Let’s Talk About Cannabis Terpenes

Have you heard of terpenes?

The term seems to be thrown around a lot lately, as cannabis and scientific studies become more mainstream and commonplace.

But what are terpenes?

The short answer is terpenes give cannabis their distinct smell.

But the long answer is terpenes change almost everything we’ve accepted to be true about cannabis.

What are Terpenes?

Scientifically, terpenes are defined as “a large class of hydrocarbon compounds constructed from five-carbon isoprene units that are combined to produce a great variety of skeletons.” These skeletons are put through the oxidation process to give us the wide variety of effects we see in cannabis today.

In simplistic terms, terpenes are aromatic compounds in the cannabis plant.  They’re responsible for the smell and flavor of the buds. Terpenes are found throughout the plant kingdom, and are responsible for scents like pine, mint, berry, and citrus.

Terpenes are used to deter predators and attract pollinators in nature.  But when consumed by humans, terpenes may be responsible for many of the affects we currently associate with cannabinoids.

Terpenes are formed inside trichomes, the tiny hairs that cover the plant. They come from the same glands as the cannabinoids and influence the effects of strains by interacting with these cannabinoids. The presence of terpenes is directly affected by the spectrum and intensity of light during the growing cycle. Over 100 different terpenes have been discovered, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is.

So why does this matter for a user?

Understanding how terpenes interact with both the cannabinoids and you turns you from a consumer to a cannabis connoisseur.   

How Terpenes Affect Cannabis

The most immediately noticeable effect of terpenes is the scent of cannabis. Flowers with a strong fragrance are commonly called “dank” or “loud”. Aromas and flavor are subjective, and different people will prefer the scents of different terpenes.

But terpenes do more than just smell. Science now believes that terpenes play a key role in the differentiating effects of cannabis strains, challenging the standard belief of the indica/sativa divide. But as more studies are conducted, our understanding of terpenes continues to grow.

The Most Common Cannabis Terpenes

Terpenes can exaggerate or suppress the effects of the cannabinoids, depending on the combination and user.

Recent studies suggest that terpenes also play a strong role in tempering the affects of THC, creating synergy with the phytocannabinoids and increasing the therapeutic value of the weed.

While there are over 100 terpenes identified, 7 are most common in the cannabis industry.


Scent: Spicy, peppery, woody

Caryophyllene is unique because it is the only terpene known to act as a cannabinoid in our bodies It activates the endocannabinoid system to produce anti-inflammatory effects, helping to reduce or mitigate pain throughout the body. It can also alleviate pain from ulcers. Caryophyllene is also found in black pepper, cinnamon and cloves.

Some studies have shown that beta-caryophyllene may be an effective treatment for chronic pain because the body does not develop a tolerance.

Known for: Pain relieving affects

Strains: GSC, Original Glue, Purple Punch


Scent: Herbal, hoppy

Humulene acts as an anti-inflammatory but uniquely it can be used for topical applications for pain relief. One study found that humulene has the potential to prevent allergic reactions and asthma, as it reduces allergic inflammation in the airways of animals. It is most commonly found in hops, as well as sage and ginseng.  

Known for: Pain relieving affects

Strains: Gelato, GSC, Sherbert


Scent: Citrus, lemon.

As the name suggests, Limonene has a citrus scent. It’s known to provide stress relief and elevate moods, but it has a far wider variety of medicinal uses, including: boosting the immune system, alleviating heartburn, and dissolving gallstones.

Studies have shown that limonene appears to modulate the way certain immune cells behave, which can protect the body from a range of disorders. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antidiabetic and anticancer. It can also be found in the rinds of lemons, limes and oranges.

Known for: Pain relieving affects

Strains: Strawberry Banana, Wedding Cake, White Fire


Scent: Floral

Linalool promotes relaxation and provides a calming or sedative mood enhancement. It’s often used in aromatherapy and the calming effects in lavender have been widely studied.

Linalool has been linked to a variety of medicinal uses, including reducing anxiety, depression and the effects of neurodegenerative diseases. Uniquely, linalool has been found to inhibit fungal growth and act as an anticonvulsant. It’s also found in lavender, rosewood, and jasmine.

You can buy herbal blends to smoke that include lavender! Check out Rebis Blends for organic and vegan blends to include in your next smoke sesh.

Known for: calming anxiety

Strains: Do-Si-Dos, Kosher Kush, Zkittlez


Scent: Herbal, musky, earthy

Myrcene is the most common terpene found in commercial cannabis, meaning a majority of strains are currently myrcene-dominant. Myrcene has a musky, earthy scent and is also found in mangos, lemongrass and hops.

It promotes a smooth, calming high but it also has several medicinal uses as well. This terpene is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and has been tested on mice for use in protecting the brain and heart tissue after a stroke

Known for: creating a smooth high

Strains: Blue Dream, Grandaddy Purple, OG Kush


Scent: Pine, woodsy

Pinene is the most common terpene in the natural world, found in pine trees as well as rosemary and basil.

The same therapeutic effects of pinene from a forest may carry over in the terpenes, because pinene is a known bronchodilator, allowing more air into the lungs. It helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as counteracting some effects from THC

Like other terpenes, pinene is an anti-inflammatory and is thought to protect from ulcers. It may also fight against certain infectious germs when inhaled.

Known for: calming anxiety

Strains: Big Smooth, Critical Mass, Snoop’s Dream


Scent: Floral, herbal, piney

Terpinolene is less common in cannabis strains, with only one in ten being terpinolene-dominant. The effects of terpinolene are uplifting and may act as a mood elevator.

Studies have shown terpinolene can act as a power antioxidant, and even have anti-cancer affects, decreasing cell proliferation associated with cancer. It has also been shown to have antibacterial and antifungal properties as well as help with anxiety and depression. It’s also found in lilacs, nutmeg and cumin.

Known for: creating a smooth high

Strains: XJ-13, Ghost Train Haze, Jack Herer

What Terpenes are in my Weed?

Most cannabis strains on the market today are dominant in myrcene or caryophyllene.

The continued study of terpenes and their interaction with cannabinoids is likely to expand our view of their importance and lead to a greater variety of terpene development in commercial cannabis strains. Each terpene offers a different benefit and type of high, so the best terpene for you depends on what you’re looking for.

Published by Jessica Reilly, Writer

Writer, cannabis aficionado, and poetry lover

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