What Are Terpenes?

A guide to marijuana terpenes, their uses, and medical benefits.
Last Modified: February 07, 2019

From creating a sense of calm to promoting focus and invigoration, marijuana can cause many different effects. A lot of these effects can be traced to its terpenes – ingredients that are responsible for imparting various herbal, spice, fruit, or floral scents and flavors into the cannabis plant. In recent years, scientists and cannabis users alike have been looking into the potential benefits of cannabis terpenes, as well as the mechanisms through which they work.

What Is a Terpene?

Cannabis terpenes are aromatic oils secreted by the resin glands of the plant. These are the same glands that create cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis.

Natural Terpenes

There are anywhere from 80 to well over a hundred terpenes found in the cannabis plant, but cannabis isn’t the only place one can find them. They’re also produced by various herbs, fruits, and plants. Some animals also utilize terpenes (such as the swallowtail caterpillar, which stockpiles terpenes from host plants and uses them as a foul-smelling defense against predators).

Many people use the word terpenoid and terpene interchangeably when discussing these compounds. While the two are technically the same thing, terpenoids are specifically found in oxidized plant material (such as cannabis that’s been dried and cured).

Synthetic Terpenes

While terpenes are naturally produced by plants, synthetic versions of them can also be created in a lab. These can be used as food additives or ways to create flavor and aroma in various products. Terpenes are also responsible for the aromatherapy properties of essential oils (some of which contain all-natural terpenes, while others contain synthetic compounds).


What Do Terpenes Do?

Terpenes are aromatic molecules that help give plants a particular taste or smell. They’re the reason why lavender imparts its signature soothing aroma and why certain marijuana strains have a citrusy, floral, or even woody flavor and scent.

The power of terpenes goes beyond affecting just the nose and tongue, however. While it has always been assumed that cannabinoids were the power behind marijuana’s effects, terpenes play a large role, as well. Terpenes can bind with the same receptors as cannabinoids to create various effects. This makes understanding terpenes a particularly useful bit of cannabis information, as it means that consumers can better customize their high or cannabis health benefits by knowing what terpenes they’re ingesting.

Given that marijuana terpenes differ from one strain to the next, this (in combination with cannabinoids) is why one strain can be wildly stimulating while another may cause intense drowsiness and relaxation. Researchers believe that the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes may be responsible for marijuana’s entourage effect, a phenomenon in which its ingredients work differently (and often better) when consumed together rather than individually. For consumers interested in hemp-derived cannabinoids like CBD, there are hemp terpenes, as well.


Ingesting Terpenes

Cannabis science has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and for those who are interested in harnessing the power of terpenes, there are a variety of ways to experience and ingest them.

Smoking

The most common way to ingest terpenes is also the most common way to consume marijuana: lighting up the plant material and smoking it. While those who smoke marijuana still enjoy each strain’s signature terpene scent and flavor, it should be noted that the fastest way to destroy a terpene is to heat it beyond its boiling point. Combusting cannabis requires extremely high temperatures, so the ideal way to experience marijuana terpenes is by using a vaporizer.

Vaping

Many cannabis connoisseurs choose to vaporize their marijuana flower rather than smoking it because this gives them more precise heat control. They can set their vaporizer to a lower temperature in order to target and release specific terpenes or cannabinoids and gradually raise the temperature to move across the entire spectrum. Vaping cannabis oil is another way to enjoy the taste and scent of marijuana terpenes.

Dabbing

Another way to ingest terpenes is through dabbing butane hash oil, or BHO. This type of cannabis concentrate contains cannabinoids and terpenes that have been isolated from the plant material. Some concentrate manufacturers go even farther, creating products that isolate a single cannabinoid. THC and CBD isolates are considered by some of the most potent and pure concentrates available. For these products, distillers can add terpenes back in, customizing isolates to smell/taste like Sour Diesel, Tangie, or any other strain. This helps boost enjoyment of the isolate, but it also helps bring out the therapeutic value of the cannabinoid due to the entourage effect.

Oral Consumption

People can also enjoy the benefits of terpenes by consuming them orally. Many manufacturers make terpene concentrates that can be taken in the form of drops. The drops can be consumed orally, but many people also use them to provide a terpene infusion to flower, hash, or concentrates before they smoke or vape. A little goes a long way, as terpenes are extremely powerful. A writer for Bon Appetit magazine outlined how in addition to drops, terpenes are being used by chefs and bartenders to make a wide array of terpene-infused dishes and drinks.


