What Are Terpenes?

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a close up of a lemon balm leaf with its essential oil dripping out of it into a amber bottle
Often referred to as the aromatic compounds within essential oils, terpenes are protective odors that plants and flowers naturally produce to ward off predators and attract pollinators.

Terpenes and Cannabis

You may know some people that welcome the smell of cannabis, while others may need to politely excuse themselves from the room, and that’s because there are a whopping 120 terpenes that have been identified within the cannabis plant that can be pleasing to some noses but repelling to others. The wide array of terpenes contained within cannabis contributes to its complex scent profile, which can range anywhere from pine, grass, earth, fruit, skunk— to even cheese in certain strains! There are many factors that influence each strain’s development of terpenes, including climate, soil type, plant age, and genetics, which accounts for the diverse variety of terpene profiles within cannabis. 

Terpenes Beneficial Value and the Entourage Effect

Terpenes have come into the spotlight within the past few years because of their ability to interact synergistically with cannabinoids contained within cannabis, like THC and CBD.  The interaction between terpenes and cannabinoids increases the therapeutic effects of cannabis as a whole, also known as the “entourage effect.”

Each individual terpene is associated with unique effects and holds its own therapeutic value. The effects of any individual terpene may change or become enhanced when in the presence of other compounds, contributing to the “entourage effect.” In 2011, neurologist and researcher Ethan Russo published a groundbreaking paper that described the way terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD worked together to boost and modulate the effects of each other in the body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS).

The Main Terpenes in Cannabis

While cannabis contains many terpenes, there are a few that occur the most common, which significantly contributes to the aroma and overall effects of a particular strain:

Alpha and Beta-Pinene

Aroma: pine, woodsy

Also Found In: pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, dill 

Beta-Caryophyllene

Aroma: spicy, woodsy, pepper, cloves

Also Found In: black pepper, cloves, cotton, cinnamon

Humulene

Aroma: woodsy, earthy, herbal, spicy

Also Found In: hops, cilantro, cloves, basil

Limonene

Aroma: lemon, orange

Also Found In: citrus rinds, peppermint, rosemary, juniper

Linalool

Aroma: flowery, sugar, citrus

Also Found In: lavender

Myrcene

Aroma: musky, herbal, citrus, earthy

Also Found In: mango, lemongrass, thyme, hops

How to Get More Terpenes

Research shows that terpenes offer significant therapeutic value on their own, but when combined with other cannabinoids like CBD, they greatly increase the therapeutic influence that cannabis has on the body’s ECS. One of the most effective ways to achieve the “entourage effect” is to choose a full-spectrum CBD product that includes all of the beneficial cannabinoids, terpenes, fatty acids, flavonoids, and vitamins and minerals that are naturally contained within the cannabis plant.