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

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.

Myrcene

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

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

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.

Caryophyllene

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”.

15 Cannabis Terpenes Explained (Complete Visual Guide)

You might have noticed that not all strains smell the same. Pine, berry, mint…There’s more than a few distinctive fragrances in cannabis.

Cannabis has a unique smell. Some people find it unpleasant and overwhelming, while most marijuana enthusiasts find it very calming and enjoyable. Just like any other plant, pot has components which are responsible for its unique aroma and flavor.

These components are terpenes, aromatic molecules of cannabis, secreted inside the tiny resin glands of cannabis flowers.

Terpenes produce a citrusy aroma in some strains, fruity and sweet notes in others and while some may smell and taste like lavender, others can be more earthy and pungent. Certain strains even smell like cheese. However, it’s not all about the smell.

Terpenes also produce a wide range of medical effects and that is exactly what’s so captivating about them in the first place. There are at least 80-100 terpenes unique to the cannabis plant and the combination of these chemicals and cannabinoids is responsible for the entire success of the cannabis plant as we know it.

 What are terpenes and what is their use?

Terpenes are organic chemicals produced by most plants and even some animals like swallowtail butterflies and termites. The term terpene is also often used to refer to terpenoids, which are oxygenated derivatives of terpenes.

The easiest way to understand them is to think of them as volatile aromatic molecules.

What’s so special about these chemicals is that they give plants their unique aroma.

From the chemical point of view, terpenes are derived from the basic molecule of isoprene which replicates to make terpenes.

These substances have two very important roles in every plant’s life: to protect the flowers from predators and to produce resin.

They are a major part of resin and are heavily used in the production of essential oils, so they are a good fit for medical and beauty products. That is how terpenes made their way into the fragrance industry, as well as conventional and alternative medicine. They are most commonly used in aromatherapy, but they’re also synthetically made as flavors and aromas and as food additives.

There are a few more fun facts about terpenes: natural rubber is made of terpenes, as are many steroids. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to know that an organic and completely natural maple syrup contains about 300 terpenes, which makes it so yummy in the first place.

But what about cannabis?

Terpenes basically give each strain its unique smell and taste. Not only that but they also enhance the effects of cannabis by influencing how we process cannabinoids.

Let’s explore this in more detail.

How terpenes work with cannabinoids?

What we usually consume from cannabis is the flower.

And just like any other flower, cannabis flower has its own recognizable smell.

As mentioned before, there are about 120 terpenes found in cannabis. They coexist in the herb with cannabinoids like THC and CBD (sometimes even working with them for our better experience), but they are not psychoactive like THC.

Some of those terpenes can be found in other plants, while others are exclusive to cannabis.

But, It’s not all about the smell, though. Terpenes also have therapeutic properties and can aid in plant’s medical effects:

They interact with our endocannabinoid system and assist cannabinoids in entering the bloodstream, in a process called the entourage effect.

Myrcene, for instance, increases cell permeability and allows cannabinoids to be absorbed faster than they would on their own.

Limonene is responsible for increasing serotonin levels which influences how weed affects our mood. That means these terpenes can influence neurotransmitters in our brain which entails that different strains may have different effects on our mood.

Terpenes and the “Entourage Effect” explained

The “Entourage Effect” is a term coined by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam back in 1998 to represent the biological synergy of cannabinoids and other compounds like flavonoids and, of course, terpenes.

According to Chris Emerson, these compounds work together to make “the sum of all the parts that leads to the magic or power of cannabis”. When terpenes work with cannabinoids like CBD and THC, they form a sinergy that creates stronger and better effects than both would achieve on their own.

This symbiosis between cannabinoids and terpenes is what gives cannabis its special powers, as it improves the absorption of cannabinoids, overcomes bacterial defense mechanisms and minimizes any side effects.

Research on medical properties of terpenes in cannabis

Some terpenes are very effective in relieving stress, others are great when you need to relax, while there are some that boost focus. There are many options here, as you’ll have a chance to see.

For example, myrcene induces sleep, while limonene uplifts our mood.

In recent years, terpenes found in cannabis became an important subject of scientific research.

It was Jürg Gertsch who first noticed the ability of beta-caryophyllene to bind to the CB2 receptors, calling it “a dietary cannabinoid”.

He also concluded that all green vegetables that contain this terpene are extremely beneficial for human use.

