“Terpenes” is a major buzzword in the cannabis world, but what exactly are they? Wonder no more.
Terpenes are the organic compounds plants produce that give them their flavors and aroma. (Some insects produce terpenes, as well, including termites!) Terpenes tend to have a very strong smell and are one of the main components of plant resin. When you were a kid and got sticky tree sap on your hand that had that unmistakable piney smell that wouldn’t go away, that smell was caused by terpenes. You were probably smelling a specific terpene called pinene. When you eat an orange, the citrus flavor is produced by a terpene called limonene. Terpenes are found everywhere in nature… including cannabis.
The terpenes found in cannabis are the same exact terpenes found in other plants. Plants don’t just produce one terpene at a time, they produce hundreds of different ones.
It’s the different mixtures of terpenes in different levels that give plants their distinct flavors (along with other factors such as acid levels, sugar levels, etc.). They’re why strawberries taste like strawberries and why oranges taste like oranges. In cannabis, skilled breeders may isolate and enhance different terpenes to produce new flavor combinations.
Outside of cannabis, terpenes play a huge role in essential oils and aromatherapy. Essential oils have extremely high concentrations of terpenes. They’re responsible for both the aroma and the aromatherapeutic effects that many people report. Lavender oil, for example, is said to have a calming, sedative effect. Linalool is the terpene found in extremely high concentrations in lavender essential oil, and is also found in many strains of cannabis that are said to have similar sedative effects.
The process of extracting or concentrating cannabis serves to concentrate the terpenes present, in addition to concentrating the cannabanoids. Because of this, you get more of the natural flavor when dabbing a well-made concentrate than you would by smoking flower from the same strain. For connoisseurs, experiencing the full terpene profile of their cannabis might be as important as a wine aficionado experiencing the bouquet and full depth of flavor of their favorite vintage.
Terpenes affect more than just the flavor of cannabis, however. As we are beginning to better understand the effects of THC, CBD, and other cannabanoids, it is becoming evident that terpenes may play a larger role in the cannabis “high” than was previously known. There seems to be a synergistic effect between some terpenes and some cannabanoids.
The following is a basic rundown of some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis and what to expect in terms of flavor and effect. Please note that terpene levels may vary even within the same strain due to different cultivation, curing, extracting, and/or concentration techniques, plus natural variation within the strain itself.
Satchel’s A-Z Terpene Guide
Also known as levomenol, bisabolol is found in chamomile and is the primary constituent of German chamomile essential oil. It has a sweet floral aroma and is, unsurprisingly, commonly used in fragrances. Bisabolol is also purported to have skin and wound healing properties, making bisabolol a common ingredient in cosmetics for hundreds of years. This terpene has recently become a subject of medical research, as it may fight bacteria and possess anti-microbial, anti-irritant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Strains high in Bisabolol: Master Kush, ACDC, Harle-Tsu, Pink Kush, and Rockstar.
Borneol is found naturally in a wide variety of plants, from shrubs to trees. Used in perfumes, borneol has a minty camphor-like aroma and can be found in both rosemary & thyme essential oils. It is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Borneol has been used as an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic, a topical anti-bacterial agent, to manage anxiety, insomnia, and/or pain. It is currently being studied as an anesthetic, anti-coagulant, anti-fibrosis, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer (as a potentiator to be used with other compounds that have known anti-cancer properties), and as a general drug potentiator.
Strains high in Borneol: Many “haze” strains, such as K13-Haze.
Camphene has a pungent, herbal, camphor-like aroma. It is found in turpentine, cypress, bergamot, sage, and valerian. Camphene is the major constituent (60%-80%) of nutmeg essential oil. It reportedly has antifungal properties and is found in some topical skincare products. It is also found in Tulsi (“Holy Basil”), which is a popular ingredient in many ayurvedic medicines. Camphene has antioxidant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties. A medical study reported that camphene was found to reduce triglycerides and plasma cholesterol in rats, indicating that the compound may have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.
Strains high in Camphene: Ghost OG, Strawberry Banana, and Mendocino Purps.
