What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are naturally produced aromatic compounds found in many plants, like cannabis, that create characteristic scents such as pine, lavender, and mint.

Terpenes have wide-ranging effects and can play a role in promoting different therapeutic effects in individual cannabinoids.

The Main Terpenes

There are currently about 20,000 terpenes in existence, and about 100 of those are found in the cannabis plant (1). Some of the more commonly found and isolated terpenes are myrcene, caryophyllene, pinene, and limonene.

Myrcene, one of the most commonly found terpenes in cannabis, is a natural hydrocarbon and has powerful antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and sedative effects, amongst many others (2). Caryophyllene is known as the “spicy” terpene since it’s often found in spices like cloves and cinnamon. It also has a unique ability to bind to CB2 receptors in our body, giving it wide-ranging therapeutic effects (3).

As you can probably guess from the name, pinene is a compound found in cannabis that smells like pine. Pinene often works in conjunction with the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabinoid to promote alertness and help with respiratory conditions (4). Limonene is a colourless hydrocarbon found in the oil of citrus fruit peels. Because of its aroma, limonene is mostly used as a flavouring in food manufacturing (5).

Where Do We Find Terpenes?

As mentioned earlier, terpenes can be found in many different types of plants and flowers, including cannabis. In particular, terpenes are highly abundant in the essential oils, giving them their characteristic scent, flavour, and colour (6).

For example, myrcene is found in cannabis and the essential oils of bay and hops. Due to its properties, myrcene gives these plants their earthy and musky smell, with semi-fruity notes. On the other hand, caryophyllene is found in cannabis, cloves, and rosemary, giving them a robust and peppery aroma.

Terpenes, with the cannabinoids, define the profile of a cannabis strain. Full spectrum extractions will replicate the complete profile of the strain in high concentration. Terpenes can be isolated from these plants to be used in various products. In particular, terpene isolation is common in cannabis. The distilled terpenes are used in many cannabis products to give them unique properties, scents, and tastes for the cannabis user. Some sellers spray poor quality strains with isolated to improve the smell and taste of the flowers. With this method, the flower can be contaminated with solvents or residual compounds.

What Effects Do They Have?

Just like the different types of cannabinoids, terpenes will vary in their effects. Some terpenes are utilized for their relaxing and anxiety-reducing properties, like myrcene. Other terpenes like limonene have a zesty, refreshing aroma, promoting concentration, focus, and mood elevation.

Terpenes can also interact with the cannabinoids to create what’s called “the entourage effect” (7). When cannabis products are taken, the various compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes(strain profile), can have altered effects and benefits due to the presence of specific combinations. An example of this is THC’s interaction with pinene. Researchers suggest pinene may be able to counteract a side effect of THC by improving compromised memory (8).

However, there’s limited research to back up these synergistic claims and how they work in humans. So far, the entourage effect remains a highly plausible theory experienced by users worldwide.

The Bottom Line

Terpenes are compounds that give cannabis strains and other plants their unique aroma, properties, and effects.

The interaction of terpenes with other cannabis compounds like cannabinoids show promise in intensifying overall therapeutic effects. While they are often isolated to improve the cannabis user experience, some producers will attempt to “artificially” replicate a Full Spectrum profile without THC to comply with the current regulation. That method is often referred as “Broad spectrum”.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4740396/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2449371/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7321087/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120914/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31481004/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6920849/