Marijuana and Terpenes: An Overview

Marijuana and Terpenes: An Overview

Ever wonder why Orange Kush smells so citrisy or why Blueberry actually tastes like blueberries? The unique aromas and flavors of different cannabis strains are a result of compounds known as terpenes.

Smell and taste happen to be two of the most distinctive features of many cannabis varieties, yet neither has anything to do with their cannabinoid content. As it turns out, the unique aromas and flavors of different cannabis strains are a result of compounds known as terpenes.

But terpenes are not just good at stimulating your senses. In fact, terpenes are common to many dietary plants and have been linked to a wide variety of health benefits as well.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes make up 10% of trichomes

Terpenes (also known as terpenoids) are the largest group of chemicals found in the plant kingdom and are best known for being strongly scented.

Terpenes are found in a wide variety of aromatic herbs, spices and food plants, ranging from cinnamon and ginger to eucalyptus and pine tree oils. Chlorophyll, beta-carotene, and vitamin E are all examples of well-known dietary terpenes.

Terpenes also play a role in aromatherapy, as they are the primary component of essential oils and are known to possess numerous health benefits, which is why some are even used as food additives.

The terpenes found in cannabis are important from a health perspective. Not only do they offer unique benefits on their own, but terpenes are believed to alter certain effects of cannabinoids.

What’s more, studies show that terpenes can even bind to the same receptors as cannabinoids, which makes them the only ‘dietary’ cannabinoids to ever be discovered (although cannabis can be eaten as well).

Major Terpenes in Marijuana

Besides cannabinoids, terpenes are the second most common class of compounds found in cannabis. Terpenes tend to make up only 1% of the whole plant weight, but around 10% of trichomes.

Over 200 different terpenes have been identified in the essential oils of cannabis, although some are found at much higher concentrations than others. The production of terpenes depends on a plant’s genetic make-up, meaning that different strains of cannabis are likely to have different terpene profiles.

Growing conditions – such as lighting and soil – are also believed to influence terpene production.


Myrcene (or β-myrcene) is typically the most concentrated terpene in cannabis. Myrcene is used as a sleep aid in some countries and is believed to contribute to the ‘couch-lock’ effect that is usually associated with THC.

Myrcene is widely used in the perfume industry due to its pleasant smell, but can also be found in hops preparations.

Effects of Myrcene

• Anti-inflammatory
• Sedative/hypnotic
• Analgesic (Painkiller)
• Muscle relaxant


Caryophyllene (or β-caryophyllene) is another highly concentrated terpene found in cannabis. Caryophyllene is also one of the only terpenes that is known to act on the endocannabinoid system. Research shows that caryophyllene tends to bind to CB2 receptors but not CB1 receptors, suggesting that it lacks psychoactive properties.

Caryophyllene is also found in black pepper and is believed to contribute to its spiciness.

Effects of Caryophyllene

• Anti-inflammatory
• Analgesic
• Gastrointestinal protection
• Fights malaria


α-Pinene is found in cannabis in smaller amounts but happens to be the most widely encountered terpene in nature. Research suggests that α-Pinene is good for memory and may even counteract THC’s impairment of short-term memory.

α-Pinene is found in many species of coniferous trees, including pine trees.

Effects of α-Pinene

• Anti-inflammatory
• Bronchodilator (at low levels)
• Antibiotic
• Aids memory


Limonene is another terpene present in lower concentrations, but is the second most widely encountered terpene in nature. Limonene is found in lemons and other citrus fruits.

Limonene is also a common ingredient in cosmetics as well as natural health products, most commonly for heart burn and acid reflux relief.

Effects of Limonene

• Anxiolytic (fights anxiety)
• Anti-depressant
• Anti-oxidant
• Treats acid reflux and heart burn
• Fights acne

Source: (Russo, 2011)

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