Shortly after that, Dr. Ethan Russo published an article in 2011 in British Journal of Pharmacology, which pointed to all the therapeutic properties of terpenes in marijuana, especially those missing in cannabis products that only contain CBD.

He discussed the cannabinoid-terpene interaction as a “synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections”.

Further research discovered that terpenes, terpenoids, and cannabinoids have the potential to kill respiratory pathogens, for instance the MRSA virus.

However, that’s not even half of the story. Terpenes have a lot more health effects which we’ll discuss next.

15 terpenes in cannabis explained

As I mentioned before, there are more than 100 terpenes in just one cannabis flower. Here are some of the most well known terpenes right now, most of which you’ll find in legal cannabis products in your area.

Myrcene

Myrcene is the most abundant terpene in cannabis, which is where it’s mostly found in nature. In fact, one study showed that myrcene makes up as much as 65% of total terpene profile in some strains.

Myrcene smell often reminds of earthy, musky notes, resembling cloves. Also, it has a fruity, red grape-like aroma.

Strains that contain 0.5% of this terpene are usually indicas with sedative effects. It has also been reported that myrcene is useful in reducing inflammation and chronic pain, which is why it’s usually recommended as a supplement during cancer treatments.

Strains that are rich in myrcene are Skunk XL, White Widow, and Special Kush.

Bonus tip: If you want to experience a stronger buzz from marijuana, get yourself a mango and eat it about 45 minutes before smoking.

Mango contains significant amount of myrcene, so eating it before consuming cannabis will strengthen the effects of THC and increase its absorption rate.

Limonene

Limonene is the second most abundant terpene in all cannabis strains, but not all strains necessarily have it.

As its name says, limonene gives strains a citrusy smell that resembles lemons, which is no surprise as all citrus fruits contain large amounts of this compound. Limonene is used in cosmetics and also in cleaning products.

For therapeutic purposes, limonene is known to improve mood and reduce stress. Researchers also found it to have antifungal and antibacterial properties and one research even found it to have a role in reducing tumor size.

Strains that have “lemon” or “sour” in their name are usually rich in limonene.

High levels of limonene can be found in strains like O.G. Kush, Sour Diesel, Super Lemon Haze, Durban Poison, Jack Herer, and Jack the Ripper.

Linalool

This terpene is the most responsible for the recognizable marijuana smell with its spicy and floral notes.

Linalool is also found in lavender, mint, cinnamon and coriander. What’s interesting is that just like those aromatic herbs, it has very strong sedative and relaxing properties.

Patients suffering from arthritis, depression, seizures, insomnia and even cancer, have all found aid in this amazing terpene.

Some well known linalool strains are Amnesia Haze, Special Kush, Lavender, LA Confidential, and OG Shark.

Caryophyllene

Best known for its spicy and peppery note, caryophyllene is also found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and spices like oregano, basil and rosemary.

Beta-caryophyllene binds to CB2 receptors, which makes it an ingredient in anti-inflammatory topicals and creams. Caryophyllene is the only terpene that binds to cannabinoid receptors.

Besides its analgesic and anti-anxiety properties, some studies have found that caryophyllene has some very promising properties when it comes to alcoholism rehabilitation.

A group of scientists performed research on mice and found that this terpene reduces voluntary intake of alcohol. They even recommended caryophyllene for treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

You can benefit from caryophyllene by using strains like Super Silver Haze, Skywalker and Rock Star.

Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene

These two terpenes smell like pine trees and that’s also where they can be found in large amounts. Other plants rich in pinene include rosemary, orange peels, basil, parsley and cannabis of course.

Like many other, pinene terpenes have an anti-inflammatory effect on humans.

But more importantly, they help improve airflow and respiratory functions, while also helping to reduce memory loss related to THC. I know that this can sound weird because we’re talking about cannabis, but if the strain is rich in alpha and beta pinene, it can actually help with asthma.

Pinene also helps patients with arthritis, Crohn’s disease and cancer.

You can find pinene in strains like Jack Herer, Strawberry Cough, Blue Dream, Island Sweet Skunk, Dutch Treat and Romulan.

Alpha-bisabolol

Alpha-bisabolol (also known as levomenol and bisabolol) has a pleasant floral aroma and can also be found in chamomile flower and candeia tree.

This terpene found its use primarily in the cosmetics industry, but lately it has caught the attention of researchers since it showed medical benefits, especially in cannabis.

