If you have ever wondered why there are so many different strain varieties of cannabis, that’s because there are many unique combinations of its active components. By active components, we mean cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
For this special report, let’s focus on one of these components: TERPENE [tur-peen].
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic organic compounds that can be found in many plants, flowers and fruits. They are even present in some insects, too. More specifically, terpenes are the essential oils in plants that give them their scents and flavors, and that contribute to their therapeutic properties. Terpenes are the foundation of aromatherapy.
It is the terpenes that give cannabis its own natural aroma and flavor, too. So when you think of cannabis varieties and their distinctive earthy, berry, piney, minty, citrusy, or diesel-like flavors, you now know that it’s because of their terpenes.
Terpenes also play a role in modifying the effects of cannabis in our body. For one, they enhance the “high” we experience when we smoke a joint. Moreover, they influence the many medicinal benefits of cannabis. For instance, there are certain terpenes that contribute to the pain-relieving properties of the drug. There are also those that help with its relaxing and soothing qualities, or of its energy boosting effects. Of course, that’s just to name a few.
The terpenes in cannabis
Cannabis plants have over a hundred different terpenes. These terpenes are produced in differing concentrations in different strains and varieties.
Terpenes in cannabis are secreted in the same glands where cannabinoids — like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — are produced. And as with other strong-smelling plants and flowers, cannabis plants develop terpenes for adaptive purposes, which is to lure pollinators and to protect themselves by repelling predators.
The production of cannabis terpenes
The female cannabis plants create tiny hairy glands that look like small hairs protruding from their leaves and flowers. These are hairy growths are called glandular trichomes. Trichomes house very important compounds, including cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
The production of terpenes is mainly governed by abiotic factors like humidity, temperature, fertilizers used, soil type and quality, maturation, and intensity of light or time of day. These factors are synthesized as a response to stress.
This is the reason why licensed medical cannabis producers emphasize the importance of standardized growing conditions for their medicinal strains.
These factors are also the reason why different cannabis varieties have different terpene compositions and therefore have different aromas and different effects on our body.
Terpenes vs. terpenoids
Are terpenes and terpenoids the same? There is a difference between these two, but they are definitely related.
Terpenes are natural organic compounds and are found on the growing plant. They are properly only hydrocarbons.
Terpenoids, on the other hand, are the oxygenated derivatives of terpenes. They are transformed by drying and curing the flowers of the cannabis plants. The drying process and the conditions that these flowers are subjected to change the way the molecules transform (including the way they smell and taste) at the end of the day.
We constantly use terpenoids outside of plants and outside of cannabis for their aromatic qualities. This is how we create essential oils, spices, and perfumes.
More research indicates that terpenoids play a significant part in the therapeutic effects of cannabis.
Terpenes and the entourage effect
Studies (like this) have shown that terpenes work hand in hand with cannabinoids like THC and CBD to bring therapeutic effects to the body. For one, terpenes have been found to help cannabinoids pass through the bloodstream more easily and to lower the blood-to-brain barrier.
And because terpenes have their own medicinal effects, they help heighten or chill out the dominant effects of certain cannabinoids. If the terpenes and the cannabinoids work towards the same goal, users will get stronger effects. And if they are counterbalancing each other, the overall effect is muted.
In other words, these different compounds and ingredients can work together and play off each other, thus enhancing or downplaying the effect as a whole.
This synergistic quality between terpenes and cannabinoids (together with flavonoids) is called the “entourage effect.”
In fact, cannabis producers use terpenes to modulate the adverse effects of certain cannabinoids, and by doing this, they are able to create super cannabis strains that are focused on providing the best possible experience for many patients.
One example for this is tempering the “high” of THC with the anti-inflammatory or anti-anxiety properties of a particular terpene. Or amplifying the anti-depressant properties of a strain rich in CBD.
Needless to say, the opportunities for the medicinal applications of the entourage effect are extensive. However, scientific research in this area is still lacking. The cannabis industry, however, is looking forward to finding out more about how terpenes function on their own as well as together with cannabinoids and other compounds in different marijuana strains.
Most common terpenes in cannabis
There are more than a hundred terpenes identified in cannabis. However, there are those terpenes that are considered to be most common.
These common cannabis terpenes are:
Alpha-Pinene is an aromatic compound that is best known for its fresh and piney scent, as well as for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.
Aromas/flavors: fresh, piney
Naturally occurs in: conifers, evergreen trees, rosemary, orange peel, turpentine, pine needles, dill, basil, parsley.
Potential medical benefits: bronchodilator or promotes airflow in the lungs, improves memory, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial
Cannabis strains or varieties high in alpha-pinene: Jack Herer, Dutch Treat, Romulan, Blue Dream, Island Sweet Kunk, OG Kush, Strawberry Cough
Myrcene (or β-myrcene) is a terpene that is often found in highly fragrant plants and herbs, including mangoes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that eating a ripe mango before using cannabis may extend or accentuate the psychoactive effects of cannabis due to the fruit’s high concentrations of myrcene. Myrcene is naturally synergistic with THC and it allows cannabinoids to easily bridge the blood-brain barrier.
Aromas/flavors: musky, earthy, herbal
Naturally occurs in: mangoes, lemongrass, bay laurel leaves, basil, thyme, cloves, cardamom, cannabis
Potential medical benefits: anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibiotic, antimutagenic, sedative
Cannabis strains or varieties high in myrcene: White Widow, Pure Kush, Himalayan Gold, Jack Herer, Pink Kush, and Warlock CBD.
Limonene is an aromatic cannabis terpene that is produced in the bud’s resin glands. It is found in many everyday items like cosmetics and cleaning products.
