What Are Terpenes and What Do They Do? | Arbors Wellness
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What Are Terpenes and What Do They Do?

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lemon hemp, medical marijuana with citrus flavor and aroma, lemon wedges with marijuana bud on yellow background.


Think about your favorite strain of cannabis: what it smells like, how it tastes, what it’s effects are. What is it that makes it unique? We know that a wide variety of cannabinoids, particularly THC, are responsible for some of the more well known psychoactive effects you experience when consuming marijuana. What makes one strain different from another if they generally share the same cannabinoids? The answer is what gives all flowering plants their fragrance: terpenes.

What are Cannabis Terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds produced by plants to aid in their lifecycle. These compounds help the plant to attract pollinators, repel pests, and are responsible for the plant’s smell, taste, and pigmentation. Along with cannabinoids, cannabis plants produce a diversity of terpenes which all have their individual smells, tastes, and effects. While there are a great number of terpenes found in cannabis, there are a few in particular that are more common than others that we will focus on.


One of the most aptly named terpenes, pinene is the most widely encountered terpene in nature as it is found in conifers in large quantities and smells of pine. While pinene is common in cannabis, it is also found in dill, parsley, and rosemary. Pinene has been found to have antitumor, antimicrobial, antimalarial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties (Salehi et al). It has also been said to “aid memory and minimize cognitive dysfunction induced by THC intoxication”. Strains with high concentrations of pinene include Bubba Kush, Chemdawg, 9lb Hammer, and various Cookies strains.


Cannabis terpenes concept with Marijuana bud lemons grapefruit leafs and pine cones The most abundant terpene found in cannabis, myrcene is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Found in mango, thyme, lemongrass and hops, it’s recognizable by its earthy musk with slight citrus hints. Though some report myrcene to be sedative, this has not been fully verified. It has been known to “protect the brain, heart, and skin tissues from inflammation and oxidative damage”. Some common strains that contain myrcene are White Widow, Blue Dream, Agent Orange, and Fire Alien Kush.


You can tell by its name alone that limonene is found in orange peels and in the rinds of other fruits giving them their citrus bouquet. It’s established that limonene “boosts up the level of serotonin and dopamine thereby inducing the anxiolytic, anti-stress, and sedative effects” (Sommano et al). This makes limonene a fantastic antidepressant which may also increase the duration of sleep (Nuutinen). Strains that have an abundance of limonene are Super Lemon Haze, Jack the Ripper, and Green Crack.


Also found abundantly in hops and wood, humulene has the aroma of a woody, herbal spice that gives beer its distinctive scent. This terpene has been shown to have fantastic anti-inflammatory properties, particularly those caused by the onset of allergic reactions. Some studies have suggested its anticancer properties by inducing apoptosis in certain cancer cells. A few strains that commonly contain humulene are Deathstar, Girl Scout, and Headband.


With a smell reminiscent of floral-citrusy candy, linalool can be found naturally in lavender and birch bark. Studies suggest that this terpene has antidepressant and anti-anxiety qualities by “interacting with the 5HT1A receptors of the serotonergic pathway. Serotonins are important in the fact that their release and re-uptake levels can be altered to overcome stress.” Popular strains that tend to have linalool in them are Amnesia Haze, LA Confidential, 9lb Hammer, and Sour Diesel.


Caryophyllene is recognizable by its spicy, peppery smell and is found in black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. It’s the only terpene found in cannabis that binds to CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. This makes it one of the best medicinal terpenes as it possesses “gastroprotective, analgesic, anti cancerogenic, antifungal, antibacterial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects” (Sommano et al). Some strains that contain this terpene are Gorilla Glue #4, Pineapple Express, and Sour Diesel.

Many people refer to the combination of prevalent terpenes in a given strain as the “terpene profile” of that flower. While most cannabis producers aren’t testing their flower for terpene profiles regularly at this time, you can already find a few that are providing the information. Cartridges and concentrate in particular will sometimes come with information on which terpenes they contain more than trace amounts of. However, until terpene testing becomes commonly available at your local provisioning center, your best bet may be to research available strains ahead of time.


For a full menu of terpene-rich products check out our online cannabis menu.