Alpha-bisabolol proved to be effective in treating bacterial infections and wounds and is a great antioxidant with anti-irritation and analgesic properties.

It can be found in strains like Harle-Tsu, Pink Kush, Headband, OG Shark, and ACDC.

Eucalyptol

Also known as cineole, eucalyptol is the primary terpene of the eucalyptus tree. It has recognizable minty and cool tones in its smell but most cannabis strains do not contain large amounts of it. It usually makes up around 0.06% of a strains complete terpene profile.

This terpene has been used in cosmetics as well as medicine. When it comes to its medical value, eucalyptol relieves pain but also slows the growth of bacteria and fungus.

Although it is still in the early stages in research, this terpene has shown some promising effects on Alzheimer’s as well.

Eucalyptol can be found in Super Silver Haze and Headband.

Trans-nerolidol

This one is a secondary terpene found mostly in flowers like jasmine, lemongrass, and tea tree oil. The smell of trans-nerolidol reminds of a mixture of rose, citrus and apples and can be described in general as woody, citrus and floral.

Trans-nerolidol is best known for its antiparasitic, antioxidant, antifungal, anticancer and antimicrobial properties.

Strains like Jack Herer, Sweet Skunk, and Skywalker OG are rich in nerolidol.

Humulene

Humulene was the first terpene found in hops. Its aroma contains earthy, woody and spicy notes.

Besides cannabis, it can be also found in clove, sage, and black pepper.

It has a variety of medical properties. Early research has shown humulene to be anti-proliferative, meaning it prevents cancer cells from growing. Also, it proved to be effective in suppressing appetite, making it a potential weight loss tool.

Furthermore, like many other terpenes mentioned above, it also reduces inflammation, relieves pain and fights bacterial infections.

You can find humulene in strains like White Widow, Headband, Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Diesel, Pink Kush and Skywalker OG.

Delta 3 Carene

This terpene is found in a number of plants like rosemary, basil, bell peppers, cedar and pine. Its aroma is sweet and resembles the smell of cypress tree.

When it comes to the medical side of carene, it seems to be mostly beneficial in healing broken bones. That gives hope to patients suffering from osteoporosis, arthritis and even fibromyalgia.

What is also interesting about this terpene is that it stimulates our memory and helps memory retention. This is a major point in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Camphene

The best way to describe the smell of camphene is fir needles, musky earth and damp woodlands. Camphene aroma is often mistaken with myrcene, which is that trademark marijuana smell as most of us know it.

From the medical point of view, camphene has great potential. When mixed with vitamin C, it becomes a powerful antioxidant.

It is widely used in conventional medicine as a topical for skin issues like eczema and psoriasis.

Its greatest potential lies in its ability to lower the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, further lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Camphene is present in Ghost OG, Strawberry Banana, Mendocino Purps.

Borneol

Borneol, with its herbal minty scent, can be found in herbs like rosemary, mint and camphor.

This terpene is a good natural insect repellent which makes it great in preventing diseases like the West Nile virus, being passed by ticks, fleas, mosquitoes etc.

One study found that borneol kills breast cancer cells. It’s also widely used in Chinese traditional medicine, in acupuncture to be precise.

Strains high in borneol are Amnesia Haze, Golden Haze, K13 Haze.

Terpineol

The aroma of terpineol can be best described as floral-like, reminiscent of lilacs, apple blossom, and a little bit citrusy. Terpineol tastes like anise and mint.

Terpineol has a pleasant scent, similar to lilac, and is a common ingredient in perfumes, cosmetics, and flavors.

It relaxes heavily and it’s usually the one responsible for the notorious couch lock effect. Medical benefits of terpineol also include antibiotic and antioxidant properties.

It can be found Girl Scout Cookies, Jack Herer, and OG Kush strains.

Valencene

This terpene got its name from sweet Valencia oranges — where it’s been found in large amounts. With its sweet citrusy aromas and flavors, it’s used as an insect repellant, too.

Valencene can be found in strains like Tangie and Agent Orange.

Geraniol

Besides cannabis, geraniol can be found in lemons and tobacco. Its smell reminds of rose grass, peaches and plums.

It’s usually used in aromatic bath products and body lotions.

Geraniol has shown a lot of potential as a neuroprotectant and antioxidant.

It’s present in strains like Amnesia Haze, Great White Shark, Afghani, Headband, Island Sweet Skunk, OG Shark and Master Kush.