What Are Terpenes & Why Do We Love Them (with Examples)
What are terpenes, and why do they matter? Essentially, terpenes are volatile, organic chemical compounds that reside in plants and some animals (butterflies and termites). As a part of the plant, their function is to deter predators or entice pollination.
But, what’s in it for humans?
Well, terpenes are responsible for the pleasant, distinctive smell of buds. Moreover, their origin, concentration, and cooperation with other substances are responsible for our overall experience and cannabis’s beneficial impact.
However, there is more to terpenes than the smell. We’ll give you the complete picture, so the next time you are having second thoughts about using cannabis, you’ll be able to pick the most satisfactory terpenes for yourself.
Our readers that were extra attentive in Chemistry class know that terpenes result from a reaction between acetic acid (CH3COOH) and mevalonic acid (C6H12O4), which are then converted into isopentenyl pyrophosphate.
The latter evolves into a 5-carbon-atom isoprene skeleton, which yields different types of terpenes (monoterpenes, hemiterpenes, triterpenes). To sum up, all natural compounds coming from isoprene subunits are defined as terpenes.
For those of you who are more into real-life examples, terpenes meaning can be explained as a natural volatile substance which is the main reason why lavender, pine trees, roses, sage, cannabis, and plenty of other species have the unique scent or tastes.
Remember that terpenes and terpenoids are not the same things, even though some studies and articles use them interchangeably. You should know that terpenoids are compounds made in oxidative processes from terpenes.
Cannabis and Terpenes
What are terpenes in weed? As aromatic molecules of cannabis, terpenes are located in the resins of the cannabis flower. They are responsible for the distinctive smell and taste that differentiates strains.
There are over 150 terpenes in cannabis. They were classified for the first time in the 1800s. Most cannabis strains contain 1–3% terpenes.
Now, let’s see how they work and why they are considered a hot topic for the cannabis community and scientific research.
What Happens in Our Bodies with Terpenes
What do terpenes do exactly and how do they behave? Terpenes are very interesting because they act like cannabinoids, which are extremely important for how cannabis affects our bodies. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis flowers, such as THC and CBD. They can bind to our brain via receptors.
Interestingly enough, those receptors are an intricate part of our endocannabinoid system (ECS). Notice the similarity in the terms? Terpenes, too, can connect with ECS, the system responsible for our primary functions.
That said, terpenes can also contribute to the “entourage effect.”
What are terpenes without the entourage effect? It’s hard to say, as this synergistic effect makes terpenes from cannabis so praise-worthy.
This effect refers to the joined reaction of all cannabis compounds: cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes, and fatty acids. Even though this may seem like a reaction between just four components, it is much more than that.
The number of agents reacting isn’t the only reason this effect is so potent. Terpenes also interact well with one another. In addition, terpene substances are said to defy THC’s intoxicating impact.
The entourage effect is a very complex chemical reaction whose outcomes are irreplaceable.
What Are Terpenes Used For Today?
Terpenes can be used as:
- Medicine — Some terpenes, like curcumin, are used as natural medicines due to their therapeutic (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, digestive, etc.) properties
- Scents — You can add them into fragrances and other body products (creams, lotions, perfumes)
- Food additives
Regarding marijuana, they are mainly used to enhance cannabinoid effects by providing a better experience to users, minus the tedious side effects.
In addition to that, if you want to know how to use terpenes, first determine why you wish to use them. Would you simply like to enhance the experience with the aroma or flavor you prefer, or would you like to focus on the health benefits of terpenes?
You can consume them, inhale (smoke or vape), and apply them topically. According to the FDA, terpenes are safe for consumption — hence why they are often used as a food flavoring additive.
Regardless, you should never swallow certain concentrated terpenes without the appropriate dilution.
Advantages of Using Terpenes
Terpenes’ benefits abound. Since some terpenes work together with cannabinoids, when used as tinctures, they can:
- Soothe irritation and redness of the skin
- Provide anti-inflammatory pain relief
- Reduce swelling in joints and muscles
When inhaled (smoked or vaped), they can:
- Provide anti-anxiety effects
- Improve respiration
- Soothe and protect digestion
When orally consumed, they can:
- Help with digestive issues
- Help with sleeping problems
Remember that we still don’t have enough information about the specific terpenes’ uses or the best way to consume cannabis-derived terpenes since all research is in its early phase.
Our knowledge is mainly based on anecdotal evidence and preliminary studies. For example, one preliminary study reports that certain terpenes can be beneficial for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders.
How Do Terpenes Make You Feel?
Although most terpenes won’t provide you with that “high” feeling, some of them are psychoactive and will affect your brain. In other words, different terpenes will interact with different brain receptors, providing different effects.
Some will even affect more than one part of your brain. Therefore it’s essential to know how to differentiate them.
- Uplifting or euphoric terpenes (like limonene and ocimene) will make you feel energized and happy.
