What are terpenes and What do they do?
by Elana

Here in Northern California, Fall is in the air – days are shortening,  mornings are crisp and the air is fresh and fragrant – especially for those of us in the Cannabis industry.  As our plants reach maturity they are giving off magnificent aromas of that unmistakable variety; there is really no smell like the smell of ripening sun-kissed cannabis.  And why do they smell so voluminously? Because of terpenes.

Terpenes (and terpenoids) are the essential oils found in almost all plants that give them their signature scents.  There is almost always a combination of these naturally-occurring chemicals in every plant, and even some insects, and cannabis is no exception. Not only do they have a scent, but these compounds have healing properties and, along with their cannabinoid profiles, are often what give different strains of cannabis their variance of characteristics.

There are currently over 200 terpenes in the cannabis plant, although there are only a handful of terpenes that make up a majority of the cannabis products currently on the market. These include Myrcene, Pinene, Limonene, Caryophyllene, Linalool, Humulene to name a few.

Why are Indica strains often relaxing, and sometimes sedating?  Because of their high amounts of the terpene Myrcene, which is also found in high levels in mangoes, basil, hops (the reason ‘hops’ have mildly sedative properties), cardamon, and lemon grass to name just a few and explains why many Indicas have that tart/fruity/spicy smell.

While all terpenes found in each strain give them their own distinctive smell and taste, Myrcene is one that appears to play an important role in enhancing the effectiveness of certain compounds. We call this the entourage effect (the Entourage Effect is the results produced from the synergistic interaction of the cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes, and fatty acids naturally found in cannabis).

Studies suggest that Myrcene boasts various medical benefits like improved sleep and muscle relaxation, as well as anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic effects.

** interesting side note:  Anecdotal evidence claims eating fresh mango, which has high concentrations of myrcene, approximately 45 minutes prior to consumption of myrcene-rich cannabis strains may increase the effectiveness and experience.  It may follow that ingestion of other foods and herbs especially rich in specific terpenes may also accentuate before consuming strains high in those corresponding terpenes.

Here is a brief summary of which healing qualities are pronounced with the key terpenes mentioned above:

Myrcene –  analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic (keeps rogue cells from proliferating).
Pinene – anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator (good for asthma)  antibacterial – the most commonly found terpene in nature
Limonene – anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-stress, antifungal, antibacterial, may help relieve heartburn and gastric reflux;
Caryophyllene – antioxidant, anti-anxiety, anti-depressive,and anti-inflammatory properties; some studies show it could be promising for treating inflammatory bowel disease. The only terpene known to act as a cannabinoid – it can activate our endocannabinoid system directly to provide anti-inflammatory effects.
Linalool – anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, anti-microbial
Humulene – anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, appetite-suppressant; Humulene is closely related to Caryophyllene in terms of their molecular structure.

These are just a handful of the myriad terpenes that can be found in any one strain of cannabis (or other herbs for that matter).  When terpenes are clinically evaluated in cannabis, they are usually represented in a pie chart such as this one for the ACDC strain:

There can also be variations in the terpene profiles from plant to plant based on the different circumstances of where and how it is grown and what it is fed but there are some general breakdowns in terpene profiles that can be fairly well-relied upon for each strain.

Something to be aware of in regards to terpenes is that they are more volatile than other elements of the Cannabis plant, meaning they are more easily degraded by any form of processing or heating.  While some terpenes are left intact despite processing, some of them inevitably degrade. The way to get the most intact terpene experience is buy smoking or vaping the flowers directly but rest-assured you are still getting excellent healing properties from edibles, tinctures, and concentrates – just not what we call a ‘full-spectrum’ experience.

So have fun with terpenes!  Smell different strains of fresh cannabis flowers and try and guess what terpenes might be well represented in each one – do they smell like Pine (Pinene?) Mangoes (Myrcene)? Lemon (Limonene)? Lavender (Linalool)?  Enjoy the tastes and smells of the season!

And may this window into the world of terpenes deepen your appreciation for this miraculously diverse and medicinal plant!


Synergy Wellness 2019 Synergy Tsu approaching harvest
Abundant Tricomes visible!