Simple Explanation Of Popular Cannabis Terpenes And Their Effects

Terpenes, sometimes called terpenoids, are aromatic organic hydrocarbons contained in the cannabis plant, which give it its unique aroma.

However, there’s a whole lot more to terpenes than just smell, and you might be surprised to learn just how vital the role of terpenes is in terms of a rounded medicinal effect from cannabis. To get technical for just a moment, terpenes are secretory cells inside glandular trichomes, and their production is increased with light exposure. Terpenes are mainly found in high concentrations in unfertilized female cannabis flowers prior to senescence.

Another important role that terpenes play is to protect the cannabis plant from bacteria and fungus, insects and other environmental stresses.

Terpenes are thought to act on receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain and act as serotonin uptake inhibitors, which enhance norepinephrine activity, according to studies. They work together with flavonoids and other compounds in cannabis to produce a strong medicinal effect for cannabis patients.

In studies on mice and rats. A standardized cannabis extract of THC, CBD and CBN (SCE), another with pure THC, and also one with a THC-free extract (CBD) were tested on a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS) and a rat brain slice model of epilepsy. The study found that SCE inhibited spasticity in the MS model to a comparable level of THC alone, and caused a more rapid onset of muscle relaxation and a reduction in the time to maximum effect than the THC alone.

Enter Dr. Ethan Russo, who came up with the ‘Entourage Effect’ theory some years ago, claiming that terpenes compliment the active compounds in cannabis by inhibiting the effects of THC. According to Russo et al, terpenes increase the potential of cannabis-based medicinal extracts to treat pain, inflammation, fungal and bacterial infections, depression, and anxiety.

The Terpene Wheel is a handy diagram which illustrates the differences between terpenes and offers additional information about them. Green House Seed Co’s wheel identifies the various terpenes in each of their strains.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the main terpenes found in cannabis, as well as in a variety of other plants, fruits and herbs.


Pinene has a distinctly piney aroma, and is also found in pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, and dill. There are two types of this terpene, α-pinene and β-pinene, and both have been associated with the treatment of asthma, containing antiseptic properties, and also anti-inflammatory elements. Pinene is said to promote alertness and memory retention, and can be found in strains like Jack Herer, Chemdawg, and Bubba Kush.


Mycrene is another well-known terpene which smells musky, earthy, and has been closely associated in aroma with cloves, with some citrusy notes. Mycrene is thought to enduce the well-known ‘couchlock’ effect, leaving the patient slightly numb and with a substantial body sensation. This terpene has been used in the treatment of numerous conditions, as it acts like a potent analgesic, with anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties. Mycrene is prevalent also in mangos, and is found in strains like Pure Kush, El Nino, and White Widow.


Limonene is another top-shelf terpene which, as is suggested by its name, is very much on the citrusy scale, inducing a euphoric feeling, elevated mood and stress relief. Limonene-rich strains can smell of oranges and lemons, as well as being present in herbs such as rosemary, juniper and pine needles. This terpene is thought to be an ideal antifungal agent, and also could be effective when it comes to weight-loss. Limonene-rich cannabis strains include, Super Lemon Haze, Jack the Ripper, and Lemon Skunk.


Linalool is another favorite terpene among cannabis patients, due to its lavender, floral aromas, and sweet notes. Used in the treatment of anxiety, and as an anti-convulsant, and anti-depressant, this pungent terpene is thought to be very effective in the treatment of numerous medical conditions. You could find this terpene in high concentrations in strains such as, G-13, Amnesia Haze, and Lavender.


This terpene is reminiscent of peppercorns, with a slightly spicy aroma, which come people describe as ‘woody.’ Caryophyllene, or Beta-caryophyllene, as it is known technically, is considered to be effective in treating gastro issues, arthritis, ulcers and autoimmune diseases. Caryophyllene is the only terpene known to interact directly with the human endocannabinoid system, with some studies showing it to hold promise in some cancer treatments. Strains rich with this terpene include, Hash Plant, Northern Lights, and Afghan.

One Israel-based company at the forefront of terpene extraction for medical applications is Eybna Technologies Limited. They claim on their website that by ‘analyzing the finest cannabis strains in the market, we have developed rich initiatory aromas containing a wide variety of terpenes. Our product line integrates high quality natural raw materials with special attention to the delicate nuances of each strain’s terpene composition.’

The Co-Founder and CEO of Eybna, Nadav Eyal, told Cannatech exclusively, “When we founded Eybna in 2014, awareness for the importance of terpenes was still very low in the industry, as most research was only carried out on common cannabinoids such as THC & CBD.” Eyal added, “We focused our research primarily on mapping out and isolating the non-cannabinoid compounds and their therapeutic effects, with the emphasis on terpenes. We already see fascinating, very positive results, but there is plenty more research to be done here.”

The wonderful world of terpenes is one that requires a lot more exploration and research. In order to gain a better understanding of how these gifts from nature could help patients around the world who are suffering from a variety of different conditions and ailments.

Where does cannabis’ smell come from? Learn about terpenes

Cannabis’ smell — it’s something you either love or hate. Few people have a neutral opinion of the pungent plant’s distinctive odors. The word “cannabis” comes from the Hebrew word kneh-bosm, which literally means “aromatic reed.”  

But where do these aromatics come from? Why are they there? What exactly are they? And why are they important? Read on to better understand the world of terpenes.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are the aromatic components of the cannabis plant’s essential oils and they play an important thera­peutic role. Terpenes are very small, volatile molecules created by the cannabis plant as an evolutionary adaptation to simultaneously attract and repel certain insects and animals.

According to one study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2011, “Terpenoids are quite potent, and affect animal and even human behaviour when inhaled from ambient air. They display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.”