Also known as Delta-3-carene, this terpene has an earthy, woodsy, pine-y aroma. Carene may have a lemon-y flavor. It is found in rosemary, cedar, cypress, and pine. Carene is a major (up to 42%) constituent of turpentine. Known for anti-inflammatory effects and for drying out excess body fluids, such as sweat or runny noses.
Strains high in Carene: Super Silver Haze and Super Lemon Haze.
Caryophyllene has a spicy, peppery, woody aroma. This terpene is a major constituent of clove essential oil. It’s also found in cannabis’ cousin hops, plus black caraway, basil, ylang-ylang, and cinnamon. Caryophyllene has been reported to have had anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, neuroprotective, anxiolytic, antidepressant, and anti-alcoholism properties in rodents. This terpene may interact synergistically with other cannabis compounds to treat a range of maladies, including inflammation, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, and a host of others. It may be useful for arthritic pain and post-workout muscle pain.
Strains high in Caryophyllene: Hash Plant, OG Kush, Bubba Kush, and Chemdog.
This terpene has an earthy, woody smell. It was first identified in hops, but it is also found in coriander, tobacco, pine, ginger, ginseng, and sage. Humulene is an isomer of caryophyllene and is usually found wherever caryophyllene is present. Concentrations of humulene in hops essential oil can be up to 40%. This terpene is known to have anti-inflammatory effects and may be helpful to those with inflammatory diseases.
Strains high in Humulene: Girl Scout Cookies, Headband, and White Widow.
Limenene has a strong citrusy smell that is reminiscent of oranges. This is the terpene that causes citrus fruits to smell and taste citrusy, and is found in limes, lemons, oranges, as well as rosemary and peppermint. It is commonly used as a fragrance, especially in perfumes. Essential oils containing limonene are touted as having a huge variety of medical and psychological effects, including stress relief, combating depression, inducing creative thinking, and increasing energy. Cannabis strains high in limonene tend to be associated with the same uplifting effects. Limonene may also assist in absorbing other terpenes. This terpene is easy to identify in cannabis due to its clear citrus smell.
Strains high in Limonene: Super Lemon Haze, Lemon Skunk, and OG Kush.
Linalool has a very floral, sweet, even candy-like aroma, with a hint of citrus. It’s found in lavender, cinnamon, mint, and birch trees. It’s commonly used as a fragrance in lotions, soaps, shampoos, and detergents. Linalool was found to reduce the stress of rodents in a lab test, with measured decreases in stress hormones after inhalation of the terpene. It may also relieve some aspects of depression. Topically, it may be effective against acne. Other effects associated with linalool include analgesic properties, anti-convulsant properties, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Strains high in Linalool: Amnesia Haze, Lavender, LA Confidential, and G-13.
Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis and may make up 50% or more of cannabis’ total terpene volume. Its aroma is characterized by a musky, clove-y, citrus smell. It’s thought to occur in greater volumes in indica plants. Apart from cannabis, myrcene is also found in mango, lemongrass, hops, and thyme. High levels of myrcene are associated with the “couch-lock” effect that typifies some cannabis strains. Myrcene also lowers resistance across the blood-brain barrier, allowing THC and other cannabanoids to take effect faster than they would otherwise. Myrcene is associated with analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and sedative effects.
Strains high in Myrcene: Lovrin 110, Pure Kush, El Nino, Himalayan Gold, Skunk #1, and White Widow.
Pinene gets its name from its pine smell and is the primary terpene responsible for the aroma of pine trees. It’s the main constituent of turpentine. It’s also found in other conifers, rosemary, pine nuts, camphorweed, and sagebrush. It’s the most common terpenoid found in nature. In traditional Chinese medicine, pinene is used as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant, and as an anti-cancer agent. It may also enhance memory. Pinene tends to be found in higher concentrations in sativa varieties of cannabis.
Strains high in Pinene: Jack Herer, Chemdog, Bubba Kush, Trainwreck, Dutch Treat, Romulan, and Super Silver Haze.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this page is to promote a broader understanding of terpenes. The information provided on this page is offered for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice. Please consult a licensed medical professional with any questions or concerns you have regarding a medical condition or treatment. Always consult a doctor before beginning a new health care regimen or medication.