What Are Cannabis Terpenes?

Updated October 20, 2022

Terpenes are one of the many compounds in a cannabis plant responsible for giving every strain its unique flavor and aroma. Whether or not you use cannabis or its derivatives like CBD, grow the plant, or are just wondering what terpenes are, we will help you understand a bit more about these fascinating compounds.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic oils that you can find in cannabis plants. These oils give each strain its distinctive flavor. The same gland of the plant that creates cannabinoids also produces terpenes.

The Variety

So far, experts have discovered 113 terpenes in the cannabis plant. Each strain of cannabis has its unique terpene profile. Even though there are over 100 documented terpenes in cannabis plants, some experts believe that there are more than 20,000 terpenes across all kinds of (non-cannabis) plants!

Prevalence

You are more likely to find higher quantities of terpenes in female plants’ flowers than those of male plants.

Terpenes Interact With Other Compounds

Terpenes behave synergistically with cannabinoids and are essential for determining the effects that each cannabis strain has. This synergy is what allows cannabis breeders to achieve desired THC or CBD levels during their breeding programs.

What are Terpenes Responsible For?

Among allowing breeders to distinguish the differences between various cannabis strains, terpenes serve multiple roles in the cannabis plant. From relaxation to focus, each terpene has a specific biological role it plays.

The Evolutionary Purpose

Despite the various benefits of terpenes for humans, the cannabis plant did not evolve this compound for our benefit. Instead, cannabis plants developed terpenes as an adaptive element.

Initially, terpenes repelled predators while attracting pollinators. This helped the cannabis plants stay safe while allowing them to reproduce. Another function of terpenes allows them to protect the flowers of plants from fungus and bacteria. Terpenes can even protect the plants from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

It Varies by Terpene

The important thing to remember is that each terpene has its own set of benefits for humans. Some terpenes will promote stress-relief and relaxation. Linalool, for example, is a sleep aid. Other terpenes can improve acuity and focus. Humulene, is different terpene that can act as an appetite suppressant.

The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect refers to the way a terpene's effect profile can be influenced and even intensified, by other compounds being present. This happens because the terpenes found in cannabis encourage the rate of how fast cannabinoids are absorbed into your bloodstream.

What Influences Terpene Development?

Many factors influence the total amount of terpenes each plant develops. These include age and maturation, weather, climate, soil type, and fertilizers. There may even be different levels of terpenes in cannabis plants depending on the time of the day.

Common Types of Terpenes

Now, we'll look at some of the most common cannabis terpenes, which are responsible for making Mango Kush smell and taste like mangoes, Blueberry taste like blueberries, Sour Diesel smell like diesel, and Lemon OG taste like, well... you get the idea.

Alpha-bisabolol

Alpha-bisabolol also goes by the names bisabolol or levomenol and can be found in the candeia tree as well as the chamomile flower.

This terpene is particularly common in cosmetics, but has gained attention due to its potential medical benefits. It's an antioxidant that also has analgesic and anti-irritation properties, making it useful for treating wounds and bacterial infections.

Alpha-pinene

Alpha-pinene, sometimes called pinene, is also commonly found in basil, rosemary, dill, parsley, and pine needles.

Not only is it an anti-inflammatory which can help people suffering from Chron's disease (ulcers), but it's also a potential antimicrobial. More amazingly, it's known to counteract some of the effects of THC and even promotes memory retention and alertness.

Alpha-pinene vaporizes at 311 degrees Fahrenheit (155 degrees Celsius).

Beta-caryophyllene

Beta-caryophyllene is also present in black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. It has a spicy and woody aroma.

This terpene provides stress relief, and its potential medical applications include treating depression, ulcers, anxiety, and pain.

Some experts believe that beta-caryophyllene is the only terpene that directly activates one of the cannabinoid receptors in the body by binding to CB2 receptors, which are responsible for acting as inflammation regulators.

Beta-caryophyllene vaporizes at 266 degrees Fahrenheit (130 degrees Celsius).

Borneol

Borneol has an herbal and minty scent and is found in camphor, rosemary, and mint. On top of acting as a natural insect repellant to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, it's also commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Borneol vaporizes at 415 degrees Fahrenheit (213­ degrees Celsius).

Camphene

Camphene is the terpene that smells like damp woodlands, musky earth, and fir needles. People often confuse its smell with myrcene, the most common terpene in cannabis. Camphene has potential as an antioxidant, particularly when combined with vitamin C. It can also assist in lowering triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood, reducing cardiovascular risk.

Camphene vaporizes at room temperature.

Delta-3-carene

Delta-3-carene is present in cedar, pine, bell peppers, basil, and rosemary. It has a sweet aroma similar to that of the cypress tree. The number one medical application of delta-3-carene is in healing broken bones, which can help those suffering from osteoporosis, arthritis, or fibromyalgia. There is also evidence that this terpene helps with memory retention, giving it promise for treating Alzheimer’s.

Eucalyptol

Eucalyptol, or cineole, is, unsurprisingly, the primary terpene found in the eucalyptus tree. It can also be found in some cannabis strains, although most only have small quantities. In most cases, it will account for about 0.06 percent of the complete terpene profile of a strain. Eucalyptol is commonly used in medicine and cosmetics. For the former application, it can relieve pain while slowing down fungal and bacterial growth. There is also some early research that eucalyptol may help with Alzheimer’s.

