THC and CBD are the most well-known of the chemical constituents found in cannabis, but these cannabinoids aren’t the only thing providing the source of the plant’s power. Terpenes are another grouping of beneficial natural compounds and provide much of the flavor and aroma associated with the cannabis plant and many other plants and food we enjoy.
Let’s take a closer look at the different terps and explore all the health benefits and effects they have to offer.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a grouping of natural compounds found within almost every plant you can think of. These terpene (or terp) compounds are the source of the smell and taste you experience when consuming everything from citrus fruits to black pepper. They are also abundantly found in cannbis.
That lovely smell of pine trees you get when walking through the forest is caused by terpenes in the pine needles. The nostalgic aroma of lilacs in the spring? That’s from the terpenes found within the flower as well. Just about any strong scent you can imagine, in the plant world anyway, is created by terpenes.
Terpenes have received a lot of attention lately due to the rapid growth of the cannabis industry, which has led to a better understanding of all that these compounds can do. Over 20,000 terpenes are known to science, with most existing in plant life of one variety or another. Of these, nearly 200 can be found within the cannabis plant.
Every cannabis strain has a unique terpene profile that gives it specific characteristics in flavor, taste, and feel when consumed. Your favorite Sativa strain will have a different terpene profile than that heavy Indica you might smoke for its sedative effects.
Terpenes derived from other plant sources are often turned into essential oils that can be used for aromatherapy. They are also often used as additives in a variety of household products ranging from soaps to cleaning agents to perfumes.
Technically speaking, terpenoids are the compounds we enjoy after drying and curing cannabis flowers. Terpenoids differ from terpenes because oxidation has added extra atoms to their chemical construction. Terpenes are hydrocarbons that haven’t been denatured by oxidation, but in reality the terms terpene and terpenoid are used almost interchangeably.
Where do Terpenes come from?
Terpenes are found in the trichomes of the cannabis plant. Trichomes are the sticky resin glands found in cannabis flowers. This is the same part of the plant that produces the largest amount of cannabinoids, and the potency of a strain is often determined by levels of THC and CBD found in its trichomes.
Plants create terpenes for a variety of reasons, but the main biological reason is to keep predators away and/or attract pollinators. The strong smells that we associate with common plants can actually be a form of survival for those plants. We have selectively bred cannabis strains over the years, but terpenes were created naturally in the plant for these same defensive and pollination purposes.
Terpenes, Cannabis, and Cannabinoids
In this article, we will be looking at a few of the most common terpenes found in cannabis. Cannabis terpenes can provide a variety of beneficial health effects. They have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties, to name a few. Some common terpenes are even being studied for their anticancer properties.
When the many abundant terpenes found in the cannabis plant are combined with cannabinoids, something called the entourage effect occurs. The entourage effect makes the beneficial properties of all these compounds work together to create effects that are more powerful than when they are isolated on their own. This synergy of terpenes and cannabinoids working together results in a ton of health benefits and other effects.
However, unlike cannabinoids, terpenes don’t interact directly with the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD bind with the CB1 and CB2 receptors found within the human brain and nervous system. Terpenes bind to different receptors within the body.
Even though terpenes may not get all the same attention as their cannabinoid cousins THC and CBD, they are still important compounds found within the cannabis plant that give different strains their unique characteristics. The effects of THC in high concentrations can be psychoactive, which many recreational users enjoy, but CBD on its own is not psychoactive.
Terpenes are also not psychoactive, but they have medicinal properties that can be of great benefit for many cannabis users and can be harnessed from many other natural sources as well.
The Most Common Terpenes Found in Cannabis
As mentioned above, there are nearly 200 known terpenes found in the cannabis plant. More of these might be discovered as the cannabis industry continues to go mainstream and additional research and information becomes available.
Below you will find a breakdown of some of the most abundant terpenes found in cannabis, including limonene, myrcene, pinene, linalool, and caryophyllene. Different terpene profiles are found within various cannabis strains that can give them the flavor and aroma characteristics you may already be familiar with.
Now let’s take a look at the most common terpenes found in the cannabis plant.
Limonene – The Citrus Terpene
This is one of the most common terpenes found in various strains of cannabis. It’s typically associated with energizing effects that you find in Sativa varieties. If you notice a yellow color in the cannabis flowers, that’s a good sign it contains high concentrations of limonene.
