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What are Terpenes and How do They Work?

The Science of Cannabis  |  min read  |  March 13, 2018

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Terpenes are flavorful and aromatic compounds that give all plants their unique smell and taste.

Cannabis is made up of over 100 compounds called cannabinoids. Each of these compounds has various therapeutic effects on the body and mind. All strains contain a combination of cannabinoids and terpenes that determine how each plant might individually affect you. When these cannabinoids enter the body, they bind to the receptors in our endocannabinoid system that create a host of healing benefits and bring the body back into balance. The endocannabinoid system helps regulate most major systems, functions, and responses of the body including pain, appetite, memory, mood, the immune system, the gastrointestinal system, and inflammation.

Terpenes are non-psychoactive aromatic flavonoids that are secreted from the hair-like trichomes of cannabis and give each strain a unique bouquet and taste. Terpenes are found throughout nature. For example, the terpene, limonene, gives citrus fruits their distinct smell and taste, is also found in many cannabis strains providing the same citrusy aromatics. Terpenes work harmoniously with cannabinoids and add to the individual therapeutic benefits of each strain. Not all products are labeled and tested for terpene levels yet; however, if you can get the terpene profile it can help even more to narrow down the strain that will work best for your specific needs. The process of cannabis extraction separates the terpenes from the cannabis extract so when consuming an extracted or infused product, look for producers that add the terpenes back in towards the end of the extraction process so you can reap the full benefits of the whole cannabis plant.

The Entourage Effect

The “entourage effect” is a term coined by Prof. Raphael Mechoulam, known as the “Father of Cannabis,” who discovered the interactive synergy of the full spectrum of therapeutic cannabinoid compounds. They all work harmoniously together to stimulate healing and maximize the benefits of each individual cannabinoid and terpene in the cannabis plant. They have been found to work more effectively when consumed together from the whole plant than isolated as a single extract. The presence of multiple cannabinoids and terpenes in a strain or product will provide the most significant therapeutic value. Only small amounts need be present of a single cannabinoid to derive this boost in effect. Cannabis naturally provides whole plant medicine that works with our endocannabinoid system to strengthen, balance, and heal our whole body.


Humulene smells of hops, craft beer, and fresh-cut wood. Highly effective in treating systemic inflammation and destroying cancer cells. It can also suppress appetite and promote weight loss. It has been used in Chinese medicine as a common remedy for many applications for thousands of years.

Guaiol is an alcohol found in the oil of guaiacum, cypress pine, and cannabis. It smells and tastes like roses, spring, and the woods. It is a natural insecticide and can be effective in killing dust mites and similar allergens. It provides anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects.

Pinene has a strong smell of pine, turpentine, and the forest. It is a bronchodilator—capable of improving airflow and respiration in the lungs. Strains high in pinene exhibit neurobiological properties that help prevent memory loss. Pinene is also known to be a potent natural broad-spectrum antibiotic, especially for hard to treat bacterial infections.

Ocimene has an inviting sweet aroma that is fruity, floral and has a taste of fresh herbs, vegetables, and wood. It is frequently added to perfumes because of its pleasant smell. It exhibits powerful antiviral and anti-fungal properties and, like most terpenes, is a strong anti-inflammatory.

Myrcene has an earthy, musky smell with notes of tropical fruit and clove. The amount of myrcene in a strain dictates whether it will have a sedative or energizing effect. More than 0.5% and it will be uplifting, less than 0.5% and it will produce relaxation and sleep. It is a strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic and helps diminish depression and anxiety. It can help fight infections and slow the proliferation of cancer cells.

Caryophyllene is most prevalent in black pepper. In cannabis, it has a woodsy aroma of spices, pepper, and clove. It can soothe aching joints and muscles from aging or acute injury and protects the cells lining the digestive tract. It is the only terpene that directly binds to the CB2 receptor, creating anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.

Limonene is found on the rinds of citrus fruit and in cannabis, it smells bright and fresh like lemon. Studies have shown that it increases serotonin and dopamine production in the brain making it a strong antidepressant, and a mood enhancer. It is effective for acid reflux and acne. Topically, it can provide anti-fungal protection.

Linalool smells distinctly of lavender and floral tea or spices. It is abundant in the lavender plant and has been used for centuries to reduce anxiety and create calm. It is a powerful sleep aid and nerve tonic, while also providing analgesic and anti-convulsant effects. It can help to relieve skin issues without scarring and act as a natural sanitizer or local anesthetic.


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