If you’ve ever wondered why cannabis buds of the same strain can have wildly divergent aromas and tastes, the answer is found in terpenes. But to understand how cannabis terpenes work, let’s take a closer look at these aromatic molecules, which occur naturally in many types of plants, and a few species of insects.

What Are Terpenes?

Primarily produced by plants, terpenes are organic compounds (hydrocarbons) that create a plant’s distinct scent and flavor. These organic fragrance molecules serve as the foundation for many essential oils, and are sometimes used in aromatherapy products and food additives. Plants developed terpenes to survive and flourish, as the compounds help attract pollinators and repel would-be predators like aphids and fungus. Terpenes also possess medicinal properties, and are believed to affect dopamine and serotonin production, as well as fight off infection and environmental stress. There are a number of factors including soil type, climate, maturation level, and time of harvest that can affect a plant’s terpene production. Different combinations and levels of terpenes will determine the fragrant imprint of a plant, imparting a unique aroma and taste.

What are Cannabis Terpenes?

What are terpenes in marijuana? Terpenes are responsible for the complex aroma bouquets of cannabis plants, which may take on pine, citrus, sweet berry, or earthy flavor profiles. In cannabis, terpenes are what give different strains their distinct aromatic diversity. Cannabis terpene profiles are much like fingerprints, you will never discover the exact same profile between individual plants that aren’t identical clones grown and harvested under equal conditions.

Terpenes get less attention than cannabinoids, but still play an instrumental role in the psychoactive and physiological effects of cannabis on the human body.

Terpene Profiles in Cannabis

Scientists have identified more than 120 marijuana terpenes, but only a handful of these aromatic molecules are present in levels to be truly “nose worthy.”

Of all the cannabis derived terpenes, the following are the most recognized:

  • Alpha Bisabolol: Floral flavor and aroma. Found in chamomile. Known for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Borneol: Camphor, earthy aroma. Also found in thyme and cinnamon. Helps with pain management, wound healing, and allows medications to absorb more readily.
  • Caryophyllene: Peppery, spicy and woody aroma, also found in cotton, black pepper, and hops. An effective analgesic, this terpene can help alleviate muscle spasms, pain and gastrointestinal inflammation.
  • Limonene:Citrus (orange, lemon, and lime) aroma, also found in juniper, rosemary, and peppermint. Helps to elevate mood and alleviate stress and has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. May be used to treat depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Alpha and Beta Pinene: Sharp but sweet pine aroma. Common in sage, dill, rosemary, and conifers. A natural broncho-dilator, may be used to treat asthma and is believed to increase mental alertness and help memory.
  • Delta 3 Carene: Sweet woody and piney scent, found naturally in cedar and rosemary. Research shows it is an effective anti-inflammatory and antihistamine. Has sedative properties and may help treat insomnia.
  • Myrcene:Clove, musk & earthy aroma with fruity notes. Also found in mango, menthol, lemongrass, and bay leaves. Has a relaxing effect and can be used as an antifungal, antiseptic, and antibacterial agent. Increases cell membrane permeability, augmenting the psychoactive effects of THC.
  • Linalool: Citrus, floral or sweet candy aroma. Also found in lavender, oregano, basil, and cloves. Has a sedative/calming effect, may be used for anti-anxiety, analgesic, and anti-convulsant.

The Entourage Effect of Cannabis Terpenes

Research has demonstrated that terpenes not only offer their own medicinal benefits, they also have a synergistic or antagonistic relationship with cannabinoids, acting to increase or reduce the assimilation of THC. Scientists have discovered that some terpenes essentially block cannabinoid receptor sites in the brain, while facilitating binding in others. The impact of these organic compounds on how the body processes CBD or THC has been labeled the “Entourage Effect.” This reaction helps to explain why some marijuana strains can impart a relaxing effect on one person, and feelings of paranoia or anxiety in another.

By understanding the terpene profile of a particular strain, medical marijuana patients can make more informed decisions on the medicinal effects desired.

Terpene mapping in cannabis can help indicate which strains and products will help fight insomnia, relieve anxiety, ease pain, or improve cognitive function – among other therapeutic benefits.

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Additional Cannabis Terpenes Resources:

  1. MaryJanes Diary, 11 MARIJUANA TERPENES YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT https://maryjanesdiary.com/terpenes/
  2. Alchimia, Marijuana terpenes and their effects https://www.alchimiaweb.com/blogen/marijuana-terpenes-effects/
  3. Leafly, Terpenes: The Flavors of Cannabis Aromatherapy https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/terpenes-the-flavors-of-cannabis-aromatherapy
  4. MedicalJane.com, Introduction to Terpenes https://www.medicaljane.com/category/cannabis-classroom/terpenes/#introduction-to-terpenes