What Are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do?
11.30.21 - 4 min read
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Have you ever wondered why certain cannabis strains are named after something fruity, like Papaya Cake or Lemon Meringue, while other strains receive names like Sour Cheese or Burnt Toast? The answer lies in cannabis terpenes. Terpenes are what give various cannabis strains their unique aroma and flavor. Ranging from bright and citrusy to earthy and skunky, terpenes create a distinct flavor profile for each strain.
Terpenes in marijuana have long been a discussion among horticulturalists groups, medical researchers, and cannabis-lovers alike. Aside from their scent, marijuana terpenes can play a major role in the possible effects you may feel from various cannabis strains.
Want to learn more about cannabis terpenes and the role they can play in your own well-being? Read on, and we’ll guide you through essential terpene info, plus the potential benefits they can have on body and mind.
First, let’s walk through the basics. Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in almost every flower, herb and fruit grown across the globe. In fact, there are more than 200 types of terpenes found in the cannabis plant alone. Much like other flowers, cannabis flowers develop terpenes to ward against predators and attract pollinators.
What’s so special about cannabis terpenes? Each aromatic compound creates a different scent. So, while there’s a pretty good chance you don’t consider yourself a pollinator like a bumblebee, you can smell the difference in cannabis terpenes the same way certain insects do. For instance, a strain like Lavender Kush will likely have a noticeable lavender-like smell—even to us humans.
Beyond their aromatic nature, marijuana terpenes also offer potential therapeutic benefits and positive psychological effects. Terpenes in marijuana have been known to interact with other organic compounds, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), to amplify or balance the effects of various cannabis strains.[source]
It’s easy to smell terpenes in cannabis, and sometimes even easier to spot them on marijuana plants. Simply take a look at the tiny, sticky “hairs” that cover the surface of cannabis flowers. Those microscopic, crystal-like hairs are called trichomes. Trichomes contain resin glands that produce the psychoactive and therapeutic properties of the cannabis plant, including terpenes.
On a chemical level, terpenes are derived from molecules of isoprene found within cannabis trichomes. While you can’t see these isoprene molecules with the naked eye, you will be able to spot the trichomes themselves. Aside from cannabis flower, trichomes can also be found on the leaves and stems of the plant. [source]
The cannabis plant consists of a wide variety of compounds. Several of these compounds, including terpenes, are created within trichomes. However, trichomes are also where other compounds, like flavonoids and cannabinoids, are made.
Let’s take a look at how terpenes are different from cannabinoids and flavonoids.
Though cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes play a distinct role within the cannabis plant, they work best together. This is commonly referred to as the “entourage effect.” [source]
Now that we’ve answered the question “what are terpenes?” we can dive into discussing how they work. On their own, terpenes are a powerful aromatic compound. They’re often separated and distilled for use in aromatherapy or essential oils for their scent. However, when consumed as part of the cannabis plant, terpenes work a bit differently.
Terpenes actually support other cannabis molecules—and can amplify therapeutic properties of other cannabinoids. This is known as the entourage effect. The entourage effect is when terpenes form a synergy with cannabinoids like THC and CBD to create stronger effects than both would achieve on their own.
In fact, certain terpenes can intensify the potential effects of other cannabinoids two to four times greater than an isolated compound. Marijuana terpenes can also “balance” the potential effects of a cannabinoid like THC. Now let’s take a deeper look at how terpenes in marijuana interact with the human body.
Cannabis-derived terpenes interact with the human body like cannabinoids. They enter the bloodstream and work with various hormones and receptors in the brain, glands, organs, immune cells, and connective tissues.
Terpenes mainly interact with the serotonin and dopamine systems found in your brain, which help you feel happier, more at ease and sleep better. This interaction can influence the effect of other cannabinoids, like THC, to deliver a different high. In other words, terpenes in cannabis are why certain strong weed strains may make you feel extra energetic and creative, while others make you feel ready for a nap.
When discussing terpenes and their effects, one of the most common questions is whether terpenes help to determine if a strain is a classified as an indica or sativa-dominant variety. The simple answer is yes. Terpenes are known to change the way cannabinoids like THC interact with our brain. The type of terpenes present in a strain, as well as the concentration of the terpenes, can determine the type of high you can potentially experience.