List of Marijuana Terpenes

Marijuana and hemp terpenes not only differ between one strain to the next, they may also differ between harvests of the same strain. Each terpene demonstrates individual characteristics that influence the effects of the plant in which it’s found. While there are dozens of terpenes in marijuana, much of the knowledge and research has focused on the most common ones.

Myrcene

The most common terpene found in cannabis, myrcene imparts an earthy essence that’s full of herbs and cloves. Myrcene is also found in mangoes and herbs such as basil, lemongrass, and thyme. It’s the terpene responsible for marijuana’s sedative “couch-lock” effects (effects that are more noticeable in cannabis strains with myrcene levels of 0.5% and higher). It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.

There is some speculation that myrcene increases the absorption and activation of THC. Internet rumors suggest that eating a mango 45 minutes before using marijuana can boost the effects of the THC. There are no studies to prove this, however. Myrcene has a boiling point of 332°F (167°C).

Linalool

If linalool has a floral, lavender-like fragrance, that’s probably because in addition to the cannabis plant, it’s also found in lavender. Anyone familiar with lavender essential oil will be extremely familiar with the many benefits of linalool; they include anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and analgesic properties. There are also studies investigating the use of linalool in the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Its boiling point is 388°F (198°C).

Terpinolene

Like linalool, terpinolene relaxes with its gently sweet floral fragrance, but it also imparts herbal and woody notes. This terpene is an excellent sedative, as well as being antibacterial and having antioxidant properties. Besides cannabis, terpinolene is found in nutmeg, cumin, apples, conifers, and lilacs. This terpene has a boiling point of 122°F (50°C).

Humulene

Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, humulene gives off a soothing earthy, woody scent. This terpene can also be found in coriander, cloves, and basil, as well as in hops. Its boiling point is 222°F (106°C).

Ocimene

A cannabis terpene that combines floral and herbal aromas with that of pine, ocimene is excellent at combatting intruders such as viruses and bacteria. It also works as a decongestant. It’s found in mint, basil, and parsley, as well as in pepper and mangoes. The boiling point of ocimene is 122°F (50°C).

Caryophyllene

Any cannabis strain that has a heavy spicy scent and flavor likely has potent amounts of caryophyllene in it. This terpene is found in black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves, and as expected, it imparts lots of spice with its peppery, woody, and clove-heavy aroma.  Caryophyllene is good for easing anxiety and stress, as well as quelling pain. Its boring point is 266°F (130°C).

Guaiol

Valued for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, guaiol has a definite piney aroma that draws comparisons to pinene (which is fitting as it’s also found in cypress pines). It’s also an effective insecticide. Unlike pinene, guaiol is not an oil; rather, it’s a sesquiterpenoid alcohol. Its boiling point is 197°F (92°C).

Limonene

Famous for its citrusy flavor and scent, limonene is also found in fruit rinds, as well as in peppermint, juniper, and rosemary. It has anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and anti-tumor properties, as well as being an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. The boiling point of limonene is 348°F (176°C).

Pinene

As may be guessed by its name, pinene is most commonly found in pine needles and imparts a  definitive pine aroma. It’s also present in herbs such as rosemary, parsley, dill, and basil. Pinene can be used to lessen some of the effects of THC. It also has analgesic, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor effects, as well as being excellent at treating asthma. Its boiling point is 311°F (155°C).

Bisabolol

Also found in chamomile, bisabolol has a sweet, floral aroma that makes it a light and gentle addition to the lineup of marijuana terpenes. It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that make it excellent for pain relief. It’s also an anti-microbial, as well as an antioxidant. The boiling point of bisabolol is 307°F (153°C).

Camphene

Also commonly found in strongly-scented substances such as camphor oil, turpentine, as well as ginger and citronella, camphene imparts a scent that contains both fir needles and a woody essence. Studies suggest that it may be helpful at controlling cholesterol. Its boiling point is 318°F (159°C).

