June 04, 2020
10 Mins read
What Are Terpenes & How Do They Work?
You already know exactly what terpenes are because you experience them almost every day! Terpenes are simply the aromatic compounds found in most plants – they are why roses smell like roses, why lemons smell like lemons, why pine smells like pine… you get the point.
To date, there are over 20,000 identifiable terpenes within our ecosystem, and the cannabis plant contains over 100 of them. What’s that citrusy smell when you twist the top off a jar of Sour Diesel? The terpene, limonene.
In cannabis, terpenes are responsible for the rich flavors, aromas, and many benefits of the plant.
How Do Terpenes Work?
Cannabis terpenes are no different from the terpenes found in other plants. However, cannabis terpenes do more than provide flavor and aroma. What makes them so unique is how they interact with the cannabinoid compounds found within cannabis. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant, such as THC and CBD. They deliver the effects of the plant as they bind with specific receptors in our body’s central nervous system.
Research shows that terpenes display distinct therapeutic effects in combination with cannabinoids. This marriage is known widely as the entourage effect. For example, strains containing the terpene linalool and a high level of CBD will regulate the way neurotransmitters contribute to anxiolytic and sedative effects. In essence, those strains are typically great for treating anxiety!
Understanding terpenes and their therapeutic role (the entourage effect) has become a desired skill in the cannabis industry. Cannabis cultivators have started paying more attention to terpenes and their functions to produce new strains for treating specific conditions.
Now that we know what terpenes are and how they work, let’s take a look at a few of the most common terpenes and how each of their therapeutic properties can work for you!
Fun Fact: Terpenes have strong odors and are often used by organisms as a defense mechanism to deter predators from eating the plant that is producing them. When it comes to growing and harvesting cannabis, humulene also has a vital role in protecting the plant. It helps the plant defend itself by warding off predators with its peppery aroma.
Types of Terpenes and Their Effects
Of the 200 terpenes in cannabis plants, myrcene is the most common. If you picked a random flower product off of a shelf in a legal state, you could expect it to be myrcene-dominant about 40% of the time. You may recognize this flavor and aroma from consuming mangos, which also contain a high level of myrcene.
It is often said that you can determine if a strain will have indica (typically relaxing) or sativa (typically energizing) effects by the level of myrcene it contains. Strains with more than 0.5% myrcene will prove to be more sedating, while strains with less than 0.5% will have more uplifting effects. So, choose wisely!
As you may have guessed from its name, limonene is commonly associated with citrusy aromas. Without a doubt, you have come across limonene in your everyday life as it can also be found in citrus fruits like lemons and many cleaning products.
Many people assume that limonene is the primary terpene found in strains that smell like lemon. However, this is not always the case. If you’re interested in strains high in limonene, be sure to check out the product packaging or ask your budtender to confirm that the strain you’re buying is truly packed with limonene.
Going to the gym? Trying to get your creative juices flowing? Limonene is the terp for you. Strains high in Limonene can give you an exhilarating and energizing buzz. The boost of energy and focus offered by this terpene makes it easy to be productive!
Pinene is the most common terpene found in our ecosystem, and one of the most common in cannabis strains. Similarly to limonene, most people can identify pinene’s distinct characteristics by its name. Yup, you guessed it! The terpene pinene is also responsible for the glorious smell of pine trees.
Pinene has been identified as a potent anti-inflammatory and an effective bronchodilator. Its anti-inflammatory properties make strains that are high in pinene perfect for those with chronic pain and for athletes who are looking to relieve their sore muscles.
Caryophyllene is one of the least distinguishable terpenes by name, but it’s responsible for an aroma you would never confuse: cracked black pepper. The powerful bite provided by this terpene is unmistakable!
Caryophyllene has huge medical implications as it has been proven to suppress some of our world’s most common disorders. Its anti-anxiety and anti-depression compounds are known to have positive effects on our mood and behavior.
Studies also show that caryophyllene has the potential to lessen cravings of alcohol, making it a possible treatment for addiction and substance abuse habits.
Strains high in caryophyllene will elevate your happiness and probably give you the giggles! So, if you’re hitting a comedy club or just looking to take a load off, this terpene should be your go-to.
Do you know that earthy, woody flavor of “hoppy” beers? Both hops and cannabis share a common terpene: humulene. Interestingly enough, humulene was actually named after the hops plant, Humulus Lupulus.
While humulene is one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis, it usually is not the most abundant within a particular strain. This lowkey terpene usually takes on a secondary flavor and aroma role, giving off subtle hints of earth and wood.
Humulene has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries; today, we see it commonly used in therapeutic grade essential oils. This terpene is also one of the active ingredients in a medication that reduces the growth and spread of tumors.