What are Terpenes? Understanding the Essence of Cannabis

What are Terpenes? Understanding the Essence of Cannabis

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Sure, there’s flower that looks like a mini Christmas tree. Then there’s the strike of a lighter, and the unmistakable sound of a bubbler. This is how you identify cannabis with two of your senses, sight and hearing.

But the most iconic marker of cannabis, and the fastest way to find 420-friendly people, is smell. That piney, earthy scent, or the more classic "skunk."

How does that fit into this article? Well, there's a scientific explanation for everything.

Terpenes, also known as terps, are the compounds responsible for the smell of various herbs and plants (including cannabis). They even play a role in how cannabinoids like THC affect you. And though cannabis is usually associated with the pine and skunk aroma mentioned earlier, there are far more subtle scents indicative of more terpenes than you realize.

But let’s answer the most basic question first.

What are Terpenes?

Cannabis Terpene profiles

Terpenes are organic chemicals found in your favorite herb, plants, fruits, and, oddly enough – animals. But let’s not talk about that last one.

Terpenes are present in the glandular trichomes of hemp. They look like small, clear mushrooms growing out of the plant. 

When you smell the sweet scent of pine after a summer’s rain, you might be smelling the terpenes of Superglue. (That’s a joke. There is a strain of cannabis called Superglue. It also has a skunky odor in addition to pine. Please don’t sniff glue. It’s bad for you.) 

Since they affect the smell, terpenes also affect the taste. So real quick: terpenes are chemicals present within plants that causes it to smell a certain way. And these naturally-occurring, good-for-you organically-occurring chemicals, can have distinct effects on you.

How Terpenes Affect Your Experience

enjoying cannabis

The role of terpenes extends beyond merely determining a plant's taste and smell. Although non-psychoactive, they do impact your overall experience by influencing how cannabinoids like CBD and THC interact with one another. This synergy, referred to as The Entourage Effect, may be enhanced or modified by a strain's unique combination of terpenes. This is why those with high myrcene content tend to induce more pronounced relaxation, while those high in limonene are likely to increase one's sense of alertness. Consequently, understanding and isolating these compounds has become crucial in developing cannabis-based products and research. Individuals may use this knowledge to select the best strain for consumption, like a sommelier determining which wine best complements a meal.

However, it's crucial to keep the idea of individual sensitivity front of mind. People may respond to terpenes differently, resulting in varying experiences even when consuming the same strain. For example, an Indica will typically produce a heavier body high than a Sativa, but it's possible that will not be the case for you. The purported effects of any strain should be taken more as a guideline rather than a guarantee.

Some of the Most Common Terpenes

cannabis herbs
  • Limonene: Known for its citrus notes, it has the scent of lemons and oranges. It’s thought to have mood-lifting and stress-relieving properties and is found in strains like Blue Dream
  • Myrcene: Myrcene has a musky, earthy aroma and is fairly common. It is associated with relaxing and sedative effects and is often found in Indica strains. When found in a Sativa, it can work synergistically to create an uplifting but calming effect. Myrcene also helps cannabinoids such as THC and CBD cross the blood-brain barrier faster.
  • Pinene: In a literal sense, it has a pine-like fragrance and is also found in pine trees, rosemary, and sage. It may have anti-inflammatory and alertness properties and comes in two forms – alpha-pinene and beta-pinene.
  • Linalool: Linalool has a floral and lavender-like scent with a little spice. Outside of cannabis, this terpene is found in lavender, sweet basil, bergamot, and eucalyptus. It is believed to have many therapeutic benefits, but human studies have shown promise for anti-depressant and anti-anxiety treatments using lavender oil, which has high concentrations of linalool. This is a dominant terpene in strains like Lavender Kush.
  • Caryophyllene: Known for giving black pepper its punch, Caryophyllene has a spicy and peppery aroma. It's also found in rosemary, cloves, and hops. This terpene is unique because it can bind to CB2 cannabinoid receptors, which help immune function and inflammation.. Caryophyllene dominates strains like Sour Diesel, Bubba Kush, & Gelato.  
  • Terpinolene: Terpinolene exhibits a fresh, woody, and herbal profile that's very "foresty" on the nose. It’s found in a variety of plants like sage, nutmeg, cumin, and rosemary. Its effects are not as well understood due to the minor role it plays in most cannabis strains, but it is found in strains like Jack Herer and Golden Pineapple.
  • Humulene: Humulene also has an earthy, woody scent and boasts potential appetite-suppressant properties. Outside of cannabis, you can find this terpene in hops, which gives beer the distinct taste you're probably familiar with. While it rarely shows up as the most dominant terpene, Humelene can be found in White Rhino, Death Star, and Thin Mint GSC.

Final Thoughts

There are thousands of terpenes that are found in nature, but those covered here are some of the most common relatives of cannabis. So, the next time you select a strain, remember to think about those little molecules working together to add depth, character, and complexity to your experience. It's not just about the THC or CBD content, it is the terpenes you can thank for enriching your session.

FDA Disclaimer:
 The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.

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