Geraniol

If the sweet, floral scent of geraniol is reminiscent of geraniums, that’s because this terpene is also found in that kind of flower. This makes it one of the more popular terpenes for use in cosmetics and bath products. Among its many benefits, geraniol is neuroprotective, as well as having anti-tumor, antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-viral properties. The boiling point of geraniol is 446°F (230°C).

Valencene

As valencene is found in Valencia oranges, it’s unsurprising that it has a citrusy scent. An excellent anti-inflammatory, it’s also been proven to be effective at repelling insects. Valencene’s boiling is 253°F (123°C).

Terpineol

Terpineol is a marijuana terpene frequently found in strains with high levels of pinene, and it shares pinene’s fresh, piney scent. It can be found in a diverse variety of trees and plants that run from pine trees and eucalyptus sap to lilac flowers. Some of its therapeutic properties include anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and antibiotic effects. It’s also a calming treatment for anxiety. It boils at 426°F (219°C).

Pulegone

Pulegone is known for its peppermint aroma and is found most abundantly in rosemary. It’s been studied for its fever-reducing and sedative properties. Pulegone can facilitate communication between nerve cells in the brain by breaking down the chemical acetylcholine. It’s also good for counteracting the short-term memory loss that frequently comes with THC ingestion. The boiling point of pulegone is 433°F (223°C).

Sabinene

Valued for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-fungal properties, sabinene has a citrusy, spicy aroma with notes of pine. Besides cannabis, it’s found in black pepper, basil, Norway spruce, and Myristica fragrant trees (the trees from which nutmeg seeds are produced). The boiling point of sabinene 325°F (163°C).


Terpenes FAQ

The following section covers some of the questions that are most frequently asked about the terpenes in marijuana.

What is a terpene?

A terpene is an aromatic oil produced by plants and even some animals. In addition to scent, terpenes produce flavors that add to the overall experience of plants such as cannabis, as well as herbs such as lavender and rosemary that are frequently used for cooking or essential oils.

Where do terpenes come from?

Cannabis terpenes are produced in the trichomes of the plant. They’re the tiny, hairlike growths that cover the surface of a cannabis plant. Trichomes are the same glands that are responsible for production of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.

How many terpenes are there?

Estimates range from around 80 to as many as 200 cannabis terpenes. As with cannabinoids, a relatively small number of marijuana terpenes are commonly known. Concentrations of specific terpenes vary from one marijuana strain to the next.

What are terpenes good for?

The terpenes in marijuana add to the overall experience of ingesting the plant including imparting specific flavors and scents to individual strains. For example, terpenes may make a strain smell piney, earthy, or even fruity. They also have many medical and therapeutic properties that include reducing pain, inflammation, and anxiety.

How can I take terpenes?

Cannabis terpenes can be consumed in a variety of ways; most commonly, people simply light and smoke marijuana flower. Vaporizing flower or cannabis oil is another way to ingest terpenes, as is dabbing cannabis concentrates. It’s also possible to purchase individual terpenes for therapeutic or recreational enjoyment.

What do terpenes taste like?

Each terpene brings a different taste and aroma to marijuana (as well as other plants and fruits). Some taste earthy, woodsy, or spicy while others are sweet, floral, or even fruity. The concentration of terpenes in marijuana varies in different strains, meaning that some will be more prominent than others.


Making the Most of Marijuana Terpenes

Much as a wine enthusiast enjoys earthy, fruity, or woody notes in a Cabernet Sauvignon, cannabis terpenes bring a variety of scents and flavors to marijuana. Some terpenes are found in heavier concentrations, bringing a more noticeable aroma and taste, while others are more subtle.

In addition to the experience of enjoying cannabis, researchers are beginning to explore the therapeutic properties of marijuana terpenes both individually and when used with the cannabinoids in the plant as a whole. So far, their findings support the theory of a marijuana entourage effect in which the ingredients work more efficiently together than when isolated.

No matter what, learning about the properties and benefits of each terpene is helpful in making the most of cannabis – whether the purpose is to fully enjoy a particular strain or maximize marijuana’s medical effects.


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Max Finchley
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Max Finchley

How can i acquire true cannabis-derived terps legally without THC – or with it, I don’t care about finding THC products. It’s the damn terps; all i can find are “strain profiles” made from terps from other flora; that’s just not the same in any fashion. Please somebody toss a bone out here – you’d be doing lots of good here in NY or anywhere people need this God-given right. Thanks!