- Found in – lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, nearly all other citrus fruits, juniper, peppermint, rosemary.
- Aroma – citrusy
- Effects – energizing, enhanced mood, sense of well-being
- Possible Medicinal Uses – antidepressant, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, pain relief (analgesic)
- Strains with Limonene – Strawberry Banana, Do-Si-Dos, Purple Hindu Kush, Quantum Kush, Wedding Cake, White Fire OG
Myrcene – The Most Common Cannabis Terpene
Myrcene is the most abundant terpene found in cannabis and is present in nearly all strains at some level. It has calming effects and is found in many Indica varieties. Myrcene is said to make up a significant percentage of the terpene profile of some of the most popular cannabis strains.
- Found in – mango, lemongrass, cloves, thyme, geraniums, hops, balsamic vinegar
- Aroma – earthy with hints of clove and citrus
- Effects – calming, relaxing
- Possible Medicinal Uses – anti-anxiety, helps promote restful sleep, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antioxidant, muscle relaxant
- Strains with Myrcene – OG Kush, Granddaddy Purple, Blue Dream, Cherry Pie, Remedy, Grape Ape, 9 Pound Hammer, Tangie, Harlequin
Pinene – Nature’s Most Abundant Terpene
Pinene is the most common terpene in the world and is also an abundant terpene in cannabis. It can promote both a calming and relaxing effect and is the scent you smell while going through a walk in the forest and get a whiff of pine needles and conifer trees. Some people say pinene is one reason a walk through the woods can make you feel so good.
- Found in – pine needles, conifer, cedar, parsley basil, rosemary
- Aroma – pine
- Effects – focused but energized and can help with memory, might counteract some of the psychoactive effects of THC
- Possible Medicinal Uses – anti-anxiety, anti-cancer, bronchodilator used in treatment of asthma, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial
- Strains with Pinene – Big Smooth, Strawberry Cough, Critical Mass, Snoop’s Dream, Blue Dream, Grape Ape, Cotton Candy Kush, Harlequin
Caryophyllene (Beta-caryophyllene) – The Endocannabinoid Terpene
Caryophyllene is unique in that, like a cannabinoid, it can also interact directly with the endocannabinoid system at CB2 receptors. It is the only terpene known to have this property.
- Found in – black pepper, cinnamon, basil, all-spice, fig, cloves, oregano
- Aroma – spicy, peppery, earthy, herbal
- Effects – stress relief, calming and relaxing
- Possible Medicinal Uses – analgesic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties, antianxiety, may help with depression, can help with insomnia
- Strains with Caryophyllene – Super Silver Haze, Rock Star, Girl Scout Cookies, Skywalker, Original Glue, Purple Punch, GSC, Death Star, Chemdog, Bubba Kush
Terpinolene – The Energy Terp
Terpinolene is found in many cannabis strains but typically only in smaller amounts. That means it is less common than the others on this list but still has some great benefits to offer. It has a smell that is hard to pinpoint and can provide uplifting and energizing effects.
- Found in – cumin, pine, lime blossoms, lilacs, nutmeg
- Aroma – a mix of many aromas including citrusy, piney, and floral.
- Effects – uplifting and energizing
- Possible Medicinal Uses – antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer, can possibly help with heart disease.
- Strains with Terpinolene – Durban Poison, XJ-13, Ghost Train Haze, Orange Cookies, Golden Goat, Golden Pineapple, Dutch Treat, Jack Herer
Humulene – The Earthy Terpene
Humulene is a terpene found in cannabis strains that has also been used in traditional medicine for many years. It has more of a slight and earthy smell compared to other terpenes that are more in your face. It has a variety of benefits and is a sesquiterpene similar to caryophyllene.
- Found in – coriander, clove, basil, black pepper, ginger, sage, ginseng, hops
- Aroma – earthy and herbal
- Effects – plays an important role in the life cycle of the cannabis plant, a variety of beneficial uses—some of which are subtle
- Possible Medicinal Uses – antibacterial, anticancer, analgesic, anti-inflammatory
- Strains with Humulene – Liberty Haze, Gelato, Sour Diesel, Sherbet, Girl Scout Cookies, Death Star, Original Glue, Candyland
Linalool – The Relaxation Terpene
Linalool is another terpene with the ability to help with relaxation and promote feelings of calmness. These same properties that help you relax can also help improve your mood, so it can provide feelings of happiness as well.
