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Terpenes

Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis strains their unique scent. In other words, terpenes are the reason Tangie smells like sweet oranges, Permafrost like a pine forest, and Sour Diesel like a bucket of funky fuel. Research has yet to demonstrate just how these aromatic compounds contribute to the effects of cannabis, but theoretically, different terpenes may help shape the sensations imparted by different varieties of cannabis. Just as different essential oils have different uses, so might cannabis terpenes.

“Which terpenes do you look for in your cannabis?”

“My favorite cannabis strains are high in terpinolene.”

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are fragrant oils produced by plants and are believed to function as a way to attract pollinators and/or repel pests. Cannabis produces a wide variety of different cannabis terpenes, the most common of which are:

  • Myrcene
  • Caryophyllene
  • Limonene
  • Pinene
  • Terpinolene
  • Linalool
  • Humulene
  • Ocimene

Different strains of cannabis contain different levels of terpenes. For example, the popular strain Blue Dream contains high levels of myrcene, followed by pinene and caryophyllene. You may notice that strains with similar terpene profiles (and cannabinoid levels) feel similarly, like Blue Dream and Strawberry Cough.

Terpenes are fragile, volatile compounds that can easily be lost in the creation of cannabis extracts. Although dried flower best preserves the authentic terpene profile of the raw plant it came from, many cannabis extractors have mastered the art of terpene preservation and offer cannabis oils rich in these fragrant, desirable compounds.

What are the benefits of terpenes?

Research has yet to explore the medical benefits of cannabis terpenes, so much of our understanding is still theoretical and based on studies of individual, isolated terpenes. For example, linalool is a terpene commonly found in lavender oil, which is touted for its calming, stress-relieving properties. Anecdotal reports and rodent studies back these benefits, but there are no human studies to describe the effects of linalool in cannabis.

With that caveat, below are additional potential benefits of various cannabis terpenes:

  • Myrcene may provide relaxing effects
  • Limonene may alleviate stress and anxiety
  • Caryophyllene is known to relieve inflammation
  • Pinene may help with pain, anxiety, and inflammation

Without more research to guide our purchasing decisions, you may need to experiment with different strains and terpene profiles until you find the right composition for you.

How do I find terpenes?

Finding a particular terpene at your local cannabis shop can be tricky because growers and producers rarely include a terpene analysis when testing their products—though perhaps that will change as consumer demand increases. For now, you may need to ask your budtender if they carry any products that include terpene profiles. 

You can also use Leafly’s strain explorer to see the typical terpene profiles of popular strains, and attempt to find that strain at a shop nearby.