Aromas/flavors: fruity, citrusy
Naturally occurs in: fruit rinds, lemon
Potential medical benefits: antifungal, stress relief, mood-enhancer, antibacterial, helps relieve heartburn and gastric reflux, improves absorption of other terpenes and chemicals through the skin and digestive tract
Cannabis strains or varieties high in limonene: Cinex, Sunset Sherbert, Strawberry Cough, Lemon G, White Fire OG, Strawberry Diesel, Purple Punch
Caryophyllene or β-Caryophyllene is a terpene found in many various edible plants, including spices and herbs.
Aromas/flavors: spicy, peppery, woody
Naturally occurs in: black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, oregano, hops, rosemary, basil
Potential medical benefits: anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-cancer, reduces alcohol craving, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety
Cannabis strains or varieties high in caryophyllene: Bubba Kush, OG Kush, Chemdawg, Rockstar, Sour Diesel, Skywalker OG
Linalool is a naturally occurring terpene that is found in many flowers and spices.
Aromas/flavors: delicate floral aroma
Naturally occurs in: lavender, coriander, cannabis
Potential medical benefits: stress-relief, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, sedative, analgesic, anti-epileptic, mood-enhancing
Cannabis strains or varieties high in linalool: Amnesia Haze, LA Confidential, Lavender, Master Kush, Pink Kush, OG Shark
Aromas/flavors: subtle earthy, woody aroma with spicy herbal notes.
Naturally occurs in: clove, hops, basil, coriander, and cannabis sativa
Potential medical benefits: suppresses hunger, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, pharmacokinetic
Cannabis strains or varieties high in humulene: White Widow, Girl Scout Cookies, Headband, Pink Kush, Skywalker OG, and Sour Diesel.
Ocimene is an isomeric hydrocarbon that can be found in a variety of plants and fruits. Its scents are featured prominently in some perfumes and they help plants defend themselves from predators in their natural environment.
Aromas/flavors: fragrant, sweet, woodsy, herbacious
Naturally occurs in: botanicals like mint, pepper, parsley, mangoes, basil, kumquats, orchids, and cannabis
Potential medical benefits: antiviral, antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, decongestant
Cannabis strains or varieties high in ocimene: Strawberry Cough, Golden Goat, Space Queen, Elwyn, OG Kush, Lemon Sour Diesel, and Chernobyl
Terpinolene is an isomeric hydrocarbon found in a variety of pleasantly fragrant plants. Its aromas are sometimes used in the making of perfumes, soaps, and lotions. In cannabis, this terpene is found most commonly in sativa-dominant strains.
Aromas/flavors: fresh, piney, herbal, floral, and occasionally citrusy
Naturally occurs in: lilacs, nutmeg, tea tree, apples, conifers, cumin, and cannabis
Potential medical benefits: antioxidant, anticancer, antibacterial, antifungal, and sedative
Cannabis strains or varieties high in terpinolene: Jack Herer and its derivatives (Pineapple Jack, Super Jack, and J1), Afghani, Jean Guy, and Lemon Sour Diesel
Guaiol is not an oil but is sesquiterpenoid alcohol. It has been used in the treatment of diverse ailments that range from constipation, to coughs, to arthritis. It is also used as an effective insecticide and insect repellant.
Naturally occurs in: cypress, pine, guaiacum, and cannabis
Potential medical benefits: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory
Cannabis strains or varieties high in guaiol: Chocolope, Blue Kush, Liberty Haze, Barbara Bud, White Widow, and Jean Guy.
Trans-Nerolidol is a secondary terpene that you can find in many strong aromatics.
Aromas/flavors: subdued and nuanced floral scent with notes of fruity citrus, rose, and apple
Naturally occurs in: jasmine, lemongrass, tea tree
Potential medical benefits: sedative, antifungal, antiparasitic, antimicrobial, inhibits growth of leishmaniasis
Cannabis strains or varieties high in trans-nerolidol: Island Sweet Skunk, Skywalker OG, Jack Herrer
Bisabolol or levomenol is a fragrant chemical compound that is produced by the chamomile flower and other plants.
Naturally occurs in: chamomile, candeia tree, cannabis
Potential medical benefits: anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, antioxidant, anti-microbial, analgesic
Cannabis strains or varieties high in bisabolol: Harle-Tsu, ACDC, Pink Kush, OG Shark, Master Kush, Headband, Rockstar
What do terpenes have to do when deciding which cannabis strain or variety to purchase?
We can consider terpenes as a connoisseurs’ guide to cannabis. Just like in wine and coffee. Imagine how you would pick a particular Pinot Noir because of its red berry and earthy characteristics, or a Reisling for its notes of apple, citrus, petrol, and honey. Or think about how Kona Mocca from Hawaii became the number one coffee in 2018, with its enchantingly rich and intensely floral flavors, with dried black cherry, Cognac, chocolate fudge, tea rose, and gently scorched almond wood aromas.
Before modern science looked into cannabis and terpenes and the market grew to include legal varieties from licensed producers, many users simply decided on cannabis based on the usual characteristics and effects of sativas and indicas.
But new research has already shown that terpenes largely influence the smell and flavor of cannabis buds, as well as amp up, lower, or change the intensity and the duration of the effects for various strains.
When considering which cannabis variety to get, it would be helpful to start narrowing down your choices and answering these questions. These are just guidelines to consider along the way in order to help you decide what you prefer, enjoy, and what you respond best to.
How do you typically want to feel?
–> Choose between indica and sativa
Are you looking more for healing and calming effects or for high?
–> Choose between medical cannabis, which is CBD-rich, and recreational cannabis, which is THC-rich
What flavors do you respond to or like?
–> Choose from among the main terpenes and secondary flavors and aromas.
Your choices should also end up answering the question on how you want to feel after using cannabis.