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What Are Terpenes?

Image of different terpenes

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants, though many people commonly associate them with cannabis because cannabis plants contain high concentrations of them.

These aromatic compounds create the characteristic scent of many plants, such as cannabis, and pine, as well as a lemon peel. The fragrance of most plants is due to a combination of terpenes. In nature, these terpenes protect the plants from animal grazing or infectious germs.

Terpenes may also offer some health benefits to the human body. As regulations surrounding cannabis become less strict, scientists are carrying out more research into these possible benefits.

So, let’s start to dive into some of what we’ve learned about Terpenes so far!

What are Terpenes?

At the most basic level, terpenes can be thought of as the aromatic and flavor molecules cannabis contains. Terpenes are commonly considered the ‘essential oils’ of the cannabis plant.

If you’ve ever smelled cannabis, you know that not all strains smell the same. The different odors of different cannabis strains are a result of their own individual and unique terpene profile.

For example, the terpene that gives black pepper its distinctive smell is called caryophyllene. If you’ve been on a walk in the woods you’ll recognize another terpene known as pinene, which can be found in pine needles or rosemary.

While terpenes are known to contribute to the aromatic and flavor profiles of various cannabis strains, it has also been suggested that they may play a significant role in distinguishing the various effects of cannabis.

How exactly might various terpenes add to the beneficial effects of cannabis? Take limonene and terpinolene, for example, which are said to have an energizing, uplifting effect. Cannabis strains that contain higher levels of these terpenes could affect the way a certain strain makes you feel.

There are also terpenes that are known to lend to a more calming effect. A terpene that’s suggested to contain more of a sense of calm and relaxation is myrcene. Myrcene is also found in hops, which are known to be a powerful sedative.

Terpenes vs Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds in cannabis.

Cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), activate receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. THC is what creates the “high” that people experience when they use cannabis.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid that is becoming more and more popular for its medicinal properties. Although CBD acts on receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, it will not give you the high feeling that THC does.

CBD may be one of the most well-known cannabinoids, but it is just one of over 100 cannabinoids that the cannabis plant contains.

The cannabis plant also contains terpenes, which are among the most abundant compounds in the natural world.

Terpenes are primarily responsible for the smell of most plants. However, some may also act on the endocannabinoid system in the body in a similar way to cannabinoids. The key difference is that the body absorbs and uses these compounds in different ways.

How Do Terpenes Affect People?

Many terpenes are bioactive, which means they may affect the body. These effects vary based on the concentration of the terpene itself and how a person uses it.

Because terpenes produce vibrant smells, they form the basis of many essential oils and are an integral part of many alternative therapies. Simply inhaling the scents from some plants and essential oils may affect a person’s mood and stress levels.

Some people believe that terpenes work in unison with CBD in the body. This is known as the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the term used to describe the way cannabinoids and terpenes work in harmony together to create the most beneficial effects.

Most Common Cannabis Terpenes

Because terpenes may play a role in the effects certain cannabis strains offer, they have become something of significant interest in CBD.

While there are a lot of terpenes that have been identified in cannabis, there are a few that are found more amply than others.


Myrcene is the most abundant terpene found in cannabis, and you’ll find this earthy terpene in cloves and lemongrass. Myrcene is known to act against pain and inflammation and is also suggested that it can act as a natural sedative and helps with relaxation.


Limonene is another very common terpene that contains a distinct citrusy aroma. Limonene isn’t limited to cannabis. It’s also widely found in peppermint and citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.

Limonene is known for giving its users an energized and uplifting feeling to help relieve stress. It is also known to help the body better absorb other terpenes.


Pinene is another naturally abundant terpene commonly found in pine and rosemary. There are two forms of pinene:

Alpha Pinene: The most common terpene found in nature that smells like pine trees.
Beta Pinene: Contains the aroma of dill, basil, parsley, or rosemary.

Pinene has been used for centuries as a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory and is also known to be used to help improve airflow to the lungs. It’s said that pinene may help increase alertness and could counteract some of the memory loss associated with THC.


This spicy terpene is found in basil and hops and is what gives black pepper it’s distinctive smell. It’s a bit different from other terpenes, because it is the only known terpene that also acts as a cannabinoid by activating the endocannabinoid system.

It’s suggested that caryophyllene can be beneficial for stress relief. It is also known to contain anti-inflammatory properties and may help alleviate anxiety and depression.


Linalool is a floral terpene present in cannabis that is also abundant in lavender plants. The mood-enhancing properties of linalool are widely documented, and it’s been vastly used for centuries to alleviate stress and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Terpenes in Recap

Terpenes are the compounds responsible for the way most plants smell. They are abundant in cannabis and many other plants, fruits, and herbs, and they may play a role in the health and survival of the plants they exist in.

In some cases, smelling specific essential oils, ingesting terpene-rich plants, or spending time in areas with high terpene content may provide some health benefits to humans. Terpenes will continue to be tested to fully grasp the potential benefits.

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