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Terpenes 101: The Science Part Made Simple

The Fascinating Science Behind Cannabis Terpenes

One of the most striking and complex characteristics of cannabis is its smell. Depending on the strain, it can be earthy, skunky, peppery, citrusy, musky or tropical. So what gives cannabis its unique bouquet? Like all plants, cannabis plants contain terpenes. 

Terpenes are the organic compounds in the essential oils of plants. Put simply, they make plants and flowers smell and taste the way they do. But terpenes are responsible for so much more than cannabis’s signature aroma. They can also shape how you experience cannabis’s psychoactive properties.  

While THC accounts for most of the psychoactivity of cannabis, terpenes can change the nature of that effect from strain to strain. They’re part of the reason why some strains may make you feel more alert, while others may make your body feel pleasantly relaxed.

The cannabis plant has over 100 different known terpenes, allowing for a wide variety of smells, tastes and user experiences. This array provides our cannabis experience with wonderful range and depth as we sample different strains. 

Like their cannabinoid partners, terpenes in cannabis are also being researched for their therapeutic potential. Terpenes in other plants, such as curcumin in turmeric, have been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and the terpenes found in cannabis similarly offer health benefits. 

Therapeutic or not, knowing about terpenes can further enhance your cannabis experience, helping you choose products that create the cannabis experience you want. Below are the most common terpenes, the scent they’re associated with and the psychoactive experience they help create. 

When you take into account many potentials of terpenes, cannabis consumption can seem increasingly intricate. However, the more you know about terpenes, the more you can tailor your cannabis experience to your own preferences. Use this knowledge to empower yourself as a cannabis consumer and find the right strains for you. Check out some information on terpenes below: 

How Do terpenes affect plant growth?

Terpenes act as the plant’s immune system, preventing illness before it takes hold. They also play a role in attracting pollinators and repelling predators. Terpenes, therefore, are an essential aspect of plant development, acting as both a protector and a healer.

How do terpenes form?

Terpenes are formed by the fusion of hydrocarbon and five carbon atoms known as isoprene. The smallest and most volatile compounds are monoterpenes, which are biosynthesized by the fusion of two isoprene molecules. Terpenes typically contain two or more isoprene units as their basic structure.

What role do terpenes play in cannabis?

In cannabis, terpenes play a significant role in shaping the psychoactive properties of the plant. While THC is responsible for most of the psychoactivity of cannabis, terpenes can modify that effect from strain to strain. This is why some strains can make you feel more alert, while others can make your body feel relaxed.

How many terpenes are found in the cannabis plant?

The cannabis plant has over 100 different known terpenes, allowing for a wide variety of smells, tastes, and user experiences.

What are some common terpenes found in cannabis and what effects do they have?

Some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis include myrcene, limonene, pinene, caryophyllene, and linalool. Each terpene has a unique scent and can help create specific psychoactive effects, such as relaxation, mood-lifting, heightened alertness, pain relief, and calming. Below are the most common terpenes, the scent they’re associated with and the psychoactive experience they help create.

What is myrcene? 

If you have consumed cannabis, then you’ve likely come into contact with myrcene. This terpene is found in nearly all cannabis and has an earthy, herbal, musky scent. Myrcene is also found in hops, mango, lemongrass and thyme. When ingested, it helps to create a sense of calm.

What is limonene?

As you can guess from the name, this terpene has a citrus-lemony smell. It is also found in rosemary, fruit rinds, juniper and peppermint. While Limonene acts as a natural insecticide for cannabis plants, it is thought to help its consumers feel brighter. 

What is linalool?

This terpene has a sweet, citrusy-floral scent. Linalool is most frequently found in lavender but is also present in bergamot, rose, jasmine and spices, as well as in many fruits such as apples, bananas and citrus. Lavender is renowned for its ability to induce relaxation. Likewise, strains with a relatively high concentration of linalool are recommended if you want to feel chilled out. 

What is humulene?

This woody-earthy smelling terpene Humulene is found in hops, ginger, ginseng, sage and basil. It is also one of the most commonly occurring terpenes in the cannabis plant, though it typically occurs at lower concentrations relative to other terpenes.  Humulene gives beer its distinctive profile, and gives ginseng and ginger its bite. While not notable for its psychoactive effects, researchers, like those at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, are studying this terpene for its potential anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. 

What is pinene?

There are two types of this terpene: Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. As the name suggests, both types are commonly found in pine and conifer trees. While alpha-pinene smells more like pine needles, beta-pinene smells more like rosemary, dill or parsley. Pinene counteracts some of the effects of THC, and strains with a high concentration of this terpene are associated with a more alert consumption experience.

What is caryophyllene?

Caryophyllene is commonly found in cotton, cloves and black pepper. It is the only known terpene that doubles as a cannabinoid, binding to your endocannabinoid system’s CB2 receptors when consumed. With a spicy-peppery aroma, its scent is unique among cannabis terpenes, too. Caryophyllene’s psychoactive effect, however, is much more common in the cannabis world. Like so many of cannabis’s phytochemicals, it is thought to aid in stress relief.

What is the future of terpenes?

The future of terpenes is bright and exciting. As our understanding of these organic compounds grows, so does our ability to utilize them in various industries.

In the cannabis industry, terpenes are becoming increasingly important as consumers become more interested in the specific effects and experiences that different strains can offer. Some companies are now creating terpene profiles to help consumers better understand the products they are buying and how they may affect them.

In the food and beverage industry, terpenes are being explored as potential natural alternatives to synthetic flavorings and fragrances. As consumers become more interested in natural and organic products, terpenes may offer a way to create unique and flavorful products without the use of artificial ingredients.

In the cosmetics and personal care industry, terpenes are being studied for their potential therapeutic properties, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. This may lead to the development of new products that can help improve skin health and overall well-being.

Overall, the future of terpenes is promising, and we can expect to see continued research and innovation in the use of these fascinating organic compounds.