More than just aroma, these terpenes have therapeutic effects when combined with cannabinoids, but we will get more into that further in.
As of right now, research has found more than 200 different terpenes in cannabis; each strain has its own unique terpene profile, and while the differences are subtle, there has been a fair amount of progress in classifying what terpenes exist and more broadly, how their bitter, spicy, sweet, and sour notes relate to the effects of the plant when consumed.
So what exactly are these terpenes?
To understand this a bit more, we need to define "trichomes" as well. Trichomes are the tiny hairs on the buds of cannabis plants which secrete cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis, and cannabidiol (CBD).
Interestingly enough, terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis. Most of the primary terpenes we'll describe further in this article are found in herbs, fruits, and other plants. Terpenes exist to repel predators from the plant, protect it from stressors in the environment, and attract suitable pollinators.
There are common terpenes you may already be familiar with
Terpenes are much more than just their complex flavor and aromas. They play an essential role in how cannabis affects us in different ways.
Ever since Raphael Mechoulam isolated THC for the first time in 1964 during his cannabis research, scientists have been fascinated by its effects on the human body, and have since performed deeper analysis into other cannabinoids like CBD, for example.
Scientists have discovered a synergistic partnership between cannabinoids and terpenes.
How does this partnership work?
The Entourage Effect
Just like cannabinoids, terpenes also interact with receptors in the body called "endocannabinoid receptors." When certain cannabinoids are combined with specific terpenes, there are different effects. This varies widely from terpene to terpene, but the most important thing to know about this synergy is how terpenes can moderate our body's interactions with cannabinoids.
When terpenes and cannabinoids work together in synergy, we call this the "entourage effect" where each component's effects are compounded and stacked as they are combined.
There are many terpenes out there. Let's look into the most common terpenes found in cannabis, referred to as "Primary Terpenes."
αPinene & βPinene
alpha Pinene Scent: sharp, piney
Effects: anti-inflammatory, promotes alertness, counters short-term memory loss, improves airflow to lungs, local antiseptic
Commonly found in: conifer trees, orange peels, pine needles, rosemary, turpentine
This one should sound familiar. Need a hint? Pinene is primarily found in pine trees but is also in other conifers. Pinene has two different types, alpha-Pinene, the most common terpene in nature and beta-Pinene.
Scent: light and floral, spice
Effects: calming, sedative, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antipsychotic, combats anxiety.
Commonly found in: lavender, coriander, birch, rosewood
Linalool is common in lavender and has a light and floral aroma to it. It has characteristics known to help in reducing stress and provides welcome relief to those suffering from psychosis.
Scent: musky, herbal
Effects: antibiotic, analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic
Commonly found in: mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass
Myrcene is thought to be one of the most common terpenes in cannabis. It is crucial when determining whether a cannabis strain is indica or sativa.
Effects: elevated mood, stress relief, antifungal, antibacterial, a natural insecticide
Commonly found in: citrus rinds, juniper, peppermint
Limonene is found in... you guessed it, LEMONS! Common in citrus fruit rinds, it also gives a citrusy smell and is commonly used as an additive to cleaning supplies and cosmetics as a fragrance.
Scent: fragrant, herbal
Effects: antifungal, decongestant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory
Commonly found in: mint, pepper, basil, orchids, bergamot, hops
Ocimene is an earthy yet sweet citrusy terpene that is found in cannabis as well as bergamot, hops, and lavender.
Scent: floral, herbal, sweet,
Effects: antioxidant, sedative, antibacterial, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant
Commonly found in: apples, nutmeg, tea tree, conifers
Terpinolene is a sweet floral-scented terpene with properties able to help treat cancer symptoms.
Scent: floral, piney
Effects: antioxidant, sedative, anti-inflammatory, stress relief, elevated mood
Commonly found in: lilacs, pine trees, lime blossoms, eucalyptus sap
Terpineol can be described as a pleasant earthy and floral-scented terpene which is known to enhance mood and relieve stress among other effects.
A study has determined the most effective terpenes by strain, based on selections by medical cannabis patients. Below is a graph of the results of this study.
From looking at the graph, based on the most common terpenes in our list, the most effective strains contain Myrcene, but as you can see, there are many terpenes within cannabis. Check out the study for yourself to learn more about how terpenes and cannabis interact.
Terpenes are what give nature its aromas and flavors. They help our ECS response and are known to bind with cannabinoids to provide healing properties for a wide array of ailments and conditions.