So, certain terpenes can amplify a relaxed high associated with indica strains, while other terpenes may create a more uplifting high. But will the terpenes alone get you high?[source]
So, you may be wondering if terpenes can amplify psychoactive effects, do they also make you feel high? No, cannabis terpenes alone will not give you an intoxicated feeling. Even the highest terpene strains can’t create psychoactive effects with solely terpenes. To create that high sensation, you’ll need to consume a psychoactive cannabinoid like THC. Together, terpenes can amplify the potential psychoactive effects of certain cannabinoids.
Now that you have a better understanding of terpene basics, we’ll take a closer look at individual terpenes and their potential effects. As we’ve discussed, each terpene has a different scent and list of potential benefits. This is where cannabis terpene profiles come in.
Cannabis terpene profiles are unique to each strain, and include characteristics such as aroma, medical benefits, potential effects and boiling points. Before deciding between strains, you’ll want to ask a patient care specialist about their cannabis terpene profiles, the concentration of terpenes and their effects.
For a bit of background information on each type of terpene, take a look at this alphabetical terpenes cannabinoids chart.
Also produced by the chamomile flower, the terpene bisabolol has a soft floral scent you can find in popular fragrances and cosmetics. Studies show that bisabolol may be a therapeutic candidate for the supporting reduction of skin inflammation. It has a vaporization point of 307.4°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabidiol (CBD)
Bisabolol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Headband, Master Kush, OG Shark, Pink Kush, Rockstar
Among the most common cannabis terpenes, borneol creates an herbal, woody aroma. Found in herbs like mint, rosemary, and camphor, borneol effectively supports the reduction of inflammation. It’s highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine to increase the effectiveness of other medicines and has proven effective as an anticoagulant for stroke patients. It has a vaporization point of 415°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Caryophyllene, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
Borneol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Amnesia Haze, Girl Scout Cookies, Golden Haze, K13 Haze, Sour Diesel
Camphene boasts a rich, woodsy scent most commonly compared to damp fir needles. Aside from cannabis, camphene is also found in low concentrations in cypress and neroli oil. It’s shown great promise in supporting reduction of inflammation, however, it’s most known for its potential in regulating cardiovascular health. It has a vaporization point of 318.2°F
Synergistic Compounds: Myrcene, Cannabidiol (CBD)
Camphene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Banana Kush, Ghost OG, Mendocino Purps, OG Kush, Strawberry Banana
Also referred to as Delta-3-carene, carene boasts a sweet, pine-like aroma. It’s commonly found in beneficial essential oils including juniper berry and cypress oil, as well as rosemary, cedar, and basil. Carene is known as a central nervous system depressant and is present in indica-dominant strains. It also may cause irritation when inhaled, which means high concentration in certain strains may cause coughing or itchy throat when smoked. It has a vaporization point of 338°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Caryophyllene, Terpinolene
Carene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Arjan’s Ultra Haze, Lemon Haze, Lemon Shining Silver Haze, Skunk XL, Super Silver Haze
Caryophyllene or beta-caryophyllene is a predominant terpene found in many cannabis strains. It has a distinct spicy, herbal aroma like the cloves and hops it can also be found in. Caryophyllene may relieve symptoms of anxiety. It has a vaporization point of 266°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Borneol, Cannabigerol (CBG)
Caryophyllene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Bubba Kush, Candyland, Chemdawg, Gelato, Girl Scout Cookies
Citronellol features a citrusy floral scent you would expect from a citronella candle—mainly because citronellol is found in the leaves and stems of lemongrass in the form of citronella oil. You can also find citronellol in chamomile, geraniums, and roses. It potentially supports the reduction of inflammation and may reduce the formation of cancer cells, especially among lung cancer patients. Citronellol has a vaporization point of 437°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Borneol, Geraniol
Citronellol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Amnesia Haze, Bubba Kush, Great White Shark, Headband, Island Sweet Skunk
As the name might suggest, eucalyptol is the main terpene of the eucalyptus tree. The scent is noticeably minty and cool. Most cannabis strains don’t contain significant concentrations of it. In fact, eucalyptol only makes up about 0.06% of a complete terpene profile. Medically, eucalyptol has shown potential to improve both brain function and memory. It has a vaporization point of 349°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Borneol, Caryophyllene
