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What Are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do?

Updated 4/30/18

There’s something about the aroma of cannabis that soothes the mind and body. Whether it’s the sweet fruity taste of Pineapple Trainwreck or that skunky smell that bursts from a cracked bud of Sour Diesel, we know there’s something going on under their complex and flavorful bouquets.

Terpenes are what you smell, and knowing what they are will deepen your appreciation of cannabis whether you’re a medical patient or recreational consumer.

What Are Cannabis Terpenes?

Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are aromatic oils that color cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors like citrus, berry, mint, and pine.

Terpenes play a key role in differentiating the effects of various cannabis strains. Some terpenes promote relaxation and stress-relief, while others promote focus and acuity.

Not unlike other strong-smelling plants and flowers, the development of terpenes in cannabis began for adaptive purposes: to repel predators and lure pollinators. There are many factors that influence a plant’s development of terpenes, including climate, weather, age and maturation, fertilizers, soil type, and even the time of day.

Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant, and every strain tends toward a unique terpene type and composition. In other words, a strain like Cheese and its descendants will likely have a discernible cheese-like smell, and Blueberry offspring often inherit the smell of berries.

The diverse palate of cannabis flavors is impressive enough, but arguably the most fascinating characteristic of terpenes is their ability to interact synergistically with other compounds in the plant, like cannabinoids. In the past few decades, most cannabis varieties have been bred to contain high levels of THC, and as a result, other cannabinoids like CBD have fallen to just trace amounts. This has led many to believe that terpenes play a key role in differentiating the effects of various cannabis strains.

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Each individual terpene is associated with unique effects. Some promote relaxation and stress-relief, while others promote focus and acuity. Linalool, for example, is believed to be relaxing whereas limonene elevates mood.

The effect profile of any given terpene may change in the presence of other compounds in a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. More research is needed to understand each terpene’s effect when used in harmony with others.

Their differences can be subtle, but terpenes can add great depth to the horticultural art and connoisseurship of cannabis. Most importantly, terpenes may offer additional medical value as they mediate our body’s interaction with therapeutic cannabinoids.

Many cannabis analysis labs now test terpene content, so you may have a better idea of what effects a strain might produce. With their unlimited combinations of synergistic effects, terpenes will certainly open up new scientific and medical terrains for cannabis research.

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Most Common Cannabis Terpenes

terpene weed chart
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt/Leafly)

Alpha-Pinene

weed terpene pinene
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt)

Aroma: Pine

Vaporizes At: 311ºF (155ºC)

Potential Effects: Alertness, memory retention, counteracts some THC effects

Potential Medical Value: Treatment of asthma, pain, inflammationulcers, anxiety, cancer

Also Found in: Pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, dill

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Myrcene

weed terpene myrcene
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt)

Aroma: Cardamom, cloves, musky, earthy, herbal

Vaporizes At: 332ºF (167ºC)

Potential Effects: Sedating “couchlock” effect, relaxing

Potential Medical Value: Antioxidant; treatment of insomnia, pain, and inflammation

Also Found in: Mango, lemongrass, thyme, hops

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Limonene

terpene weed limonene
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt/Leafly)

Aroma: Citrus

Vaporizes At: 348ºF (176ºC)

Potential Effects: Elevated mood, stress relief

Potential Medical Value: Treatment of anxiety, depression, inflammation, pain, and cancer

Also Found in: Fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper, peppermint

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Beta-Caryophyllene

weed terpene caryophyllene
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt)

Aroma: Pepper, spicy, woody, cloves

Vaporizes At: 266ºF (130ºC)

Potential Effects: Stress relief

Potential Medical Value: Treatment of pain, anxiety/depression, ulcers

Also Found in: Black pepper, cloves, cinnamon

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Linalool

weed terpene linalool
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt)

Aroma: Floral

Vaporizes At: 388ºF (198ºC)

Potential Effects: Mood enhancement, sedation

Potential Medical Value: Treatment of anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, inflammation, and neurodegenerative disease

Also Found in: Lavender

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Humulene

weed terpene humulene
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt)

Aroma: Hops, woody, earthy

Vaporizes At: 222ºF (106ºC)

Potential Medical Value: Anti-inflammatory

Also Found in: Hops, coriander, cloves, basil

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Ocimene

weed terpene ocimene
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt)

Aroma: Sweet, herbal, and woody

Vaporizes At: 122ºF (50­ºC)

Potential Medical Value: Antiviral, anti-fungal, antiseptic, decongestant, antibacterial

Also Found in: Mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes, orchids, and kumquats

Terpinolene

weed terpene terpinolene
Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt)

Aroma:  Piney, floral, and herbal

Vaporizes At: 366ºF (186ºC)

Potential Effects: Relaxing

Potential Medical Value: Antioxidant, sedative, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-cancer

Also Found in: Nutmeg, tea tree, conifers, apples, cumin, and lilacs