vs Cannabinoids
As we explained above, terpenes are common to the majority of edible plants and flowers—they are not unique to cannabis. However, their chemical structure lends them both medicinal properties and aromatic qualities, and in some ways they function similarly.
For example, research has shown that beta-caryophyllene, a common cannabis terpene, is effective in the treatment of autoimmune disorders, inflammation, and ulcers. This is in line with earlier work that found that beta-caryophyllene physically binds to CB-2 endocannabinoid receptors in the body’s immune response system. Before then, experts thought THC and CBD were the only active cannabis compounds that could bind to receptors.
Terpenes are structurally similar to cannabinoids chemically, and the resin glands secrete both terpenes and cannabinoids. There is an important structural difference between terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD and THC in that the latter lack the isoprene, a repetitive, aromatic 5-carbon ring.
Although we know that any cannabis plant may contain as many as 200 unique terpenes, the effects of specific terpenes in the body are not well-studied. It is fairly clear, though, that active cannabinoids and terpenes interact synergistically. This makes sense, since multiple cultivars with the same THC levels can produce very different highs.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t make much sense to compare terpenes and cannabinoids. They work together to produce greater effects than they can alone.
How Conditions for Growing, Harvesting, and Curing Affect Terpene Expression
Conditions for growing, harvesting, and curing all affect terpene expression. For growers hoping to produce optimal terpene expression in their cannabis crops, there are a few best practices to keep in mind:
Grow indoors. It is far easier to control the many environmental factors that can contribute to or take away from a plant’s terpene expression such as light and pests by growing cannabis plants indoors.
Grow in soil. Although hydroponic growing techniques do not necessarily cramp terpene expression, it is far easier to ensure a prominent terpene profile in traditional soil.
Monitor nutrients closely. Excess nutrients may inhibit terpene expression, so monitor this closely, especially during the final week or two before harvest, and reduce nutrient intake as needed.
Time the harvest carefully. Harvesting too early may cut off trichomes from full production of terpenes and cannabinoids, while late harvest can produce less potent trichomes, or cause them to break off completely. Trichomes that are ripe and ready for harvest are rich in terpenes, distinct, bold, and translucent on the surface of the plant.
Temperature control. To reduce terpene evaporation, grow at sufficiently cool temperatures: 77 to 80 degrees F, or 25-26.67 degrees C, during the day and roughly 7 to 10 degrees F cooler at night. Dry under temperatures that are sufficiently cool: between 65 and 75 F.
Handle with care. Be as gentle as you can at each step of the cultivation process. This will increase a with cannabis grower’s odds of delivering terpene-rich products.
Can Terpenes Influence Your Cannabis High?
Although cannabis terpenes may not be unique, the way they influence your cannabis high may be. If you’re a regular consumer of cannabis, you’ve probably perceived a real difference between products on the market—and not just in terms of THC levels. Specifically, even some high THC level products just don’t seem as satisfying as more whole-plant offerings.
Many cartridges in particular are THC distillate, just very concentrated cannabis oil. But without the rest of the plant parts, including those terpenes, you lose the “entourage effect,” not to mention a lot of what makes the experience pleasurable.
How do terpenes change a cannabis high?
Read on to learn about the specific terpenes one by one, but in part by modulating some of the less pleasant parts of the THC experience. Some experts believe that the right terpene profile makes a high-THC strain either calming, or overwhelming for a user, depending on the person.
Most Common Cannabis Terpenes
Although any given plant may have a number of terpenes at smaller levels in it, there are several terpenes that are frequently found in cannabis across strains.
According to a metabolic analysis of multiple strains of cannabis, myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis. In fact, certain cultivars may have up to 65 percent of their terpene profiles represented by this herbal terpene.
Responsible for the balsamic, cardamom, clove, earthy, herbal, musky, and spicy aromas, myrcene is also found in basil, hops, lemongrass, mango, and thyme.
It is often said that plants with more than 0.5 percent myrcene are indica, but as we explained above, this isn’t accurate. In reality the connection is to calming effects. Higher levels of myrcene may well mean that a cultivar produces a more sedative high.
Myrcene lends cannabis its distinctive herbal smell, not to mention various medical benefits:
- Analgesic (pain relief)
- Anti-inflammatory (Research on osteoarthritis indicates that myrcene has an anti-inflammatory effect and may be useful in treating arthritis in that it could prevent the breakdown of some cartilage cells.)