Eucalyptol vaporizes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius).

Humulene

Humulene is also found in hops, cloves, basil, and coriander (cilantro). Similar to hops, its aroma is earthy and woody. Although it's only present in very low amounts within the cannabis plant, it's enough to help repel harmful pests and even prevent fungi from growing.

Humulene vaporizes at 222 degrees Fahrenheit (106 degrees Celsius), and also contains anti-inflammatory properties.

Limonene

Limonene is also present in juniper, peppermint, rosemary, and fruit rinds. It smells like citrus, hence the name. It can elevate the mood of the consumer and relieve stress. There are medical applications for it to potentially treat depression, anxiety, pain, inflammation, and even cancer. It is also commonly used for weight loss and is common in a range of flavorings, including bubblegum.

Limonene vaporizes at 348 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees Celsius).

Linalool

Linalool is also present in lavender and has a floral scent. It enhances your mood and can have sedative effects. It has potential for treating inflammation, neurodegeneration, depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia. There is also some evidence that linalool has anticonvulsant effects, helping those with seizures. Studies in mice showed that this terpene reduced seizure severity.

Linalool vaporizes at 388 degrees Fahrenheit (198 degrees Celsius).

Myrcene

When most people think of a cannabis terpene, they imagine myrcene. This is the most common terpene in marijuana and the one responsible for the main fragrance associated with cannabis.

Myrcene is a terpene that is also present in thyme, hops, lemongrass, and mango. It smells herbal, earthy, musky, or like cloves or cardamom. It produces relaxing or sedating effects. This terpene has medical potential as an antioxidant and for treating inflammation, pain, and insomnia.

Myrcene is one of the primary terpenes in cannabis. Some plants even have as much as 65 percent of their terpene profile as myrcene. Myrcene can also help determine the classification of a strain as sativa or indica. If the plant has over 0.5 percent myrcene, it will be indica.

Myrcene vaporizes at 332 degrees Fahrenheit (167 degrees Celsius).

Ocimene

You can also find ocimene in mint, pepper, parsley, mangos, basil, kumquats, and orchids. It smells sweet, woody, or herbal. Medicinal potentials for this terpene include anti-viral, antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and as a decongestant.

Ocimene vaporizes at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).

Terpinolene

Terpinolene is also present in lilacs, cumin, apples, conifers, tea tree, and nutmeg. It smells herbal, piney, and floral. Its potential medical value includes sedative, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties.

Terpinolene vaporizes at 366 degrees Fahrenheit (186 degrees Celsius).

Trans-nerolido

Trans-nerolido is a secondary terpene that is common in tea tree oil, lemongrass, and jasmine. It smells like apples, citrus, and rose, with a floral, woody, and citrus scent. It has anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-parasitic properties.

Terpene Vaporization

You will notice that all of the above terpenes have distinct vaporization points. This is important because carbonization will destroy many terpenes, in addition to cannabinoids. The ideal temperature for terpenes varies. Because of this, those who want to get the most from a range of terpenes should consider a portable vaporizer with a temperature control.

Legality of Cannabis Terpenes

Given the complex legal status of cannabis, many wonder whether terpenes are legal. Before wondering this, keep in mind that terpenes are not only found in cannabis plants, but a wide range of other plants including lavender, hops, and pine. Therefore, it would be impractical and quite frankly ludicrous for them to be illegal.

The FDA Says Terpenes Are Safe

Not only are terpenes legal, but the FDA says they are safe to consume.

Why Terpenes Aren't Illegal

The government is not going to ban peppermint by making limonene illegal just because it's also found in some cannabis strains. Therefore, due to the large overlap between terpenes in cannabis and other plants (flowers, citrus fruits, juniper trees, etc.), it would be impossible to completely ban terpenes even if a government attempted to.

How Terpenes Affect Your Choice of Strain

When you decide which strain of cannabis to use, you should be sure to consider the terpene profile. You can even find terpene profiles for many products made from cannabis, such as CBD oils. This information is not always available, but an increasing number of manufacturers include it. But why should you care about the terpenes in your cannabis or cannabis product?

Scent

One of the biggest reasons to pay attention to the terpene profile in your chosen cannabis strain is due to the scent. You want to enjoy the smell of the bud you use since you will be exposed to its aroma before, during, and after consuming it. Carefully choosing based on terpenes can help ensure you have a positive experience while you enjoy your chosen product.

Effects

The major reason to consider terpenes when choosing your cannabis is that they all have different effects. As mentioned, some terpenes will help you focus while others will help you relax. Some may help you fall asleep while others will help you stay energetic. This means that you can ensure you get what you want out of your cannabis by choosing one with the appropriate terpenes. If, for example, you want to boost your mood, you'll want to pick a strain with a high limonene terpene profile. For pain relief, you should look for beta-caryophyllene.

Conclusion

Terpenes are compounds in the cannabis plant that give it its distinctive aroma and flavor. There are over 100 different cannabis terpenes, with each strain having its unique terpene profile. Every terpene produces various additional benefits, such as relaxation, memory retention, or pain relief. Terpenes also interact with cannabinoids to increase their effectiveness. Additionally, you encounter the same terpenes in cannabis plants that are also prevalent in many other plants you already knew about, and as such, make terpenes perfectly legal and safe to consume.

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