The cannabis plant is extremely complex. It has hundreds of different compounds, all playing a role in how it affects us.
The most well-known of these compounds are called cannabinoids. These are the active ingredients in cannabis flower. The most prevalent are THC, which gets people high, and CBD, which is not psychoactive and better known for its therapeutic benefits.
There are also lesser-known cannabinoids, including CBN, CBG, and THC-V. These compounds are also used for wellness.
Another set of crucial compounds in weed are called terpenes. You may have been hearing more about terpenes (also called terps) in dispensaries or seen them on cannabis labels. But what do they do and why do they matter?
What cannabis terpenes give this beautiful nug its rich flavor profile?
What are cannabis terpenes?
Terpenes are the organic compounds in all plants responsible for their aroma and flavor. When you smell a rose or a lilac bush, those are terps. There are at least 20,000 different terpenes in the natural world.
Terpenes are often found in finished goods as essential oils and are likely in a variety of cleaning products and personal care items like shampoos and lotions in your house right now. They have been found to have a myriad of benefits.
In cannabis, terps do even more than just give the plant its familiar smell and taste. They also play a big part in how a particular strain of weed will affect you. If cannabinoids like THC are the gas powering your high, then terpenes are the GPS system guiding where you will go.
Cannabinoids, terpenes, and the entourage effect
The synergy between terpenes, cannabinoids, and the other active ingredients within the cannabis plant is often referred to as the entourage effect. The theory is that these compounds work together to enhance one another’s abilities.
There has been a bit of research to support this idea. For example, a terpene called myrcene may have neuroprotective abilities when combined with CBD and THC. Another terp known as limonene could boost the anti-inflammatory benefits of these cannabinoids when taken in tandem.
Full spectrum vs cannabis-derived terpenes
Terpenes are multifaceted, offering a rich bouquet. When isolated, monoterpenes typically offer a fresher, lighter scent. Another layer, called sesquiterpenes is usually a bit danker.
Many products containing cannabis extract, such as concentrates and edibles, are referred to as full spectrum. This means they contain nearly all of the same compounds as the original plant (the true full spectrum). Broad spectrum products contain parts of the plant but not all. Terpenes can also be called full spectrum when all layers are present.
You may also see cannabis-derived terpenes in the marketplace. This term typically refers to any terpene that is expressed by the cannabis plant as a natural pest repellent.
However, it is also used to differentiate products from those that may contain artificial terpenes or ones extracted from other plants—these are called botanical terpenes.
How terpenes change
Terpenes are volatile, meaning many different things can cause their chemical composition to change.
In cannabis, a number of different key factors can affect the terpene profile. The curing process for example can see the degradation of monoterpenes but enhance sesquiterpene levels.
This is one of the reasons why live resin and live rosin extracts are so popular. “Live” concentrates uses freshly harvested, non-cured cannabis buds that are flash-frozen, preserving the full spectrum of terpenes.
Heat can also cause terpenes to change. Terps begin to degrade or evaporate when they reach 100 degrees.
The boiling point for most cannabis terpenes is anywhere from 250 degrees to 380 degrees. Fans of low-temperature dabs look to these boiling points in order to determine the best heat range to enjoy the terpenes that are present.
What are the most well-known cannabis terpenes?
Around 200 terpenes have been identified in cannabis, but there are eight that are the most common in the majority of weed strains.
Also simply called pinene, this terpene conjures images of an evergreen forest. In addition to cannabis, it’s also found in pine trees, rosemary, dill, and many other plants and herbs.
Pinene is found in several cannabis strains, such as LA Confidential, Snoop’s Dream, and Critical Mass but is rarely the dominant terp. It is thought to have potential anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
One of the most abundant cannabis terpenes, myrcene has an earthy and herbaceous flavor. It is also prevalent in mangos, which may fuel the theory that eating the fruit can enhance THC’s effects.
Myrcene is known for its relaxing effects. It’s found in many weed strains, including OG Kush, Tangie, and Blue Dream.
Known for its spicy notes, caryophyllene is another popular terp also found in peppercorns. It has the unique distinction of being the only terpene that also acts as a cannabinoid.
Beta-caryophyllene is often touted for its perceived sedative effects. Many people with chronic pain tend to turn to the terp for relief as well. Present in several strains, some of the most popular include Girl Scout Cookies, Purple Punch, and Sour Diesel.
Citrusy and sweet, limonene is an uplifting terpene also present in lemons and oranges. It’s also a common ingredient in household cleaners.
Limonene tends to pop up in sativa strains like Strawberry Banana and Cinex but it can also be found in hybrid and indica strains as well like Wedding Cake and Tahoe OG. It’s beloved for its energizing and euphoric effects.
Another popular terpene found in many aromatherapies and personal care products, linalool is a deliciously floral terpene commonly found in lavender as well as cannabis. People love this terpene thanks to its calming effects and pleasant aroma.
Linalool tends to play second fiddle in the cannabis strains it’s found in, but it still contributes to the entourage effect. Strains with linalool include Zkittlez, Do-Si-Dos, and Amnesia Haze.
If you’ve ever sipped an IPA beer and thought it smelled dank in a familiar way, you were right. It turns out hops, a cousin of the cannabis plant, tend to have high percentages of the terpene humulene. It is one of the naturally-occurring cannabis terpenes that helps the plant protect itself from pests.
Tending to be present in strains that also contain caryophyllene, humulene can be found in cultivars like White Widow, Gelato, and Original Glue.
One of the rare cannabis terpenes, terpinolene is also considered the most psychedelic in terms of its effects. Mildly woodsy yet fresh, this terp is also found in sage and lilac—as well as in many soaps and cleansers.
Found in roughly ten percent of weed strains, terpinolene is heavily present in Jack Herer, Dutch Treat, and Ghost Train Haze. Its effects tend to be cerebral and zen-like.
Fruity, sweet, with a touch of earthiness, ocimene is another rare terp that is starting to gather steam. It’s found in many plants aside from cannabis, such as basil, mint, and even orchids. Much like humulene, this terp is also great at fending off invasive insects.
Ocimene tends to have relaxing effects and is often used in cannabis topicals. It can be found in strains like Space Queen, Strawberry Cough, and Green Crack.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.