What are Terpenes?

What are Terpenes?

In addition to commonly known cannabis terms such as cannabinoids, indica, and sativa, you may have recently come across a less frequently used term: terpenes. These are yet another group of compounds found in cannabis. But what exactly are terpenes, and how important is it to understand their types and concentrations in cannabis before making a purchase? Continue reading to explore what researchers have uncovered so far.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants and some animals. They are responsible for the scents, flavors, and even colors associated with various types of vegetation. In the context of cannabis, terpenes are what give distinct strains their unique smells and tastes.

Furthermore, terpenes can be processed to create products like cleaning solvents, pesticides, and dyes, and some of them possess therapeutic properties.

Although terpenes are present in nearly all plants, some common sources where people encounter them include cannabis, aromatic herbs like sage and thyme, and citrus fruits.

What Are Their Functions?

Terpenes are believed to serve as a defense mechanism for plants, protecting them from harsh weather conditions and predators. Regarding their effects on humans, much remains a mystery. However, researchers and cannabis consumers are increasingly considering terpenes as a way to categorize cannabis products and anticipate their effects.

The primary hypothesis suggests that the terpene profile, which comprises the dominant terpenes in a strain, collaborates with the cannabinoid content (including the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD) to generate the effects associated with different strains. This may explain why two strains with the same THC level can produce remarkably different experiences.

Do Terpenes Produce a High?

Terpenes themselves do not induce the traditional feeling of being “high.” Nevertheless, some are regarded as psychoactive because they influence the brain’s functioning.

While terpenes do not possess intoxicating properties independently, some experts believe they may influence the effects of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the euphoric sensation associated with cannabis use.

Many cannabis enthusiasts and budtenders argue that consumers tend to overemphasize THC content when selecting a strain. Instead, they recommend focusing on specific terpene profiles to achieve the desired effects. Preliminary research even suggests that certain terpenes may have potential benefits for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

How Do They Compare to THC and CBD?

THC and CBD are just two of over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis, but they are the most abundant and extensively studied.

Both cannabinoids and terpenes offer insights into what to expect from a cannabis product, but they are distinct compounds. However, they appear to interact with each other in what experts refer to as the “entourage effect.” This concept suggests that the full spectrum of cannabis, encompassing all cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds, works synergistically to produce the effects of cannabis. In essence, it proposes that a blend of various components may offer more benefits than an abundance of one.

For instance, a 2010 study showed that a combination of CBD and THC was more effective for pain management than THC alone. Similarly, a 2018 study found that a cannabis extract was more effective in treating breast cancer tumors in a Petri dish compared to pure THC, though the synergistic effects were primarily attributed to other cannabinoids rather than terpenes.

This notion is vital to consider when using CBD for therapeutic purposes. If you have used a CBD isolate (a product containing only CBD) without achieving the desired effect, trying a full-spectrum CBD product, which contains terpenes and small amounts of THC, may be worthwhile.

Common Terpenes and Their Effects

While there are approximately 400 known terpenes in cannabis, only a handful have been linked to specific effects. Here are some common terpenes and their potential effects:

  • Beta-caryophyllene: Found in cloves, rosemary, and hops, this terpene may be beneficial for managing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Beta-pinene: Known for its presence in coniferous forests, beta-pinene could have potential antidepressant and anti-cancer properties.
  • Humulene: Found in ginseng, humulene has been used in folk medicine for its energizing effects.
  • Limonene: One of the most prevalent terpenes, limonene features citrus notes and may have anti-cancer and anti-anxiety properties.
  • Linalool: Present in lavender used for aromatherapy, linalool may help alleviate stress.
  • Myrcene: Found in mangoes, myrcene possesses antifungal and antibacterial properties and may have sedative effects.

It’s essential to note that much of the research on terpenes is still in its early stages, and more high-quality studies involving humans are needed to fully comprehend the health impacts of various terpene profiles.

Maximizing Their Benefits

Interested in delving into the world of terpenes? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Check the Label: Certain lab-tested cannabis brands include terpene profiles (typically the three most prevalent terpenes) and concentrations of the product (usually around 2 percent).
  2. Verify Freshness: Terpene concentrations can diminish over time, so look for products with a recent package date. If you’re dealing with cannabis flower, give it a sniff to ensure it’s fragrant, indicating a high terpene content rather than staleness.
  3. Exercise Caution with Cannabis Oil: Oil-based vaping products often contain synthetic terpenes. While it’s unclear whether synthetic terpenes are less effective than natural ones, they are frequently used in solvents and household chemicals. Approach such products with caution, and be wary of marketing claims.
  4. Mind the Heat: Some evidence suggests that high-heat methods like dabbing can degrade synthetic terpenes, potentially resulting in harmful byproducts. Until experts better understand how heat affects terpenes, consider vaporizing flower at a low temperature or opting for edibles.
  5. Keep a Journal: As you explore different terpene profiles, make note of your consumption method and how you feel. Over time, this can help you pinpoint the terpene profile that best suits your desired effects.

In Conclusion

Terpenes play a significant role in defining the aroma and flavor of a cannabis strain. They may also interact synergistically with cannabinoids and other compounds in the cannabis plant to produce psychoactive effects. However, research on the numerous terpenes found in cannabis is still in its early stages, making it challenging to make definitive claims about them.

Additionally, it’s crucial to recognize that, aside from cannabinoids and terpenes, your physiology, past experiences with cannabis, and the environment in which you consume cannabis can all influence your experience. Terpenes are just one aspect of the equation, but they can provide an intriguing avenue for exploring different cannabis products and finding what suits you best.


Prior to using any cannabis product, it is strongly recommended that consumers seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional. Cannabis can have various effects on individual health, and a healthcare provider can provide personalized advice, especially if you have underlying medical conditions or are currently taking medications. Their expertise can help you make informed decisions regarding the use, dosage, and potential interactions associated with cannabis consumption, ensuring your safety and well-being.