What are Cannabis Terpenes & What Do They Do?

Last Updated on May 19, 2023

Cannabis can easily be identified by its unique fragrance — but what gives cannabis its distinct odour? Terpenes! One of the many compounds found in the cannabis plant, terpenes give different strains of cannabis their own scent. 

Terpenes have a multitude of health and medicinal benefits. Many physical health conditions and mental health challenges can be alleviated with the help of terpenes.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are a type of compound found in the cannabis plant. Specifically, terpenes are found in the trichomes of the plant. There are more than 150 kinds of terpenes in cannabis. Some are found in minute quantities, while others are more prevalent. 

Terpenes are what give cannabis its unique odour. They also contribute to the flavour and colour of cannabis. How much terpene is in a plant is impacted by temperature, light exposure, and when it is harvested. Typically the more fragrant cannabis is, the higher the terpene content.

What are the Effects of Cannabis Terpenes?

Terpenes interact with other cannabis compounds, creating what is called the entourage effect. The impact of any compound, including terpenes and cannabinoids, is greater when it is consumed with another compound. They work together and exaggerate the effects of each other.

Research into terpenes’ effects is still in the early stages, but scientists are discovering that terpenes have many medicinal benefits. 

Some terpenes, such as humulene and linalool, act as analgesics, providing pain relief to the person using them. Terpenes like camphor and carvone have antiviral properties, while menthol and terpinolene are antimicrobial. 

Certain terpenes even seem to boost mood. Linalool and pinene have been shown to have antidepressant effects. Other terpenes like limonene and myrcene are being studied in cancer research. They show an ability to slow down the growth of cancer cells and tumours.

7 Most Common Terpenes & Their Effects

1. Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene, also known as beta-caryophyllene or b-caryophyllene, has a spicy, woody, and peppery taste and smell. It can be found in cloves, cinnamon, and rosemary.

It has antimicrobial, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Caryophyllene may help with anxiety and depression. It has also been shown to reduce symptoms of digestive disorders like colitis. It may help regulate blood sugar for those living with diabetes and has even been shown to delay the effects of dementia.

Strains that contain caryophyllene include OG Kush, Sour Diesel, and Bubba Kush.

2. Eucalyptol

Eucalyptol, as its name suggests, has a strong menthol scent and taste. It is found in eucalyptus trees and tea tree plants.

This terpene has antifungal and antibacterial properties. It may also help to increase cognitive function, memory, and concentration.

Strains of cannabis that contain high levels of eucalyptol include Headband, Girl Scout Cookies, and Super Silver Haze.

3. Humulene

Humulene has a floral, woody, and peppery scent. It is commonly found in the hops plant, as well as in sage and ginger.

It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and may offer protection against certain allergens. Humulene has also been shown to have an energising effect. 

Cannabis strains with high levels of humulene include White Widow, Atlantis, and Super Lemon Haze.

4. Limonene

Limonene has a fresh, citrusy taste and scent. It is commonly found in lemons, limes, and other citrus fruits. 

It is ideal for boosting mood and increasing the ability to focus. Limonene also acts as a stress reliever and helps minimise anxiety. It can help relieve symptoms of nausea, reflux, and indigestion. 

Shining Silver Haze, Wedding Cake, and Emerald Jack are examples of strains that contain high amounts of limonene.

5. Linalool 

Linalool has a spicy yet floral scent. It is found in many plants, including sweet basil, lavender, and coriander.

Linalool helps relieve stress and anxiety and may improve sleep for insomnia patients. It has anaesthetic and pain-relieving properties and may also help with neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s. 

Amnesia Haze and Pink Kush are strains that contain high levels of linalool.

6. Myrcene

Myrcene has a woody, musky, earthy scent and a slightly sweet taste. It is also found in hops, mangoes, and lemongrass.

Myrcene has antifungal and antibacterial properties. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory. Myrcene is a sedative relaxing the muscles and helps with sleep.

Special Kush 1, Grape Ape, and Skunk XL are cannabis strains with high levels of myrcene.

7. Pinene

There are two types of pinene terpene: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Alpha-pinene is more common in cannabis strains.

Pinene, as you might guess from its name, has a herbal, piney scent. It can be found in pine resin and camphorweed.

It helps with respiration, decreases inflammation, and fights bacteria. Pinene can improve alertness and concentration. It may help with cognitive dysfunction and help to prevent memory loss.

Cannabis strains with high pinene levels include Blue Dream, Haze Berry, and Dutch Treat.

Medicinal Benefits of Cannabis Terpenes

Terpenes, like other compounds of the cannabis plant, can provide many medicinal and health benefits. Working in combination with other compounds increases the effectiveness of the terpenes. 

Pain Relief

Some terpenes have an analgesic effect which helps to relieve pain. Caryophyllene, humulene, and linalool are terpenes with analgesic properties. People living with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia may benefit from the use of these terpenes. These terpenes may also be used to relieve lower back pain, headaches, or arthritis.

Relief in Inflammation

Myrcene, pinene, humulene, and caryophyllene are anti-inflammatory terpenes. These terpenes can be used to relieve inflammation associated with conditions like colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Reduce Stress

Terpenes can help to relieve stress and anxiety, acting as a sedative. Linalool, limonene, caryophyllene, and myrcene are examples of terpenes that can be used to reduce stress.

Improve Mood

Some terpenes act as an antidepressant to boost your mood. Linalool, limonene, and pinene can all work to improve mood and lift spirits.

Increase Focus and Concentration

Certain terpenes can help you concentrate and improve your ability to focus. Humulene and pinene are two terpenes that assist with attention and alertness.

Are Terpenes Legal?

There are three terpenes: those derived from the cannabis plant, those derived from any other plant, and synthetic terpenes. Synthetic terpenes and terpenes derived from other plants are legal in the United States.

In states where cannabis has been legalised, terpenes derived from cannabis are also legal. In states where cannabis is still illegal, terpenes derived from cannabis are only legal if they do not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 


Do Terpenes Get You High?

Terpenes on their own will not get you high. They do not contain THC, which is the active component in cannabis that provides the psychoactive effect. Cannabis terpenes can provide a stimulating or sedative effect, depending on the type.

Are Terpenes Safe to Vape?

Researchers are currently looking at the safety of vaping terpenes. One concern is that vape oils may contain synthetic terpenes. It is unclear whether synthetic terpenes are safe for vaping. We know that terpenes can produce toxic chemicals when heated at high temperatures.

The Bottom Line

Cannabis terpenes are not only the source of captivating flavours and enticing aromas in the cannabis plant but also vital contributors to its therapeutic potential. These aromatic compounds, working in conjunction with cannabinoids, create the entourage effect, enhancing the medicinal properties of cannabis.

Understanding the diverse array of terpenes empowers individuals to make informed decisions based on desired effects and flavours. Whether seeking relaxation, mood enhancement, pain relief, or improved focus, the distinct properties of terpenes offer a tailored approach to cannabis consumption.

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