What Are Terpenes? The Cannabis Connoisseurs Guide

    Terps have many names including terpenes and terpenoids. We can find terps in cannabis and they play a critical role in giving them unique aromas and flavors.

    Lately, terpenes are showing up as a vital ingredient in consumer products everywhere. In this guide, we’re going to teach you some new terminology and give you the vocabulary you need to impress your friends the next time the topic of marijuana comes up. Understanding the different cannabis terpenes out there will definitely make you an advanced “connoisseur” of cannabis. Go ahead, show off everything you know about the buds and concentrates you’re enjoying!

    Spoon with a honey like substance

    What exactly are terpenes?

    Terpenes are the key to distinguishing the differences between different types of cannabis! In addition to impacting our marijuana’s smell and taste, these versatile compounds also play a huge role in our bodies. Terpenes can impact and support our bodies’ response to pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, and more: if we learn more about terpenes, we increase our knowledge of the potential impact cannabis can have on our well-being.

    According to Wolfgang Dostmann, Ph.D. and a professor in the department of pharmacology at University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, terpenes are known to work together with cannabinoids like CBD and THC to create what’s known as the “entourage effect.” This fancy phrase means that terpenes improves the benefits of the plant’s individual components when they interact with cannabinoids.

    Basically, terpenes affect the way cannabis interacts with our bodies and also our highs and what kind of benefits we experience from cannabis use. Honing in on the specific effects of each terpene could help us improve our experiences in the very near future.

    Random Fact Graphic: Did you know there are at least 20,000 different terpenes in existence? It’s true, and the cannabis plant has more than 200 of these terpenes!

    So – why do terpenes matter?

    We know that cannabis is capable of affecting our mind, emotions and behavior. Since its impact is hard to ignore, the main psychotropic cannabinoid in marijuana, THC, has been studied a lot. However, on multiple levels (in vivo, in vitro, and in clinical trials) it is becoming clear that THC alone doesn’t offer the same benefits as the full spectrum cannabis and its other components that we know less about.

    The other three elements, cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids, found in cannabis play a huge role in boosting the therapeutic effects of cannabis. We are still learning more about how terpenes function with cannabis and these other elements, here is what we currently do know:

    ■ Terpenes directly affect your high and contribute to The Entourage Effect of cannabis.

    ■They have medical benefits, like cannabinoids, and work synergistically with other compounds in cannabis on the human endocannabinoid system (ECS).

    ■ Terpenes give cannabis and vape oil their natural flavors.

    A 2011 paper by neurologist and researcher Ethan Russo described the way cannabinoids and terpenes work together to boost and modulate the effects of eachother in the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). In the same paper Dr. Russo also revealed that terpenes “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.” Now that is promising: if terpenes can treat such a wide spectrum of human health concerns, we have truly hit the jackpot!

    Terpenes are truly the future of fully understanding and optimizing cannabis use!

    Why do terpenes matter


    Trichomes, terpenes and the rest of the plant kingdom:

    You already know terpenes do more than determine the scent or taste of cannabis plants, but did you know that terpenes, along with CBD and THC, are produced in the trichome heads of cannabis flowers?


    Trichomes are the star of the show when it comes to cannabis! They are the factories that produce everything we love about the plant! Although we typically associate trichomes and terpenes with cannabis, they are not unique to marijuana alone. In fact, both are crucial elements of all flowers and other living organisms in the plant kingdom.  Consider the juniper. Many people say they can detect the terpenes of the juniper berry and differentiate whether it’s picked fresh from a tree or distilled into gin just from the fingerprint it leaves.

    Terpenes play multiple roles for most plants, including cannabis. The evolutionary job is to lure pollinators and repel anything that wants to eat it. Climate, soil, and other factors contribute to a plant’s development of specific terpenes. Some growers even go the extra mile to produce conditions specific for the development of trichomes and terpenes to make plants more resilient to environmental stressors.

    Presently, more than 100 different terpenes have been identified in cannabis plants. Combined, they work to create a unique identity, much like a fingerprint.

