The cannabis plant is made up of over 60 cannabinoid compounds and over 400 chemical entities. The cannabinoids, like the well-known THC and CBD, are the compounds that produce euphoric, uplifting, sedative, psychoactive, and other effects in users. But besides weed’s effects on the human body, there’s one other thing that’s unique to this marvelous plant, and that’s its recognizable skunky smell.
The aromatic compounds that give weed its unique flavour and aroma, but also contribute to weed’s therapeutic benefits, are called terpenes. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of terpenes, how they affect the body, what the most prominent cannabis terpenes are, and more.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes, or terps, are the chemical compounds that give the distinctive aroma and flavour of a lot of plants, including the cannabis plant. These abundant compounds are the reason why different strains of weed have a completely different smell and flavour, but they also affect the endocannabinoid system in a similar way to cannabinoids. Terpenes are responsible for the entourage effects when consuming the cannabis plant as they also provide some health benefits just like cannabinoids.
The presence of the terpenes in plants is a direct result of the intensity and spectrum of light exposure, meaning, the more sunlight exposure there is, the higher the amount of terpenes in the cannabis plant. As a result, each cannabis cultivar has a unique terpene content and therefore has a unique aroma and flavour as well. Depending on which strain you choose, the terpenes will give weed a diesel, pine, citrus, woody, coffee, skunky, herbal, spicy, tropical, or other flavour.
How Do Terpenes Interact With the Human Body?
Apart from giving aroma and flavour to your cannabis buds, we mentioned that terpenes produce entourage or ensemble effects when consumed. This synergy that’s created among the cannabinoids and terpenes is the reason why sometimes the effects of THC aren’t as potent in a strain even though the strain has a high THC content. Furthermore, the terpenes can even increase the therapeutic value of a strain.
In order to reap the most benefits from the terpene content of your weed strain, remember that terpenes burn at high temperatures and may even produce toxic chemicals if they’re smoked, so choosing the right consumption method is essential. For example, dabbing at high temperatures may produce toxicants which have been linked to a number of cancers (methacrolein and benzene). So if you enjoy dabbing, make sure that you dab at a lower temperature to ensure that the terpenes are heated at just the right temperature and prevent burning them.
Where Can You Find the Terpenes in the Cannabis Plant?
In weed plants, terpenes are formed inside the cannabis flower, more specifically, in the trichomes that also produce the cannabinoids. The trichomes are the glandular hairs you find all over the surface of weed plants. These resin glands produce the terpenes, but also the non-psychoactive cannabinoid compounds, such as the tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), which once decarbed turn into tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). All in all, almost all the essential compounds you can find in weed are found in the trichomes.
Terpenes vs. Terpenoids
Newbie cannabis users are often confused when they hear the terms terpenes and terpenoids and believe that it’s the same thing, however, these aromatic compounds are very different from each other. On the one hand, terpenes are simple hydrocarbons (compounds made of carbon and hydrogen), whereas terpenoids are modified terpenes that contain different oxidised methyl groups and functional terms. In simple terms, terpenes convert into terpenoids during the drying and curing process.
Why Does the Weed Plant Produce Terpenes?
The most common reason why weed plants produce terpenes is that these aromatic compounds protect the plants against insects, environmental dangers, and herbivores. They’re also responsible for the oxygenation and regeneration of weed plants. They act similar to how the immune system would react in the face of illness.
Based on how they perceive the threat, terpenes diversify as a defense mechanism against their natural enemies to give the plant its best fighting chance.
Currently, there are a few hundred terpenes discovered in the cannabis plant, but a lot of them are only present in low quantities. So, let’s see the most well-known terpenes that can be found in many strains nowadays.
Prominent Cannabis Terpenes
Different terpenes are found in different weed strains and we’ll go over the most commonly found ones below.
The most abundant terpene in weed is the terpene myrcene, which makes up as much as 65% of the total terpene profile in a lot of weed strains. It has an earthy, musky note which resembles cloves, as well as an aroma similar to red grapes. Strains rich in myrcene are mostly Indicas, and due to the entourage effect it produces, this terpene emphasizes the sedative effects of Indicas. Strains rich in myrcene include White Widow, Special Kush, Skunk XL, and others.
Fun fact – the most commonly known fruit that contains myrcene is the mango which increases the absorption rate of THC and strengthens its effects.
Another terpene that’s abundant in a lot of cannabis strains is limonene. This terpene has a citrusy aroma which is commonly found in all citrus fruits, as well as a lot of cleaning and cosmetic products. Apart from limonene’s antifungal and antibacterial properties, it also acts as a mood-enhancer and reduces your stress levels. Limonene is common in strains such as Super Lemon Haze , Durban Poison, Jack the Ripper O.G. Kush, Jack Herer, and Sour Diesel.
The spicy and floral notes in a lot of weed strains are due to the terpene linalool. This is a terpene that’s commonly found in coriander, mint, lavender, and cinnamon. It has relaxing and sedative effects on users which is why a lot of users purchase strains rich in this terpene to aid with seizures, insomnia, depression, arthritis, and in some cases cancer. Weed strains rich in linalool include Special Kush, Amnesia Haze, OG Shark, LA Confidential, and Lavender.