Eucalyptol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Bubba Kush, Dutch Treat, Girl Scout Cookies, Headband, Super Silver Haze
Geraniol is a sweet, floral terpene found in geranium and lemon essential oils. Its scent is often compared to rose grass, making it a popular choice for cosmetics. But beyond its aroma, geraniol has shown potential as both a neuroprotectant and antioxidant. This means it may help preserve the function and structure of important nerve cells. It has a vaporization point of 446°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Borneol, Citronellol
Geraniol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Amnesia Haze, Afghani, Great White Shark, Headband, Island Sweet Skunk
With a strong pine scent, guaiol is a cannabis terpene also found in cypress pine and guaiacum shrubs. Similar to geraniol, guaiol has been examined for its potential cancer benefits. According to researchers, it may inhibit lung cancer cell growth. Guaiol also potentially controls bacteria, though it is not a dominant marijuana terpene. It has a vaporization point of 197.6°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Caryophyllene, Myrcene
Guaiol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Blue Kush, Chololope, Liberty Haze, Plushberry, White Widow
Humulene receives its name from Humulus lupulus, better known as common hops. Just like its namesake, humulene evokes spicy, earthy scents similar to caryophyllene. Humulene is also one the predominant terpenes in cannabis and is heavily produced in the resin of mature plants. Researchers believe it displays tumor-fighting and anti-cancer properties when synergized with other phytocannabinoids. It has a vaporization point of 222.8°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Cannabidiol (CBD), Caryophyllene
Humulene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Bubba Kush, Candyland, Death Star, Original Glue, Sour Diesel
Giving off a bright, citrusy smell, limonene is the second-most abundant terpene in all cannabis strains. Also found in all citrus fruits, limonene is commonly used in cosmetics and cleaning products. When consumed with cannabis, limonene is highly absorbed by inhalation and can help improve mood, reduce stress, and support the immune system. It has a vaporization point of 348.8°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Cannabidiol (CBD), Caryophyllene
Limonene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Durban Poison, Jack Herer, OG Kush, Sour Diesel, Super Lemon Haze
Pro Tip: Strains with “sour” or “lemon” in the name are typically rich in limonene.
Of all the marijuana terpenes on this list, linalool is most responsible for the distinct cannabis smell. Boasting rich, spicy and floral notes, linalool occurs in more than 200 species of plants and is most commonly known for giving lavender its distinct scent. Like the lavender, cinnamon and coriander it’s found in, linalool is also known for its relaxing properties and is best suited as a potential sleep aid. It has a vaporization point of 388.4°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Borneol, Geraniol
Linalool Dominant Cannabis Strains: Amnesia Haze, Lavender, LA Confidential, OG Shark, Special Kush
Myrcene is the most abundant of all cannabis terpenes. In fact, some varieties of cannabis contain up to 60% of myrcene alone. [Source] Its scent is both fruity and herbal like cloves. Myrcene can also be found in the oil of citrus fruits, hops, lemon grass and eucalyptus. Researchers believe myrcene is a potent analgesic terpene that potentially supports the reduction of inflammation. A strain with high levels of it can result in the “couch-lock” effect related to indica strains. Myrcene has a vaporization point of 334 °F.
Synergistic Compounds: Caryophyllene, Eucalyptol
Myrcene Dominant Cannabis Strains: AK-47, Blue Dream, Grape Ape, Granddaddy Purp, OG Kush
Nerolidol has a complex scent most describe as woodsy and floral with melon and citrus notes. In nature, you can also find nerolidol in flowers like jasmine, neroli, lavender and lemongrass. It has been studied for its potential as an antioxidant and for supporting the reduction of inflammation. It has shown the potential to reduce anxiety in clinical studies. It has a vaporization point of 251.6°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Caryophyllene, Citronellol
Nerolidol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Blue Dream, Chemdawg, Jack Herer, Sweet Skunk, Skywalker OG
Found in a wide variety of plant life, including mint and mangoes, ocimene boasts a robust herbal scent that leans a bit on the sweet side. Like other cannabis terpenes, ocimene has been studied for its potential ability to support the reduction of inflammation. It has a vaporization point of 212°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Cannabigerol (CBG), Myrcene
Ocimene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Golden Goat, Harle-Tsu, OG Kush, Strawberry Cough, Sour Diesel.