- Focus-enhancing terpenes (like pinene and beta-caryophyllene) will help you concentrate.
- Calming terpenes (like myrcene) will provide soothing effects.
A Short List of Terpenes & Popular Strains
We already mentioned that there are over 150 terpenes in cannabis. Here is a brief overview of the most important ones:
Also found in lemongrass, mango
Aroma: earthy, musky notes, similar to cloves
Best for sleep disorders and pain and bodily discomfort
Popular strains: OG Kush, Blue Dream
Myrcene is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis (e.g., a strain can have more than 50% of the essential oil).
Myrcene is known to aid the quicker absorption of other terpenes into our bodies. It can induce the highest saturation level of the CB1 receptor, thus making it one of the best terpenes for achieving a strong psychoactive effect.
When mixed with CBD, it’s excellent in treating sleep disorders (like insomnia) and pain.
Fun fact: Since myrcene is an ingredient of citruses, it’s advisable to eat a ripe mango before smoking marijuana to intensify its psychoactive effects!
Also found in rosemary, pine needles
Aroma: pine or Christmas tree
Best for opening our airways and bronchial passages
Popular strains: Cannatonic, Grape Ape
Pinene can also help us lower the effect of THC on our body and mind. As the name suggests, it is found in pine woods and has the corresponding aroma. You can find pinene on the terpenes cannabinoids chart under the Pn sign.
It is very reactive with other terpenes and is an excellent antiseptic. Therefore, it can help prevent infections. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, it has a beneficial impact on our respiratory system.
Also found in juniper, lemon rind
Aroma: fruity, citrus scent
Best for heartburn and gastric reflux
Popular strains: Berry White, Quantum Kush
If you want to know how do terpenes affect the body, check this out. Limonene is absorbed very quickly into our bloodstream. Some of its most important traits are antifungal and antibacterial functions, which are helpful against many infectious diseases.
In addition to that, based on one study, limonene can help with heartburn and gastric reflux. Terpenes oil, and similar products made with this variety, seem to help with weight loss as they reduce appetite.
Also found in lavender, birch bark
Aroma: floral, spicy, or woody
Best for anxiety and depression
Popular strains: Amnesia Haze, LA Confidential
Doesn’t the name remind you of something? That’s right, lavender is its aroma, so linalool can make us unwind and cool down. What are linalool terpenes good for?
First of all, heavy tobacco smokers could reduce lung inflammation by using linalool, indicating that terpene reduces the adverse effects of smoking marijuana.
Secondly, linalool restores cognitive and emotional functions (very interesting for Alzheimer’s patients), boosts our immune system, and is crucial for vitamin E formation.
And lastly, various studies show us that linalool can reduce anxiety and depression-like behaviors.
Also found in lavender, birch bark
Aroma: musky, earthy scent
Best for skin conditions
Popular strains: Mendocino Purps, Ghost OG
Next on our list of terpenes, we have camphene used to treat bacterial and fungal infections. Camphene is an excellent natural remedy for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
According to one study, camphene could also prove invaluable in treating cardiovascular diseases.
Conventional drugs can cause liver damage and intestinal problems, so camphene terpenes in cannabis would be a safer option for reducing plasma cholesterol.
Also found in black pepper, cinnamon
Aroma: spicy and peppery
Best for chronic and neuropathic pain
Popular strains: Death Star, Skywalker
Famous for its original, spicy aroma, it’s often used in the chewing gum industry.
Caryophyllene is one of the best terpenes on our list, thanks to its powerful connection with the endocannabinoid system (CBD2). It has a lot of potential for fighting cancer, arthritis, and chronic and neuropathic pain.
Some studies even show it can be used to treat alcohol addiction.
Also found in hops, orange orchards
Aroma: earthy, woody, and spicy
Best for suppressing appetite
Popular strains: White Widow, Headband
If you like the smell of beer, then humulene will appeal to you. Apart from cannabis, it’s found in hops, orange orchards, tobacco, and Vietnamese coriander.
Humulene is one of the most commonly used terpenes in CBD (full-spectrum) products. It has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and tumor-suppressing features. On top of that, it’s used in weight loss treatments.
Also found in mint, parsley
Aroma: sweet and herbaceous
Best for clearing the upper respiratory tract
Popular strains: Clementine, Dream Queen
Ocimene has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. It can help with the treatment of Candidiasis and Athlete’s foot. This terpene is also a decongestant, which can clear nasal passages and expel mucus.
Some studies show that ocimene helps treat the symptoms of diabetes.
Also found in cumin, lilacs
Aroma: floral and herbaceous
Best for anxiety and sleep disorders
Popular strains: Dutch Treat, XJ-13
This is one of the best terpenes that provide calming and soothing effects. In other words, due to its sedative properties, terpinolene will calm your nervous system and improve your sleep quality, especially when combined with CBD and THC.