    The role of terpenes

    Formed from the same shiny, resinous trichomes as cannabinoids, cannabis terpenes bind to endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the brain and body. Depending on which receptors the terpenes interact with, different varieties of terpenes may help to induce sleep and relax muscles, while others can reduce stress and elevate mood, or reduce inflammation and increase energy.

    This is the entourage effect we were talking about earlier: the synergistic effects combine to boost the therapeutic potential of all of the compounds found in the plant. Terpenes can also modify how much of each cannabinoid is absorbed. This means the presence of certain terpenes can increase or decrease the amount and effect of the psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC is absorbed, effectively controlling the potency.

    a cannabis plant

    Consequently, a strain of medical cannabis with the perfect mix of terpenes and cannabinoids could be the equivalent of a hand tailored suit, designed to treat a particular disease or condition or provide a specific high that the user may be seeking.

    Keep reading more to explore how you can tailor your high with the use of specific terpenes.

    Terpenes vs. Terpenoids

    Normally terpenes and terpenoids are terms we use interchangeably but doing so is technically incorrect. The biggest difference between terpenes and terpenoids is that terpenes are considered organic hydrocarbons (meaning their makeup consists entirely of hydrogen and carbon). Terpenoids have additional atoms that have experienced ‘oxidation’. This happens when cannabis has been cured and dried. You can think of terpenes as “wet,” while terpenoids are “dried out” or cured.

    Terpenes are classified according to the number of 5-carbon units they contain – that’s where terms like “monoterpene”, “sesquiterpene”, and “diterpene” come from, slightly counter-intuitive, these are made up of 2, 3, and 4 isoprene units respectively. Terpenes are usually desirable in food and pharmaceutical products due to their flavouring and fragrances properties. These compounds usually act on receptors and neurotransmitters within the body.

    Random facts about terpenes image: Limonene, a monoterpene is a commonly used cleaning solvent. Certain terpenes can also be used in drugs to target malaria

    Terpenoids, on the other hand, are modified terpenes that contain oxygen. Terpenoids can be “monoterpenoids”, “sesquiterpenoids” and “diterpenoids”, mimicking the nomenclature of terpenes.

    How Terpenes Interact With the Human Body:

    It was believed terpenes worked because our sense of smell is tied to the brain parts that control emotion. While that line of reasoning is not entirely incorrect, ascertain scents can affect our mood, there’s actually a lot more involved in creating their impact!

    Terpenes interact with the human body’s robust endocannabinoid system! The endocannabinoid system is a biological signaling system present throughout much of the human body.

    Located on the surface of certain cells, cannabinoid receptors help modulate the activity of the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids as well as terpenes can bind to certain cannabinoid receptors like a key fitting into a lock. There are two known cannabinoid receptor subtypes: CB1 and CB2.

    CB1 receptors are found mainly in the central nervous system (CNS) and are concentrated in areas of the brain responsible for high-order behavioral functions like learning and memory as well as homeostatic processes like feeding.

    CB2 receptors are found in organs outside of the CNS and are associated with the immune system.

    The most important help cannabinoids get from terpenes is that they speed up the passing of cannabinoids into our bloodstream.

    With all of this considered, each terpene interacts with specific receptors in your brain to have different effects. Beyond that, each terpene can actually affect multiple parts of your brain and nervous system at the same time. That’s why some terpenes have multiple effects!

    a lady working on a greenhouse

    Most Prominent Terpenes in Cannabis & Their Effects:


    Myrcene is one of the earthier smelling terpenes present in cannabis and is the most common terpene in cannabis being cound in up to 40% of strains. It is also known as the “couch-lock” terpene because of its highly-sedative effects. Studies show that makes THC more effective, which is why it has been said that consuming fresh mango (or other foods with high concentrations of myrcene) prior to consuming cannabis will increase the effects of the cannabinoids.

    Fun Fact: Myrcene is actually the key ingredient used in the process of making the minty flavored menthol!


    We can find limonene in nature and is most commonly found in citrus and is the most common monoterpene. Known for it’s highly-energetic effects it is also recognized as an effective antidepressant. This compound shows many different pharmacological properties, which include anti-inflammatory, gastro-protective, anti-tumor, and neuroprotective.

