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What Are Cannabis Terpenes? 

Did you know that when you pick a strain of cannabis that smells good, it’s the terpenes that are appealing to you?

Cannabis terpenes (pronounced tur-peens) or “terps” are the aromatic compounds that give each cannabis variety its unique scent and flavor; from citrusy to piney, musky to fruity, and so on. 

In nature, most plant species have a specific terpene profile that gives them their signature smell. This is why different lemon varieties all basically smell like lemons, and various pine tree species, basically all smell like pine trees. 

But the cannabis plant it special. It has hundreds of different terpene profiles – and with modern cultivation – crossbreeding of cannabis varieties creates even more complex terpene profiles. 

These scented molecules are a plant’s defense and communication system, carrying a multitude of uses for plants including; fighting off bacteria, fungus, insects, herbivores and other environmental stresses to luring in pollinators. 

Cannabis terpenes are found in the trichome resin glands of the plant and are delicate and degradable, which is why you want to be gentle when you handle your precious buds! 

Side note: The terms terpene and terpenoid are often interchanged, but there is a slight difference: Terpenes are hydrocarbons, and terpenoids have been denatured by oxidation, for example when the cannabis buds are cured and dried.

Cannabis terpenes play a HUGE role in our experience 

In the past, most of us might have focused only on the THC & CBD levels when choosing our favorite cannabis strains. 

We also believed our cannabis experience was entirely shaped by the species of the Cannabaceae family: indica or sativa. 

As it turns out, this is a common misconception. Rev. Dr. Kymron deCesare, Chief Research Officer at Steep Hill Labs said in an interview, The Truth About Indicas and Sativas

The terms sativa and indica are only really valid for describing the physical characteristics of the cannabis strain in a given environment and are not nearly as reliable as terms for making assumptions about energy [the high] vs. couch lock [the stone].”

Research is showing us that it’s actually the terpene profiles influencing the mood and feel of your cannabis experience, not the species of plant. 

What’s even cooler is that scientists studying whole plant cannabis medicine are discovering that terpenes synergistically interact with the abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis. 

Israeli cannabis researcher, Raphael Mechoulam, termed this synergistic effect the Entourage Effect. This term describes how cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids work together for greater therapeutic benefit than any single compound alone. 

The concept is simple: eating whole, real fruits and vegetables is nutritionally better for you than taking a vitamin or mineral supplement. 

Makes sense, right?

Here’s how this synergy between terpenes and cannabinoids works.

When these tasty little terpene molecules are combined with the cannabinoids found in cannabis – over 100 cannabinoids have been identified so far – including; THC, CBD, CBDV, CBN, CBC, CBG, THCV,  they synergistically create powerful medicinal benefits for humans, for example: 

How to understand and recognize different terpenes in cannabis

Terpenes concentrations vary in each cannabis strains. 

A knowledge of terpene profiles, and a well-trained nose, will help you predict the experience you want to achieve. 

For example, varieties of cannabis that smell of musk or clove are high in myrcene and deliver sedative, relaxing effects; piney smelling cannabis is high in the terpene pinene, which helps promote mental alertness and memory retention; lemony aromas are high in the terpene limonene and offer an uplift in mood and attitude.

Depending on the effect you are looking for in your cannabis experience, you’ll want to sniff out the terpene that supports this effect. 

A common question asked is, “Do terpenes get you high?”. 

No. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. 

The terpene profile of a cannabis plant is a non-psychoactive compound that interacts with the cannabinoids in your cannabis to help mold the mood, feel and effect of your experience. 

While there are over a hundred terpenes present in cannabis, here is a list of the top 10 terpenes you want to know about when choosing your next favorite strain.  

mango

Myrcene

Smell: Musky, earthy, herbal, akin to cloves and give some, but not all, of the skunk smell common in cannabis.

Mood & Medicinal Use: If a plant has more than 0.5% myrcene, it will produce “indica-like” effects & less than 0.5% myrcene produces “sativa-like” effects. Anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, insomnia, spasms, pain, and lowers the resistance across the blood to brain barrier.

Side note: Did you know? Eating a fresh mango 45 minutes before using cannabis will result in a faster onset of psycho activity and a greater intensity. Why? Mangoes have large amounts of myrcene and will accentuate your experience. 

pine

Pinene

Smell: Pine and fir. 

Mood & Medicinal Use: Promote mental alertness and mood elevation. The effects of THC may be lessened if mixed with pinene. Aids in anti-inflammatory, treatment of asthma, expectorant, bronchodilator, local antiseptic and anti-cancer. 

lemon

Limonene

Smell: A strong citrusy smell like oranges, lemons and limes.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Strains high in limonene promote a general uplift in mood and attitude. Limonene suppresses the growth of many species of fungi and bacteria, treats depression and anxiety, aides in reduction of gastric reflux, protects against various cancers and promotes weight-loss. 

peppercorns

Caryophyllene

Smell: Peppery, woody and/or spicy.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Uplifting, known to increase heart rate. Aides in anti-biological activity against fungus and tumors, anti-oxidant, is known to interact with CB2, and is being researched in cancer treatment plans

lavender

Linalool

Smell: Floral and lavender undertones.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Calming, relaxing effects. Is used as a sleep aid, anti-stress, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, sedative, anti-epileptic, anti-seizure, pain, boosts the immune system, reduces lung inflammation, and can restore cognitive and emotional function making it helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and psychosis.

apple

Terpinolene

Smell: Piney aroma with slight herbal, floral nuances and a sweet flavor similar to oranges and lemons. It is common in oregano, marjoram, lilacs, tea tree, nutmeg, cumin, and apples.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Calming, relaxing effects. A central nervous system depressant used to treat insomnia, anti-anxiety, anti-oxidant, immune-modulating, anti-tumor, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.

fir needle

Camphene

Smell: Pungent odors of damp woodlands and fir needles.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Camphene may play a vital role in reducing cardiovascular disease.

lilac

Terpineol

Smell: Lilacs and flower blossoms.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Calming, relaxing effects. Antibiotic, AChe inhibitor, antioxidant and antimalarial properties.

Eucalyptus

Phellandrene

Smell: Eucalyptus and peppermint-y, with a slight scent of citrus.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat digestive disorders. It is one of the main compounds in turmeric leaf oil, used to prevent and treat systemic fungal infections.

hops

Humulene

Smell: Found in hops, cannabis sativa strains, and is what gives beer its distinct ‘hoppy’ aroma.

Mood & Medicinal Use: Anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and aids in weight loss by acting as an appetite suppressant.

Insight into cannabis terpene profiles is an invaluable tool for medical marijuana patients, caregivers, and recreational users. 

Keep your nose tuned and your mind open to experimentation so that you can find your favorite strains that fits you, and your body’s needs!