- Antioxidant (Researchers found that myrcene could help protect the brain from oxidative damage following a stroke. Other work confirms that myrcene has a similar protective effect in heart tissue.)
- Induces sleep, treats insomnia
- Muscle relaxant
- Sedating, relaxing properties
Strains that are high in myrcene are Blue Dream, Skunk XL, GDP, White Widow, OG Kush, Special Kush, and Cherry Pie. Its boiling point is 332.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 167 degrees Celsius.
Another highly abundant cannabis terpene, limonene is also found in citrus fruits. The distinctive aroma we all recognize as “citrus” emanating from fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes is actually limonene. Limonene can actually translate into rosemary, mint, or even juniper aromas as well.
Limonene has powerful antibacterial and anti fungal properties, which is one of the reasons—along with its delicious, fresh smell—that it makes a frequent appearance on the additives list of cosmetic and household cleaning products.
Limonene is far more than a delightful smell; it can also enhance mood and relieve stress. This is why this terpene is dominant in uplifting strains—those many of us think of as having Sativa effects. According to the research, limonene produces these benefits:
- Anxiety relief
- Depression relief
- Stress relief
- Elevated mood
- Anti-cancer and here as well
- Aids digestion
- Acid reflux relief
- Pain relief
- Boost immune system
- May be neuroprotective against Alzheimer’s disease
- Protective for the respiratory system
- Dissolve cholesterol-rich gallstones
Limonene also aids the body in absorbing other terpenes through the mucous membranes and skin.
Strains high in Limonene include Sour Diesel, Strawberry Banana, OG Kush, White Fire OG, Super Lemon Haze, Wedding Cake, and Do-Si-Dos. It has a boiling point of 348.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 176 degrees Celsius.
Beta-caryophyllene is another common cannabis terpene, a sesquiterpene. If you love the feeling of a spicy hit, you love the terpene caryophyllene.
Also found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, hops, oregano, rosemary, other edible herbs, and many green, leafy vegetables, caryophyllene lends plants clove, hoppy, peppery, spicy, warm, woody, notes. It tastes similar to the herbs one finds it in, often with a warm finish.
Research shows that caryophyllene is the only terpene that we know interacts directly with the body’s endocannabinoid system via the peripheral cannabinoid receptor called CB2. This way it generates effects in tandem with cannabinoids, such that it has been described as “a dietary cannabinoid.”
Caryophyllene is used as follows:
- Stress relief
- Treatment of pain, including nerve pain and chronic pain
- Treatment of anxiety
- Treatment of depression
- Anti-inflammation, tissue repair
- Neuroprotective against stroke
- Treatment of gastric issues such as ulcers as a gastro-protective
- Treatment of auto-immune disorders
- Antibacterial, including for certain resistant strains
Ongoing research also indicates that caryophyllene has anti-cancer properties, and can possibly suppress glioblastoma tumors, prevent ovarian cancer proliferation, and contribute to other forms of chemoprevention.
Caryophyllene is found in such strains as Super Silver Haze, Girl Scout Cookies, Skywalker, Original Glue, Rock Star, and Purple Punch. It has a boiling point of 266 degrees Fahrenheit, or 130 degrees Celsius.
That lovely, relaxing scent you know from lavender is basically the terpene linalool. The floral scent that’s so familiar from Linalool reminds you of a spicier version of spring flowers, and it’s easy to see why this terpene is so popular in personal care products like perfumes, shampoos, and soaps.
Linalool is well-known for its anti-anxiety, stress-relieving, and anti-depressant effects. This is why linalool is such an ideal complement to THC, which can at times produce anxious side effects.
Typically, linalool creates a floral, woody, or spicy aroma. In addition to lavender, linalool is also found in some citrus such as bergamot, rosewood, laurels, birch bark, coriander, and jasmine.
- Mood enhancement
- Anti-fungal/antimicrobial, especially Candida
- Antibacterial, both gram positive and gram negative
- Stress relief
- Muscle relaxant
- Treatment of insomnia
- Anti-inflammation, anti-asthma
- Anti-cancer (colon cancer, and specific cancer pathways have both been studied, for example, suggesting broader applications)
- Treatment of neurodegenerative disease
Linalool is strong in strains like Special Kush, Zkittlez, Amnesia Haze, Kosher Kush, and OG Shark. Linalool’s boiling point is 388.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or 198 degrees Celsius.