- Found in – lavender, mint, citrus, cinnamon, birch bark
- Aroma – floral
- Effects – calming and relaxing, can help improve mood.
- Possible Medicinal Uses – antianxiety, antidepressant, antimicrobial, antibacterial, stress relief, anti-cancer, analgesic, sleep aid
- Strains with Linalool – Special Kush, Zkittlez, Amnesia Haze, OG Shark, Kosher Kush, Do-Si-Dos, Scooby Snacks
Ocimene – The Floral Terpene
Ocimene is found within many strains of cannabis but more so in other plants in the natural world. It has uplifting and energizing effects and the potential for some solid medicinal benefits that are still being studied.
- Found in – orchids, hops, basil, kumquats, mango, bergamot, parsley, mint
- Aroma – floral and sweet without being too much
- Effects – uplifting in a subtle way
- Possible Medicinal Uses – antiviral, anti-inflammatory properties, antifungal, antiseptic, decongestant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant
- Strains with Ocimene – Green Crack, Golden Goat, Space Queen, Dutch Treat, Amnesia, Clementine, Golden Pineapple, J1
The Less-Common Terpenes
There are several other terpenes not listed here such as geraniol, isoprene, and camphene. While these can be present in some strains of Cannabis sativa, they aren’t found in abundance, so they don’t make the list for the most common terpenes.
You can enjoy the benefits of any of the terpenes described here by smoking your favorite strain or by using other products such as cannabis extracts in the form of edibles or liquid extract for vaping.
How do Terpenes affect the body?
Terpenes can affect the body in multiple ways. Whether you inhale natural terpenes in the form of a plant’s scent or ingest them when you enjoy a cannabis edible, they can have a quick and pronounced interaction within some systems in the body.
In terms of the effects cannabis-based terpenes can have in your body, they are very much related to cannabinoids in how they bind with receptors in the brain and the endocannabinoid system in particular. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC work in conjunction with the terpenes found in your favorite cannabis strain and have a complementary effect on one another.
From a pharmacological perspective, meaning how these compounds directly interact with bodily systems, terpenes can help to release certain neurotransmitters in the brain that can help increase the beneficial or sought after effects of cannabis. Mood-boosting chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine can be encouraged when both cannabinoids and terpenes enter the bloodstream and reach receptors in the brain that then stimulate their production.
Terpenes can have this effect within the body on their own, but they seem to be much more powerful when combined with the many cannabinoids found in cannabis. They kind of act like a power boost for certain benefits that many cannabis users enjoy. Your favorite strain that helps calm you down or give you energy may just be attributed to the specific terpenes found within it. When you smoke or ingest it, the terpenes and cannabinoids work together to help promote the release of chemicals in the brain that lead to that effect.
Terpenes also seem to have an effect within the body on a psychological level as well. That’s why the smell of lavender can help calm you down if you are feeling anxious, or another scent can make you feel somewhat energetic. While this isn’t a direct chemical reaction in the body, it is a real effect that you experience. Simply smelling a bud of cannabis can trigger some of the same responses you might experience when smoking or ingesting it. These effects are usually less pronounced, but it’s pretty intriguing that they occur in the first place.
With more research being done into terpenes and cannabinoids and the effects they have within the body, a better understanding of how they work synergistically is sure to be revealed. Science is only beginning to unlock the true potential of these remarkable compounds.
Are Terpenes Safe?
A common question that many people have when consuming any type of compound or chemical, whether they are created by science or found in nature, is if they are safe for human consumption. This is a very valid concern as the body can react in unexpected ways to any foreign substance, with sometimes negative results.
Since most terpenes are found in nature, they are typically safe to consume. While the body might react in different ways to different terpenes, they are rarely dangerous in any way. Some people might have an allergy to a specific plant or smell, and this can partly be attributed to the terpenes found within them and how they interact with an individual’s unique body chemistry.