Phytol is a unique terpene in marijuana produced by the natural degradation of chlorophyll, the compound that gives plants their green color. Unsurprisingly, phytol is also naturally produced in green tea. Its scent is both grassy and sweet. Researchers have discovered that cannabis leaves with phytol may generate a relaxing effect once consumed. It has a vaporization point of 399.2°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Bisabolol, Camphene
Phytol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Banana Kush, Cheese, OG Kush, Sour Diesel, Strawberry Banana
As its name might suggest, pinene terpenes have a rich pine aroma. Also found in pine trees and various conifers, the sharp scent of pinene is often the first note you’ll recognize when smelling a pinene-rich cannabis strain. It’s been studied for the potential ability to combat inflammation and infection, and has been studied for it’s potential in fighting human cancer cells. It has a vaporization point of 313°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Citronellol, Guaiol
Pinene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Blue Dream, Bubba Kush, Chemdawg, Dutch Treat, Island Sweet Skunk
Terpineol has a light, floral-like scent similar to the lilacs and apple blossoms it’s also found in. Unfortunately, terpineol is often found in cannabis cultivars that also contain high pinene levels, which mask the more delicate scent of terpineol. It has been researched for its potential antibiotic and antioxidant properties, and supporting the reduction of inflammation. Terpineol is typically associated with the relaxing effects received from indica-dominant strains. It has a vaporization point of 426.2°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Guiaol, Pinene
Terpineol Dominant Cannabis Strains: Bubba Kush, Girl Scout Cookies, Jack Herer, OG Kush, White Widow
While the name terpinolene is easily confused with terpineol, the two cannabis terpenes are quite different. Terpinolene features a bright, herbal aroma that’s much more citrusy than terpineol. Terpinolene is often found in other plants including rosemary, conifers and apples. It has shown to be a central nervous system depressant in clinical trials, meaning it may help support regular sleep patterns and reduce anxiety. Terpinolene has a vaporization point of 361.4°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Borneol, Carene
Terpinolene Dominant Cannabis Strains: Dutch Treat, Golden Pineapple, Lemon Meringue, Orange Cookies, XJ-13
If you’re looking for a sweet citrus aroma, cannabis strains rich in valencene will be right up your alley. Receiving its name from sweet Valencia oranges, this cannabis terpene has a bright, zesty smell. Medical professionals have analyzed valencene for its potential medicinal properties, including providing relief from allergens or allergy-related symptom effects. It has a vaporization point of 254°F.
Synergistic Compounds: Bisabolol, Limonene
Valencene Dominant Cannabis Strains: ACDC, Agent Orange, Durban Poison, Sour Diesel, Tangie
When you head to a medical marijuana dispensary, chances are, you’re on the hunt for something with potential medical benefits. Fortunately, terpenes and their effects can help amplify the medical potential of marijuana strains. And as you can see by the above cannabis terpene profiles, each terpene has the potential to offer multiple health benefits.
Terpenes are actively studied for their medicinal properties that can be used to benefit various conditions.
Although the potential effects of each cannabis terpene vary from strain to strain, scientists are studying these potential medical benefits of synergizing THC and CBD cannabinoids with terpenes. [Source]
If you’re a medical patient and you plan on visiting one of our RISE locations, ask your patient care specialist about the terpenes in your desired cannabis strain and how its terpene profile may work for you and your condition.
With more than 200 different terpenes in cannabis strains around the world, it can take some experimentation to pinpoint which aromatic compounds you prefer, or which could be best for your specific needs. That’s what we’re here for! If you have more questions about terpenes in cannabis, feel free to chat with one of our knowledgeable patient care specialists at your local RISE dispensary today.
Terpenes enter the bloodstream and target various systems in the body to amplify the potential effects of cannabinoids, including THC and CBD.
Terpenes are important because they provide each cannabis strain with a unique aromatic profile and help balance or magnify the potential effects of other cannabinoids.
Terpenes are hydrocarbons, which means they are aromatic compounds made of hydrogen and carbon. Terpenoids are an oxidized compound that occur once cannabis (and its terpenes) are dried and cured.
No. On their own, terpenes cannot get you high.
No, terpenes will not show up on a marijuana usage test. Cannabinoids, such as THC, will appear on a test.
Yes. Terpenes and their synergy can create different effects and alter the type of high you’re having.
While isolated CBD does have medical benefits of its own, the inclusion of terpenes in a full-spectrum product does allow for easier absorption and can potentially amplify the benefits of CBD itself.
Yes. Similar to flavonoids, marijuana terpenes impact the taste of a cannabis strain.
Terpenes interact with cannabinoids creating an entourage effect or synergy altering and even increasing the influence of cannabis.
Yes. By definition, the entourage effect occurs when cannabinoids like THC or CBD have other phytocannabinoids, like terpenes or flavonoids, to interact with.
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