In the form of essential oil, terpinolene provides antibacterial and antifungal properties. It has the potential to reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Also found in ginger, rosemary
Aroma: herbal balsam scent
Best for reducing fever symptoms
Popular strains: Amnesia Haze, Golden Haze
If you want to know what is the use of terpenes when it comes to respiratory illnesses, look no further than borneol. It has been used in Chinese medicine for decades to treat respiratory issues.
Today it’s used as an analgesic and a digestive aid. It can also lower fever symptoms and improve blood circulation.
When used topically, borneol can reduce pain. Apparently, it can enhance the therapeutic effects of particular drugs.
Also found in green tea and matcha
Aroma: grassy scent
Best for reducing inflammation and pain
Popular strains: Sour Diesel, Cheese
Phytol is the last compound on our list of terpenes. It’s known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and sedative properties. In short, it can reduce pain, inflammation, and anxiety.
Phytol is also an antitumor agent. Based on the studies, it can help treat liver and breast cancer.
Cannabis Sativa vs Indica Terpenes
Now it’s time to learn how to differentiate between Sativa and Indica terpenes.
The main difference between Sativa and Indica terpenes lies in their effects. Sativa has a higher concentration of terpenes, which will provide an uplifting and euphoric experience, while Indica strains are known for their soothing effects.
Another difference between Indica and Sativa is their legal status.
Both cannabis species used to be illegal under federal law. However, that changed in December 2018 with the signing of the Farm Bill, when hemp and hemp terpenes were declared to be safe for human use.
What Are Hemp Terpenes?
Regarding the extraction process, terpenes can be cannabis-derived or hemp-derived. Hemp produces lower levels of terpenes, which means that you’ll need to use more material to produce the desired quantity.
Next, hemp terpenes need more biomass which interferes with their taste. Not to mention that hemp’s original grassy and earthy scent is difficult to alter.
What Are Cannabis Terpenes?
Cannabis has more terpenes than hemp. To produce cannabis-derived terpenes, you’ll need to use less material, which will result in a higher-quality product. Plus, cannabis-derived terpenes are extremely popular for their wide variety of scents, aromas, and effects, for that matter.
Keep in mind that marijuana terpenes are not FDA approved.
If you wonder what terpenes you should go for, our recommendation is marijuana, weed, or cannabis terpenes. They are more efficient and possibly more pleasant to consume.
Also, don’t forget that these three refer to the same species of marijuana — cannabis Indica.
Terpenes vs Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in hemp and cannabis plants, while terpenes are aromatic chemical compounds that give the plant its taste and scent.
Cannabinoids and terpenes have a similar chemical structure since they are secreted from the resin glands. When used together, they will produce the entourage effect. This synergy of cannabinoids and terpenes will result in more potent effects.
Simply put, CBD terpenes’ benefits basically determine the product’s overall strength and sensation.
For example, if you add uplifting or euphoric terpenes (limonene or ocimene) to your favorite full-spectrum CBD oil, you will feel even more energized.
The same goes for adding calming terpenes (like myrcene) to CBD products. They will provide even more relaxing, sleep-inducing effects.
This is why so many brands add certain terpenes into their CBD products.
The Bottom Line
As an intricate part of marijuana, terpenes have many actions. They react with each other and the substances around them in great synergy known as the entourage effect. As a result, we can feel the benefits of cannabis to a more considerable extent.
Research has shown that if most cannabis ingredients are retained in CBD oil and other products, our body reacts better to the treatment.
Are terpenes legal or not?
Yes and no. If terpene is derived from anything else but an illegal substance, it is considered legal. Unfortunately, cannabis Indica, aka marijuana/weed, is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, making its terpenes illegal under federal law.
Many other natural terpenes are FDA approved, though.
Can I buy terpenes separately?
Yes, you can. For example, True Terpenes offers terpenes for sale, arranged according to their flavors. Nevertheless, always check that the company complies with the highest consumer safety standards.
Are terpenes bad for you?
No, if you know how to use them. Terpenes have many medical benefits, especially when combined with cannabinoids. Their effects will depend on the consumption method.
For example, limonene and pinene are bioavailable when inhaled. Linalool can control how THC and other cannabinoids are metabolized by our liver if orally consumed.
Likewise, orally consumed myrcene can help us with digestive problems, while caryophyllene, when applied topically, can reduce skin itching.
A word of caution, don’t swallow certain concentrated terpenes without the appropriate dilution.
Does live resin make you high?
Yes, it does. However, the intensity will depend on the form of resin. Hash and rosin contain higher amounts of THC, causing a more potent high. Smoking reclaimed resin will result in a weaker high.
Do terpenes get you high?
No. Terpenes can’t get you high. THC gets you high, and terpenes don’t contain traces of THC. The misconception probably comes from certain terpenes (such as pinene) that can intensify or decrease the THC potency through synergistic effects.
Furthermore, some terpenes (like caryophyllene) can interact with the receptors in our brain, resulting in dizziness, but not high.
What are terpenes doing is enhancing CBD’s effects without getting us high.