    Cannabis strains high in limonene are responsible for mood elevation and euphoria.


    Terpineol can refer to any combination of four monoterpene isomers, and occurs naturally in over 150 plants! Until this moment, there is no registered evidence about the interaction of terpineol with any of the CB receptors.

    We use terpineol frequently to create pleasant aromatic profiles in products like soap, lotion, and perfume. According to one study, it is reported that terpineol was effective at penetrating the cell wall of all microbial strains they tested, showing vast amounts of promise when used as a topical.

    Graphic: Did you know that terpineol is one essential elements responsible for tea tree oil’s antibacterial and antifungal properties.

    Beta (β)- and α-Caryophyllene:

    Beta and alpha-Caryophyllene are the major sesquiterpenes encountered in the Cannabis plant. We consider caryophyllene family as phytocannabinoids which have a strong affinity to CB2 receptors. These are the receptors associated with our immune systems.

    Gastroprotective and a strong anti-inflammatory with a woody, peppery taste both Beta and Alpha Caryophyllene pack a potent punch of beneficial effects. Caryophyllenes bind to CB2 receptors and because of this they can be extremely useful for inflammatory disorders such as Arthritis or Crohn’s disease. Beta-Caryophyllene can also be beneficial for treating anxiety and depression without the overwhelming psychotropic effects of THC. There are some who will debate on whether or not the caryophyllene family is actually a cannabinoid or a terpene because of their ability to selectively bind to the CB2 receptors.

    Beta Elemene:

    It is a derivative terpene found in Cannabis which may arise due to oxidation or this is a process that arises because of UV-induced rearrangements during the curing process.

    Beta elemene is found in plants such as celery, mint, and in many other plants used in traditional medicine. Although the pure form isn’t used normally as dietary supplements, some cancer patients use herbs high in betaelemene as treatment.

    Although we need more human studies, Beta elemene shows to affect cancer cells via several different mechanisms. In an in vitro study, following administration of beta-elemene, leukemia cells were arrested and underwent apoptosis.

    Beta elemene has shown the ability to modulate essential functions such as inflammation, oxidative stress, immunology response, and cell division. Properties of this compound have been studied deeply, highlighting it as a promising tool for the treatment of relevant diseases.

    Alpha and Beta-Pinene:

    We can find this terpene commonly in pine needles, and it’s also energetic and therapeutic. If you’ve ever walked through a forest and felt “lifted” you’ve experienced the effects of this terpene!

    It is a powerful bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. Pinene can be helpful for memory retention/mental clarity and it may counteract some negative qualities of THC. Pinene is an antioxidant and also has antimicrobial and antibacterial qualities. There are two isomers of pinene (isomers are molecules with the same chemical formula, but with different arrangements of atoms). There is an alpha ­pinene and a beta­ pinene, but the alpha ­pinene is more commonly found in cannabis.


    Most prominent terpenes


    “We have barely begun to understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis,” says Ethan Russo, a neurologist and director of R&D at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, based in the Czech Republic. “We haven’t taken the steps that are required to really harness the abilities of some of these minor cannabinoids, particularly in conjunction with optimized terpenoid profiles.”

    As stated above by the cannabis-expert Ethan Russo, we really are just beginning to understand all the benefits of cannabis. From the terpenes to the cannabinoids found in the trichome heads of the plant there is so much more for us to continue exploring.

    As the scientific community continues to gain access to this plant and its various parts, there will only be more discoveries that help patients and cannabis consumers across the world. The future looks bright, now you should start thinking about how you’ll tailor your high for what you’re looking for. Ask your budtender to help you if you’re still confused, or maybe you can teach them a thing or two if you understand the effects of each terpene profile.

    Information of terpenes is useful for patients who’re using weed to their advantage, and there is so much to learn! We hope you will subscribe to Hoja to keep up to date with everything latest happening in the cannabis world. It would be our pleasure to keep you in the loop. As always, toke on friends.


    ■ https://weedmaps.com/learn/dictionary/terpenes/


    ■ https://www.crescolabs.com/terpenes/


    ■ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/


    ■ https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-are-terpenes#effects

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