You’ve likely already read about CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis that’s used to treat everything from anxiety and insomnia to epilepsy. However, there’s another, shall we say, more pungent component to cannabis that’s generating buzz for the canna-curious—terpenes.
What is terpene?
Touted as the “essential oils” of cannabis, terpenes are aromatic, organic compounds that give different strains their signature scents. More than 120 terpenes have been identified in cannabis strands so far, and just like a fingerprint, each strain has its own unique terpene profile.
Some of the most common cannabis terpenes are myrcene, linalool, pinene, limonene, humelene, and caryophyllene. You’ll find these in other plants, too. For example, pinene present pine needles, linalool is found in lavender, and limonene is associated with—you guessed it—lemons.
Know your terpenes:
- Myrcene: Fruity - found in mangoes, thyme and lemongrass - relaxing
- Pinene: Tropical - found in pineapples, pine needles and dill - energizing,
- Caryophyllene: Peppery - found in cloves, cinnamon and rosemary - stress relief
- Linalool: Floral - found in lavender - calming
- Limonene: Citrusy - found in most citrus fruit peels, like lemon and lime - mood elevating
- Humulene: Woody - found in coriander, hops and basil - anti-inflammatory
- Ocimene: Herbal - found in mint, orchids and parsley - uplifting
- Terpinolene: Smoky+fresh - found in apples, cumin and conifers - sedating
What’s your flavor?
Unlike CBDs, we’re only now beginning to understand the specific medicinal effects of terpenes, but some non-cannabis research suggests they could have long-term anti-inflammatory effects. Similar to essential oils, terpenes are believed to have therapeutic uses as well; linalool is thought to be calming, where pinene and limonene may have more energizing properties.
It’s not just about how you want to feel, but which flavours you like best. A great way to think about cannabis terpenes is how you taste flavour profiles in wine. A crisp, California chardonnay might have citrusy scent with woody notes, while a French Merlot might have dark plum and chocolate. One cannabis strain might be more earthy, fruity or zesty, depending on its terpenes and how they combine together.
Indeed, strains are often named after their terpene’s pleasant smell, like Blueberry (myrcene), Pineapple (pinene), and Dutch Treat (terpinolene). Famous for its skunky, tangy scent, Sour Diesel gets its unusual aroma through a combination of myrene, limonene and caryophyllene.
Terpenoids and the Entourage Effect
Though “terpenes” and “terpenoids” are often used interchangeably, chemically they’re a bit different. Drying and curing cannabis flower turns terpenes turn into terpenoids, changing the structure of the molecules. It can also affect the way they taste.
Terpenes and terpenoids play into the “Entourage Effect,” a term that explains how all the components of cannabis (the major ones being terpenes, THC and CBDs) combine and play off each other to alter its effects. Some research suggests terpenes can help THC and CBD pass into the bloodstream more easily, which means they could have a huge influence on the Entourage Effect and how you experience a high.
Keep in mind that different terpenes will vaporize at different temperatures and can be damaged if heated past their boiling point. For the canna connoisseur, terpenes are best enjoyed with a ‘low-heat’ device such as a vaporizer.