The aromas and flavors of any given cannabis strain also depend on which terpenes predominate. Terpenes are one of the chief differentiators between different strains of cannabis (Journal of Natural Products, 2016). Terpenes are common throughout the plant world, and while cannabis can create about 1,000 of them, we’ve catalogued about 20,000 in nature. Some terpenes present in wine like linalool are also present in cannabis. More than 60 percent of cannabis buyers use smell to help make their purchase, and the terpenes is what they are smelling for. The word “terpene” comes from the root word “turpentine”, which refers to the pungent resin extracted from the terebinth tree found in the Mediterranean since ancient times.

Why does cannabis make terpenes?

We think cannabis creates terpenes to deter predators like insects and mammals, who are often repulsed by the strong odor of terpenes in cannabis. According to a landmark study, “limonene and pinene in flowers … are repellent to insects (Nerio et al., 2010), while lower fan leaves express higher concentrations of bitter sesquiterpenoids that act as anti-feedants for grazing animals.”

For the last couple thousand years, humans have selected cannabis in part for its terpene production.

Why should I care about terpenes?

In addition to THCCBD and the other cannabinoids, terpenes play an important part in the overall effects of cannabis and provide additional therapeutic effects aside from the desirable “high” or “stoned” feeling.

Leading cannabis horticulture author Ed Rosenthal has said, “If THC is the engine, terpenes are the steering wheel.” They shape and control the high of THC. Interestingly, some terpenes are thought to act as an antidote to acute THC intoxication. The most promising terpenes to try if you get too high are those found in lemons, black pepper, pine nuts and calamus plant roots.

The multitude of terpenes found in cannabis also provide countless flavor and aroma combinations. Each strain produces its own unique fusion of terps to provide its signature palette of sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and/or savory aromas and flavors.

Sixty percent of cannabis users make purchases based on smell. | Photo: Noah Berger

Sixty percent of cannabis users make purchases based on smell. | Photo: Noah Berger

What medical effects do the most common terpenes in cannabis have?

Lab, cell, animal and scant human trials have yielded a lot of data about what terpenes might do.

  • Alpha-pinene is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and memory-enhancing effects.
  • Limonene can act as a stimulant and may help treat depression, it also has been found to cause breast cancer cells to commit suicide, as well as help control stress, and gastric reflux. (Russo, 2011).
  • Linalool, also found in lavender, offers sedative effects and may treat skin burns without scarring. It’s a local anesthetic.
  • The terpene Myrcene, also found in the hops— a cousin of the pot plant— also has a sedative effect but can also offer ant-inflammatory and pain relief.
  • The terpene Nerolidol is an anti-fungal, anti-malarial, and has sedative properties. The list goes on and on.

However, more research needs to confirm these findings. “Scientific investigation of the therapeutic application of terpenoids in psychiatry has been hampered by methodological concerns, subjective variability of results and a genuine dearth of appropriate randomized controlled studies of high quality,” Russo found in 2011.

Terpenes are deemed by the FDA to be “Generally Recognized as Safe”.

Russo's Taming THC chart of Terpenes, 2011

Russo’s Taming THC chart of Terpenes, 2011

Where do I find terpenes?

All the chemical com­pounds found in cannabis (cannabinoids and terpenes) are encased within the tiny, crystal-like structures seen on the surface of the bud called trichomes. The amount and quality of terpenes in a plant depends on how well it is grown (Journal of Natural Products, 2016).

Where else are terpenes found in nature?

Nearly 20,000 terpenoid compounds have been found in all types of plant life. They occur naturally in everything from fruits and vegetables to flowers and trees.

What are the most common terpenes in cannabis?

More than 1,000 terpenes have been identified in cannabis, but only a handful appear in significant amounts that can be noticed through smell and taste alone.

One of the most common terpenes is alpha-pinene, which is also found in pine needles, and another common terpene limonene is also found in lemons. Together, these terpenes give most Kush strains their signature lemony-pine smell and taste.

The amount of terpenes and cannabinoids present in a cannabis sample ( its “chemotype”) will likely replace old school folk taxonomies of strain names, followed by indica-sativa-hybrid classification. You can figure which chemotype you prefer by looking up the terpene profiles of your favorite strains, and the ones you hate.

For example, Blue Dream is uniquely high in Nerolidol and α-Bisabolol. By contrast, OG Kush is relatively high in pinene and myrcene. Grand Daddy Purple is relatively high in linalool.

How do I preserve my terpenes?

Properly storing your buds is crucial to keeping them fresh and flavorful for a long time. Light, heat, and low or high humidity will destroy terpenes and thus diminish its flavor profiles. Poor storage is what makes good bud go bad, but thankfully it’s pretty easy to keep them fresh and tasty: don’t use baggies, store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. And don’t handle the buds too much other than pulling them out from the jar right before you’re ready to use them. Also, most people use an herb grinder to grind their cannabis before putting it in a joint, or pipe. Make sure to use all ground cannabis promptly, as it begins losing its terpenes to the air immediately.

Shop at places that put a focus on terpene preservation — it’s your money and medicine you smell evaporating into the air. Appreciating terpenes is the same as savoring a high-quality glass of wine or a cigar.

Extracts of cannabis can boost or reduce the amount of terpenes depending on the extraction method. For example, CO2 extraction destroys most terpenes due to the relatively high temperatures involved (Planta Medica, 2017).

How do I learn more about terpenes?

You can research terpenes on medical literature indexes like PubMed and Google Scholar.  A handy guide to the most popular terpenes, what they smell like and potential therapeutic uses comes from Dr. Ethan Russo “Taming THC”.