The cannabis industry is constantly evolving as we learn more and more about this remarkable plant. One particular topic that’s been on fire these last few years is terpenes—the aromatic oils that provide each cannabis strain with its unique scent. While cannabinoids like THC and CBD have been in the spotlight for awhile, terpenes have only recently begun to get the attention they deserve for the role they play in how cannabis affects us. Ready to get your terpene education on? Here are 10 facts about terpenes to get you started!
1. Terpenes aren’t just found in cannabis.
Most of the time you hear terpenes being referenced, it has to do with cannabis—but they’re also found in plants, fruits, vegetables and essential oils. Anytime something has a particular smell, terpenes are responsible for it. If you think about it, many of the terpenes found in cannabis are described as smelling like other plants. For example limonene smells like citrus fruit, pinene smells like pine trees, linalool smells like lavender…you get the picture. Another place you encounter terpenes regularly? In perfumes, makeup and personal hygiene products like soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc. Next time you’re in your bathroom, take a look at the ingredients on your shampoo bottle—you may be surprised to see terpenes like limonene, linalool, ocimene and terpineol on the list!
2. Terpenes can be classified by the number of isoprene units in the molecule.
There are currently over 200 terpenes that have been identified in the cannabis plant alone, so it’s no surprise that scientists have a classification system in place to differentiate between types of terpenes. While there are at least 10 different categories established, the terpenes that we encounter with more frequency in cannabis tend to be either monoterpenes or sesquiterpenes. Monoterpenes consist of 2 isoprene units and have the molecular formula C10H16. Limonene, myrcene, terpineol, linalool and pinene are all examples of monoterpenes. Sesquiterpenes consist of 3 isoprene units and have the molecular formula C15H24. The terpenes humulene and beta-caryophyllene are both considered sesquiterpenes.
3. Oftentimes we are naturally attracted to the smell of a terpene that our body needs.
Are there certain cannabis strains that you’re more attracted to the scent of than others? That’s your body’s way of letting you know which terpene it needs! Whether you consciously knew it or not, the reason that smelling a strain in the dispensary is so influential on your decision to purchase it or not is entirely because of the terpenes. Our bodies are designed to interact with terpenes, so that’s why you may smell a strain and instantly know you’re not going to like it. (For example, I tend to avoid anything that smells remotely like Jack Herer because even the scent gives me a twinge of anxiety.) Keep in mind that if you’re new to cannabis, it may all just smell all the same to you—that’s totally normal! As you grow in your experience with cannabis, you’ll begin to notice more of the subtleties of the plant. Something that can be particularly helpful is to ask your budtender about the terpene profile of a strain before smelling it—that way you can create the association of the smell with the name with the goal of being able to identify that smell on your own in the future.
4. Many argue that terpenes actually play a bigger role in the nuances of a strain than cannabinoid content.
For decades the conversation around cannabis strain classification has been focused on indica, sativa, hybrid and THC percentage, but recently we’ve become more aware of the fact that terpenes may play a greater role than any of these things. Each strain of cannabis has a unique terpene profile and we’re seeing more consistency in the terpenes present than in cannabinoid content—so for example the strain Blue Dream may vary in cannabinoid content, but if it is truly Blue Dream the terpenes will be fairly consistent regardless of who grew it. This has to do with the fact that environmental factors don’t tend to influence terpene production, but they can greatly impact THC production. (Obviously there are growing conditions that allow for optimal terpene production, but overall if a strain is grown properly the terpenes found in it should be fairly consistent across the board.) Terpenes are the reason that a particular sativa strain might work extremely well for you, but not all sativa strains do. This is why the classification of indica, sativa or hybrid is truly too broad—a patient shouldn’t just be told to smoke an indica for pain, they should be told to look for strains that specifically contain myrcene, pinene or beta-caryophyllene as all three of these are known to relieve pain. If you’ve ever had the experience of trying something based off the recommendation of indica, sativa or hybrid and not getting the results you want, try looking into which terpenes are best for what you’re trying to alleviate. The strain you tried may very well have not had the correct terpene profile for your needs.
5. The Entourage Effect
While terpenes are beneficial on their own, the way that they interact with the cannabinoids found in cannabis and other terpenes can make them even more so. The synergy that exists between all of the cannabinoids and terpenes found in whole plant cannabis is known as The Entourage Effect—essentially, these compounds are even better when they’re together. THC and CBD bond to our cannabinoid receptors, but did you know that terpenes actually affect how and when THC and CBD can bond to those receptors? For example, beta-caryophyllene actually interacts with our CB2 receptor and increases absorption of other terpenes and cannabinoids. Myrcene lowers resistance across the blood brain barrier, allowing for cannabinoids like THC and CBD to take effect more quickly. This is why strains high in myrcene can feel like they really hit you quickly, because you likely are feeling the effects of the THC much faster than you would in a strain without myrcene. Myrcene also increases the maximum saturation level for the CB1 receptor, which is the receptor that THC binds to and causes us to feel “high”. This often results in strains high in myrcene feeling more psychoactive than others. In many cases, the presence of terpenes leads the user to experience the effects of the THC or CBD at an elevated level. There’s actually been a trend at recent cannabis competitions where strains with lower THC content are beating out higher THC strains because of their terpene content—you don’t need as much THC if the terpenes are allowing more of the THC to be utilized by your body in the first place.
