With so many cannabis options to consider, there’s barely room in the brain for keeping tabs on terpenes. In reality, learning more about the most important cannabis compounds, like terpenes, and the effects they can produce can lead you to the strain that will best suit your needs. Lucky for you, you don’t have to memorize these volatile compounds — we’ve assembled this comprehensive guide to terpenes for you as a reference throughout your cannabis journey.
Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds primarily found in plants, though they are also found in some animal components like scales, yolks, and feathers. These aromatic compounds are found in high concentrations in fragrant plant matter and are responsible for the distinct flavors and smells of various plants, fruits, and flowers.
Terpenes are a natural component of cannabis plants, and, to date, more than 200 terpenes have been found in its various strains. These compounds are responsible for the distinct aroma that is associated with cannabis and also the unique differences in sensory effects between cannabis strains. Though they account for only 5-10% of the chemical profile of the cannabis plant, terpenes play a significant role in what you smell, taste, and feel when you use cannabis, as well as the overall experience you have.
Terpenes are critical chemical messengers. This role allows them to interact with other compounds in cannabis as well as in the human body once they are consumed. These compounds modulate cannabis’ therapeutic and psychoactive effects by working synergistically with compounds like CBD and THC to impact the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system of cannabinoid chemical receptors helps moderate functions like sleep, pain, memory, immune response, inflammation, and more.
It’s important to note that more research is needed to confirm these early findings, particularly in-vivo studies.
Gain a further understanding of terpenes by discovering which strains carry specific terpenes, their potential effects, expected aroma and taste, and other natural sources of the terpene. Though this is far from an exhaustive list of terpenes, learn about some of the most well-known and prevalent terpenes.
Terpenes vs. Cannabinoids
Terpenes and cannabinoids are both molecules found in cannabis plants that can moderate body processes. Terpenes are small molecules that are produced within thousands of different species of plants. They are easily detected by the human sense of smell and require only low heat to evaporate. The way the terpenes work depends on how the cannabis product was used: orally, topically, or inhaled. When used orally, topically, or via inhalation, terpenes appear to directly affect GABA receptors in the brain, inhibiting the neurons responsible for anxiety, stress, and pain. Terpenes can also affect olfactory receptors when inhaled.
Cannabinoids are larger molecules that are almost exclusively produced by the cannabis plant. They interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system by acting on receptors within the system. This influences how the body experiences anxiety, sleep, pain, appetite, and more. The two most common are THC and CBD: THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis as well as many therapeutic effects, while CBD is not psychoactive but is responsible for other therapeutic effects like pain relief and inflammation reduction.
Though terpenes and cannabinoids have different effects on the human body, they do work with one another to modulate responses in cannabis patients. Molecules within cannabis, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds, can be separated and studied to determine their effects. However, these molecules are believed to work together once cannabis is consumed to increase and alter the benefits of each individual component. This phenomenon is termed the entourage effect within the cannabis community.
Terpenes and Cannabis Classification
Cannabis users will be familiar with indica or sativa classification for cannabis strains, but you may not realize that the terms were first used to describe different species of the plant. Cannabis indica plants are short and stocky with chunky leaves and bushy greenery. Cannabis sativa plants are tall and lanky with thin, light green leaves.
Though these are two distinct varieties of the cannabis plant, it is extremely difficult to find a pure strain due to widespread hybridization throughout cannabis history. These terms are now used by dispensaries and consumers to describe how strains make you feel. Indica-dominant strains typically have relaxing effects, while sativa-dominant strains typically have stimulating effects, though it’s important to note that strains affect each person differently.
Terpenes may play a pivotal role in differentiating between various cannabis strains. Because of the entourage effect and the way cannabis molecules interact with the human endocannabinoid system, researchers believe the suite of terpenes in a strain’s chemical fingerprint are what drive strain-specific effects.
Other terpenes prevalent in cannabis include:
- Alpha-Phellandrene: This terpene has a citrusy peppermint scent and has medical value as an antifungal, anti-cancer, and pain-reducing agent.
- Bisabolol: A terpene with a soft floral aroma, bisabolol was primarily used in the cosmetics industry until its health benefits were discovered in cannabis.
- Camphene: Known for the aroma of damp woodlands and fir needles, camphene has shown potential as an anti-fungal and antibiotic.
- Farnesene: This terpene has a woodsy, floral, vegetable flavor and is frequently found in lubricants and cannabis strains Fairy Godmother and Citral Glue.
- Guaiol: A terpene with a rose-like aroma, geraniol has medical value as an anti-fungal, antitumor, and neuroprotective agent.
- Ocimene: Known for its woody and sweet smell, ocimene is an anti-fungal also found in mint, basil, parsley, kumquats, and orchids.
- Terpineol: A terpene with a lilac and flower blossom scent, terpineol often accompanies pinene and is typically responsible for the “couchlock” effect.
- Valencene: Valencene has a sweet and citrusy aroma and is found in the Sour Diesel and Tangie strains.
Find the Right Terpene Profile by Strain Type
Your cannabis experience will rely heavily on the cannabinoids and terpenes within the strain you choose and how you consume; however, this is not the only consideration to make when choosing to use cannabis. It is also important to choose a high-quality dispensary to ensure the products are of the highest quality. Learn all about various types of cannabis strains and their terpene profiles to find products that will work best for your needs.
- Costa, A. M., Senn, L., Anceschi, L., Brighenti, V., Pellati, F., & Biagini, G. (2021). Antiseizure Effects of Fully Characterized Non-Psychoactive Cannabis sativa L. Extracts in the Repeated 6-Hz Corneal Stimulation Test. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 14(12), 1259. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph14121259
- Sommano, S. R., Chittasupho, C., Ruksiriwanich, W., & Jantrawut, P. (2020). The Cannabis Terpenes. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(24), 5792. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25245792
- Tomko, A. M., Whynot, E. G., Ellis, L. D., & Dupré, D. J. (2020). Anti-Cancer Potential of Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids Present in Cannabis. Cancers, 12(7), 1985. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers12071985
More Cannabis Resources
From dabs to rigs to crutches, keeping up with cannabis lingo is easier said than done. Take a peek at our Cannabis Glossary and check back as our industry and commonly used terms continue to grow.
Terpenes are key in determining the effects of your chosen cannabis strain. Some may relieve pain while others promote feelings of euphoria and wellness. We’re here to help you get to know your “terps” by name.
Become a well informed consumer of medical marijuana and all of the various products on the market today.