The specific terpenes found within the cannabis plant and its many strains are generally safe to consume without worry. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has put them on their GRAS list, which stands for Generally Recognized as Safe. This is good peace of mind for anyone who has any safety concerns about terpenes, and the FDA is the primary regulatory agency for food products and supplements. The FDA is pretty strict about what products they put on this list, so that’s another sign that terpenes are safe.
It is important to note that everyone can react differently to terpenes and cannabinoids, however. One person’s reaction does not necessarily mean that you will have the same exact experience. This doesn’t indicate that it is going to be unsafe, but it may result in some effects that are unwanted. Dosing is another consideration to take into account here. If you smoke or vape a heavy dose of cannabis, you will get a higher dose of both cannabinoids and terpenes.
While most cannabis users have experienced the effects of this at one point or another, it can be a lot to handle for the first time user. But even though this can lead to anxiety and a feeling of panic, it will pass fairly quickly and not pose any long-term or serious safety concerns to your health.
Are there terpenes in CBD?
If you are reading this guide, you may be learning about terpenes for the first time. And another good question that people in this camp often wonder about is if terpenes are found in CBD. The answer depends on what type of CBD product you choose to consume. Terpenes are not found in all types of CBD products, but this comes down to how the product is created, its extraction process, and the type of initial plant product it is derived from.
In the world of CBD oil, there are a couple of different options available for you to choose from. You have probably heard of the common cannabis terms isolate and full-spectrum. CBD isolate indicates that CBD is the only compound present within the oil. Producers use a process to isolate this form of CBD from any other type of compound or chemical – meaning it will not have any terpenes present in it. Full-spectrum CBD oil is different in that it doesn’t attempt to isolate the compound and therefore can have other things present within it. Full-spectrum CBD will have terpenes in it, and potentially various cannabinoids as well.
Sometimes CBD producers will take a CBD isolate and then add terpenes back into the product as well. This can have an impact on both the flavor and effect of the product. Some companies are actually trying to create specific products for specific purposes and harnessing the power of terpenes to do this. By first isolating CBD and then adding certain terpenes back into the mix, they are able to create a product that can have specific benefits that a user might be seeking. Full-spectrum products that already have terpenes in them, can have increased benefits over isolate. However, their effects might not be as specifically targeted as the recipe-like terpene products that can now be found.
If you know that you only want CBD and are trying to avoid any added substances, terpenes, or otherwise, CBD isolate is a good option to use. If you like the advantage of having extra cannabinoids and terpenes within a product because of the synergistic effect this can have, get a full spectrum product or a CBD isolate that has had terpenes added to it. All varieties of the cannabis or hemp plant that are high in CBD will also have terpenes in it. An isolated CBD plant is something that doesn’t exist in nature.
Do terpenes get you high?
While terpenes can cause any number of benefits on their own or when consumed alongside cannabinoids, they aren’t psychoactive compounds. That means they will not get you high. The high that you experience when consuming cannabis is almost entirely caused by THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid that many people are well aware of. While there are other cannabinoids within cannabinoid varieties that can also have a somewhat psychoactive effect, terpenes are not one of these.
And even though terpenes can cause you to have both a physiological and psychological reaction, that is far different than a psychoactive one. You aren’t going to have to worry about driving a car or getting paranoid if you simply take a whiff of a flower, cannabis or otherwise, that is packed full of terpenes. These compounds do not react with the receptors in your brain quite the same way as cannabinoids, and THC is the main ingredient for getting high and cannabis anyway.
If you really sniff or inhale anything aromatic, which means it is heavy in terpenes, you might get dizzy or have another sensation. But this is more likely caused by becoming short of breath and a lack of oxygen to the brain than anything that is actually occurring with the terpenes interacting inside of your body and brain. Terpenes do have plenty of effects and benefits that occur when you ingest or smell them, but they won’t inebriate you or alter your reality in any sort of significant way.
Terpenes are an important part of cannabis, and of the entire experience of consuming cannabis products. Since terpenes are safe to consume, it’s more important to consider the effects that certain terpenes can have to limit any undesirable effects. You can look at the sections above to get a general idea of what to expect out of some common strains and the terpenes that are found within them.
Ed is a writer and marketer who has been involved with the cannabis industry since 2017. He is particularly passionate about helping small businesses succeed in the increasingly corporate-takeover environment of the cannabis industry, as well as helping people get started working with cannabis.