6. Terpenes have medicinal benefits just like cannabinoids do.
Just like THC and CBD, terpenes have medicinal benefits—they can be anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, sleep-aid, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, anti-proliferative, anti-spasmodic and more. Alpha-Pinene is effective for those with asthma, ulcers, pain, anxiety and cancer. Myrcene is an antioxidant and has been shown to help with insomnia, pain and inflammation. For those struggling with anxiety or depression, strains with a high limonene or beta-caryophyllene content are a great place to start. So if there’s a particular condition you’re looking to treat, we recommend doing some research on which terpenes are most beneficial prior to visiting your local dispensary—that way your budtender can really narrow down your options to products with those terpenes.
7. If you accidentally get too high, certain terpenes can help get you back on track.
We talked about this more in-depth in a previous blog, but beta-caryophyllene, pinene and limonene are all super helpful when you’ve accidentally taken too big of a dab or eaten too much of an edible. Beta-caryophyllene is particularly good for those times when you’re feeling anxious or paranoid after taking too much THC—it interacts with the CB2 receptor, which is known to regulate anxiety and stress levels. Smelling black pepper or eating a snack with black pepper is all you need to start feeling calmer. Pinene promotes mental clarity so if you’re feeling “out of it” or unable to focus, eating pine nuts or pistachios (both of which contain lots of pinene) can clear the fog. Like we mentioned earlier, limonene has been proven to be extremely helpful for both anxiety and depression. Drinking some lemon juice or another citrus drink when you’re too high is another great way to combat anxiety and paranoia.
8. Many concentrate companies include terpenes in their oils now.
Terpenes naturally occur in cannabis flower, but until recently many cannabis concentrates weren’t including them in their oils. This mostly has to do with the extraction processes being used—until the last few years most companies were extracting cannabinoids from the flower in ways that weren’t preserving the natural terpenes and as a result those terpenes didn’t end up in the oil. Nowadays winterization and other proprietary extraction processes are able to extract the terpenes with the cannabinoids and ensure that the natural terpenes of the strain get put back in the oil. One company that really allows you to see the terpene content of what you’re vaping is Dosist—their dose pens come in a variety of formulas, each one with a different terpene profile! Their Passion formula is high in myrcene, beta-caryophyllene and limonene—all of which contribute to increased relaxation and stress relief. Lola Lola is another company that highlights the active terpenes in each of their cartridges—you can see it right on the box or on their website!
9. Live resin concentrates are chock-full of natural terpenes.
Live resin is a type of cannabis concentrate that is made from freshly harvested cannabis flowers that has been frozen before and throughout the extraction process. What’s different about this extraction process is how long the flowers spend drying and curing before they are frozen—with live resin you want to freeze the flower immediately following the harvest. When cannabis is dried and cured after harvest, it degrades the terpenes in the flower. To preserve these terpenes for live resin, the flower is flash frozen as soon as it is harvested and it remains frozen throughout the extraction process. Heat also degrades terpene content, so the subcritical temperatures utilized in live resin manufacturing are crucial to ensuring that the terpenes aren’t lost in the extraction process. You’ll notice that live resin concentrates tend to smell fairly similar to the strain they are made from—this is because the original terpene profile of the flower was preserved through the flash freezing process. Live resin is available in a form that can be dabbed, but many companies are also now making live resin cartridges so if dabbing isn’t your thing just ask your budtender if they have any live resin cartridges in stock!
10. Maximize you terpene intake by utilizing their boiling points.
Just like THC and CBD, each terpene has a boiling point—if you happen to have a vaporizer that allows you to set your temperature (like the Pax 3), you can use these boiling points to optimize your intake of specific terpenes in your flower or concentrates. Pinene and beta-caryophyllene are best at a lower temperature in the range of 310°F to 330°F. Myrcene is slightly higher at 334°F, followed by limonene at 349°F. Linalool is the highest at 388°F—still a ways away from the 428°F necessary for THCV. While you don’t need to use these specific temperatures to get the benefits of each terpene, we’d definitely recommend it for patients that are trying to determine if a certain terpene will alleviate their symptoms or for those who already know that the terpene works for them and truly want to focus their medicating experience on getting the most out of that terpene.
The most exciting thing about terpenes? That there’s still so much to learn about them! As the cannabis industry continues to develop, we are likely going to discover even more information about these 200+ aromatic compounds found in cannabis and how they interact with our endocannabinoid system.
Have more questions about terpenes? Use the Hopegrown search bar at the top of any page to find a licensed dispensary in your area where you can speak with a budtender about which terpenes could be beneficial for you!
(1) The Science and Benefits of Terpenes
(2) Infographic: How Do Cannabis Terpenes Affect the Body?
(3) What Are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do?
(5)Cannabis, Plant and Synthetic Terpenes: What's the Difference?
(6) How to Customize Your Cannabis High With Temperature
(7) What Are Live Resin Cannabis Concentrates?
(9) Lola Lola