If you’re thinking that pinene must be what gives a pine tree or other conifer its distinctive smell, you are right. There are actually two varieties of pinene: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene.
Alpha-pinene smells more of rosemary or pine needles, while beta-pinene creates aromas of basil, dill, hops, or parsley. Think structure, almost, with the more needle-like options usually falling under the alpha-pinene category. Pinene more generally is also found in conifer trees, turpentine, and orange peels.
Pinene has been used for centuries in herbal medicines, principally because it is a strong bronchodilator, but it also has strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects. Pinene contributes to the synergistic cannabinoid/terpene relationship, and brings a host of therapeutic qualities to the table:
- Treatment of asthma
- Topical antiseptic
- Promotes alertness and short term memory retention, counteracting some of the side effects of THC
- Treatment of ulcers
Pinene can be found in strains like Big Smooth, Strawberry Cough, Snoop’s Dream, Blue Dream, and Critical Mass. It has a boiling point of 311 degrees Fahrenheit, or 155 degrees Celsius.
Although many cannabis cultivars help increase appetite, benefitting people with nausea or fighting cancer, others wish they wouldn’t get the munchies when they used cannabis. If that’s you, look for humulene-rich strains, which may actually help to decrease your appetite.
Humulene is another common cannabis terpene that is otherwise most often found in hops. This is the characteristic smell of humulene, a “hoppy” aroma, although it also presents woody and earthy notes. Humulene is also present to some extent in basil, black pepper, clove, coriander, ginger, ginseng, sage, and some kinds of wood.
Research reveals that humulene boasts many important qualities:
- Antibacterial properties
- Allergy and asthma treatment
- Anti-cancer, in several studies, and confirming traditional uses
Strains which contain humulene include Liberty Haze, Gelato, Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Diesel, and Sherbet. It has a boiling point of 222.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 106 degrees Celsius.
If you love to chase strains that pick up your mood and keep you going all day, you may be on Team Terpinolene. Approximately one in ten cultivars is terpinolene dominant, including the world-class heavyweights Dutch Treat and Jack Herer. Terpinolene has uplifting effects, and the strains that exhibit lots of it are likely to smell, taste, and feel like a liftoff.
Known for its pleasing, motivating smell, terpineol is frequently used in lotions, soaps, and perfumes. With its fresh, citrusy, floral, herbal, piney aroma, it’s a unique smell that is commonly found in plants known for pleasant fragrances, including apples, cinnamon, conifers, cumin, lilacs, nutmeg, rosemary, and tea tree.
Research into the medical benefits of terpinolene shows the following:
- Antibacterial, wound healing
Common strains with this terpene include Jack Herer, XJ-13, Ghost Train Haze, and Durban Poison. and has a boiling point of 361.4-366 degrees Fahrenheit, or 183-186 degrees Celsius.
Ocimene has a strong, herbal, sweet, woody aroma. It’s found in a broad range of plant life, including basil, kumquats, mangoes, mint, orchids, parsley, and pepper. This terpene is a common inclusion in personal care products like soap or lotion for its sweet smell and notes of peppermint.
Like some other terpenes, ocimene contributes to the natural defenses of a plant, offering it antifungal and antibacterial properties. For humans, this translates into several known benefits:
Ocimene is commonly found in Green Crack, Golden Goat, Clementine, Green Candy, Space Queen, Dutch Treat, J1, and Amnesia. Ocimene has a low boiling point of 122 degrees Fahrenheit, or 50 degrees Celsius.
Geraniol occurs naturally in geraniums, as you might guess, as well as blackberries, blueberries, carrots, coriander, grapefruits, lemon grass, lemons peels, oranges, peaches, roses, and other plants. Bees also produce geraniol to mark their territories.
Geraniol has a light, subtle, floral scent, with citrus and rose notes, which makes it a preferred choice for many in the cleaning product, personal care, and fragrance industries. You can even find geraniol used a food additive, particularly in high-end desserts and confections.
Like nearly all of the other important cannabis terpenes, research into geraniol reveals a range of important uses:
- Anti-cancer, multiple studies
- Treatment of diabetes
- Mitigate symptoms of atherosclerosis
Typically, geraniol and linalool stick together, and cannabis cultivars that are high in linalool are also rich in geraniol. Some cultivars that are usually high in geraniol are Afghani, Lavender, Headband, Amnesia Haze, Island Sweet Skunk, and Great White Shark.