One of the main terpenes found in black pepper, caryophyllene, or beta caryophyllene, is common in cloves, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, basil, and other spices and herbs, including the cannabis plant. This spicy terpene gives users anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties, which is why weed strains rich in caryophyllene are generally used by medical marijuana patients. Cannabis strains rich in this terpene are Rock Star, Skywalker, Super Silver Haze, Girl Scout Cookies, Cookies and Cream, Candyland, and others.
Alpha-Pinene and Beta-Pinene
The terpenes that smell like pine trees and pine needles are also found in the cannabis plant as well as orange peels, rosemary, parsley, basil, and others. As you may already suspect, this terpene is a strong bronchodilator which helps people with asthma, but also provides antiseptic and anti-inflammatory benefits to users and helps patients who are suffering from arthritis, cancer, and Crohn’s disease. Pinene is found in strains like Strawberry Cough, Island Sweet Skunk, Blue Dream, Dutch Treat, and others.
Levomenol, bisabolol, or alpha-bisabolol is a terpene often found as an ingredient in cosmetic products. The terpene has a slight characteristic floral wood odour which is also present in a huge variety of weed strains. It’s used for its analgesic, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties as an effective way to treat wounds and bacterial infections. Bisabolol is found in strains such as Pink Kush, ACDC, Headband, OG Shark, and others.
This terpene is the primary terpene of the eucalyptus tree and it has a minty scent. While this terpene isn’t very common in weed, some strains do contain small amounts of eucalyptol. Because of its many health benefits, eucalyptol is used both in cosmetics and in medicine as a pain reliever and a terpene that slows down the growth of fungus and bacteria. Eucalyptol is found in Headband and Super Silver Haze.
Apart from weed plants, this terpene is found in a lot of flowers and plants such as tea tree, jasmine, and lemongrass. Its specific scent reminds users of a mixture of rose, apples, and citrus scents with a woody undertone. People use it because of its antifungal, antioxidant, anti-microbial properties. Strains rich in trans-nerolidol include Sweet Skunk, Skywalker OG, Jack Herer, and others.
Humulene, the terpene with woody, earthy, and spicy notes is a common terpene found in hops, cloves, black pepper, and cannabis. It has anti-proliferative benefits, which means it prevents cancer cells from growing and makes this terpene a great one for people who are using marijuana as a cancer treatment. Apart from that, it reduces inflammation, fights bacterial infection, and relieves pain. Weed strains rich in humulene are Girl Scout Cookies, White Widow, Pink Kush, Sour Diesel, Skywalker OG, and others.
Terpineol is a terpene with a floral aroma which has a citrusy flavour and also reminds users of lilacs and apple blossoms. This pleasant terpene is a common ingredient in both cosmetics and perfumes. Its medical benefits include antioxidant and antibiotic properties, however, this terpene is also partly responsible for the couch-lock effects that are often experienced after weed consumption. Terpineol is found in strains such as Jack Herer, Girl Scout Cookies, and OG Kush strains.
Geraniol is a common terpene in plants – and apart from the cannabis plant, you can also find it in tobacco and lemons. Its scent is reminiscent of peaches, plums, and roses, therefore you can find it in a lot of body lotions and aromatic bath products. Geraniol is used as an antioxidant and a neuroprotectant, so if you want to purchase weed strains that contain geraniol, look for Amnesia Haze, Afghani, Island Sweet Skunk, and Master Kush.
The herbaceous aromas and flavours of several cannabis strains as well as the woody and citrusy undertones are due to the presence of the terpene ocimene. As a result of its floral, sweet, and herbaceous aromatic profile, it’s used a lot in the perfume industry. Apart from weed, you can find this terpene in bergamot, mint, basil, tarragon, parsley, kumquats, orchid flowers, and a lot of other plants and herbs. This terpene provides a wide array of medical benefits such as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-oxidative, and antifungal properties, including uplifting feelings, so check out Golden Pineapple, Dream Queen, Clementine, and Dutch Treat if you want to try it out.
While terpinolene is present in a lot of weed strains, it’s generally present in small amounts. Terpinolene has a wide array of aromas ranging from floral, piney, citrusy, and herbaceous which is why most users agree that this terpene has a distinctive aroma of freshness. You can find this terpene in lilacs, nutmeg, tea tree, cumin, and apples, as well as in a lot of products such as essential oils, perfumes, and soaps. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties, but the most interesting fact about this terpene is that it repels weevils and mosquitoes. High-terpinolene cannabis strains include Dutch Treat, Golden Pineapple, Orange Cookies, Jack Herer, Ghost Train, and others. While you can find this terpene in Indicas, Sativas, and hybrids, nearly all the strains that contain terpinolene are THC-dominant.
To sum it up, terpenes are one of the most important compounds in the weed plant apart from the cannabinoids. Not only do terpenes contribute to the scent and aroma of your favourite strain, but they also contribute to the entourage effect of the cannabis plant alongside the cannabinoids present in weed and have some therapeutic benefits.