Nerolidol is found in many strong aromatics like tea tree, neroli, ginger, lemongrass, lavender, and jasmine. It exudes a subtle yet powerful, nuanced floral scent with fruity and woody hints of apples, citrus, and rose. A secondary terpene, nerolidol is used in many cleaning products and cosmetics.
Research into this mysterious terpene is ongoing, and it appears to offer a number of benefits:
- Anti-inflammatory, in several contexts
- Anti-parasitic, particularly malaria and leishmaniasis
- Treating insomnia
- Treating endometriosis
Nerolidol may also improve the topical penetration of other drugs for more effective performance.
Find nerolidol in Jack Herer, Island Sweet Skunk, and Skywalker OG. It has a boiling point of 251.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 122 degrees Celsius.
Bisabolol has a gentle, delicately sweet floral scent, with notes of spice and citrus. Commonly found in the South American candeia tree and German chamomile, bisabolol is often used in skin care products, perfumes, and cosmetics—especially because bisabolol itself is also believed to nurture the skin.
Research into the benefits of bisabolol reveals the following:
- Anti-inflammatory, especially reduces skin inflammation and mitigates gastric damage from inflammation
- Anti-cancer, several studies, different cancers
Find bisabolol in Pink Kush, ACDC, Rockstar, Harle-Tsu, and Master Kush. It vaporizes at 307 degrees Fahrenheit, or 153 degrees Celsius.
Guaiol, sometimes called champacol, is found in cypress pine, other conifers, and the tropical guaiacum evergreen it is named for. Immediately notable is its piney scent, followed by notes of rose and wood. Guaiol differs from most other oil-based terpenes in that it is a liquid.
Research shows that guaiol has some important benefits:
High concentrations of guaiol are found in: ACDC, Blackberry, Cinex, Fruit Loops, Jillybean, and Pennywise. Use caution when enjoying guaiol, because it vaporizes at 197.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 92 degrees Celsius—lower than average for terpenes.
Valencene is a larger, sesquiterpene that suggests where you can find it with its name: Valencia oranges. You’ll also find its sweet, citrusy flavors and aromas in other oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits, which all lend their scents to the terpene, along with hints of freshly cut wood and tender, green herbs.
So far, research into this terpene reveals:
Find higher levels of valencene in Agent Orange, Tangie, and other citrus-y strains.
The terpene phytol results as chlorophyll degrades, so it is generally present in cannabis. Phytol can also be found in green tea, and in this context is well-studied:
Additional Terpenes FAQ
Where Are Terpenes Found on the Cannabis Plant?
You’ve no doubt seen the tiny little “hairs” all over the surface of a flowering cannabis plant. These little trichomes contain resin glands, and they produce the shiny, sticky crystals that coat a marijuana plant. The resin is what contains both cannabinoids such as THCA and CBDA which later become usable THC and CBD after decarboxylation. It also contains terpenes.
What Terpenes Are in CBD?
CBD products are typically made from either hemp or marijuana. Both plants naturally produce the same kinds of terpenes, which are the natural chemical compounds responsible for the smell, color, and flavor of the plant. Of course, each specific plant will have a different blend of terpenes. Many CBD products contain linalool, for example, which has a soothing effect on the mood, and is among the most common terpenes found in hemp.
How Do Terpenes Affect the Body?
As you can see from reading the sections above, this answer is different for each terpene. However, there is strong evidence that indicates terpenes directly affect the body physiologically. For example, cultivars rich in linalool are likely to produce pain relief and calming effects, while strains higher in limonene are more likely to elevate the mood.
Which Terpene Smells Like Skunk?
In nature with actual skunks, thiols, chemical compounds of hydrogen and sulfur, create the overpowering skunk odor. So why does some cannabis have a skunky smell? Thiols can attach to different terpenes and terpenoids, some of which have their own slightly acrid smell, and help create a more skunky fragrance—but nothing as powerful as the original!
What Terpenes are Good for Sleep?
Typically, the terpenes most commonly identified as being helpful to sleep are: myrcene and linalool. Both occur frequently in cannabis, as well as other herbs and fruits, including mangoes, lavender, ylang ylang, basil, passionfruit, thyme, hops, and lemongrass.
Final Thoughts on Terpenes
There is really no question that terpenes are a tremendously important part of your cannabis enjoyment. To dig deeper into what works for you, start paying attention to patterns in what you enjoy most—and we think you will start noticing terpenes.