Terpenes are the secret behind the flavor and smell of cannabis, but they also play a crucial role in the feelings you experience when consuming cannabis products. While terpenes won’t make you feel high, it’s believed that they can affect your overall experience by creating a relaxing, energizing, or pain-relieving effect.
Learn about the common types of terpenes to choose the best strain for your needs.
If you're new to the world of cannabis, there’s so much to discover to get the most out of your experience. It can be a bit intimidating to talk about if you’re not familiar with all the cannabis terminology, but we’re here to clear some things up for you.
Between THC and cannabinoids, there are a lot of cannabis terms to know. You probably know the basics of cannabis, but have you heard of terpenes?
Terpenes, which can be considered the plant's essential oils, are responsible for the unique aroma and flavor profile of cannabis. Cannabis plants contain hundreds of terpenes, and each strain has its own distinct scent. But terpenes don’t just impact the aroma and flavor of cannabis – they can also influence your experience with a cannabis product.
So, what are terpenes, and how do they affect the cannabis experience? Keep reading to learn more about terpenes and the critical roles they play.
Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds found in the trichomes — the sticky glands on the surface of the buds, leaves, and stems — and can affect the plant's survival.
While they're responsible for the aroma, they also contribute to flavor, protecting the plant from predators by repelling certain insects and deterring various plant eaters. They also attract certain insects and creatures the same way flowers attract bees.
Cannabis plants have many terpenes, but some are more distinct than others. Additionally, terpene levels vary by the plant as a result of the environment, light exposure, temperature, nutrient availability, and other factors.
Historically, many terpenes were lost during the manufacturing process. However, modern techniques such as fresh frozen extractions allow for the preservation of more terpenes, resulting in the best possible experience.
Consumers can also help preserve the terpenes within their chosen products by limiting air, light, and high-temperature exposure after purchase.
The entourage effect refers to the way compounds in cannabis can work together to create a better experience. This synergy occurs when cannabinoids and terpenes are consumed together.
Emerging evidence suggests that full-spectrum cannabis may offer additional health benefits.
Everyone has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that regulates and controls various bodily functions like learning, emotional processing, sleep, pain control, and inflammatory and immune responses.
Scientists have identified cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body that control neurotransmitter activity. These receptors regulate everything from hunger to temperature and the endocannabinoids our bodies produce activate those receptors.
Unlike THC, terpenes don't produce a psychoactive effect or bind to the cannabinoid receptors in your brain, so they won't make you feel “high.” However, they may impact your consumption experience by indirectly affecting the ECS or through other paths, which could have an energizing, calming, or analgesic effect.
It's hypothesized that a terpene profile can affect how cannabis interacts with someone’s body, which is why so many people report different experiences with different strains even though THC levels are the same. Researchers believe this synergistic effect can improve absorption while minimizing side effects to improve overall experience.
As interest in the use of terpenes within clinical settings grows, the door is open for continued research and understanding.
You can think of terpenes as the essential oils of plants like cannabis, which may produce various effects after smoking or consuming.
For example, lavender essential oil from the lavender plant has been scientifically proven to affect the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for regulating mood and hormones. Using plants and scents for medicinal purposes is a centuries-old practice that may help researchers determine the efficacy of the entourage effect and terpenes.
That said, we're not quite there yet, but choosing your cannabis products based on terpene profile instead of strain may help you find your next favorite product.
So now that we’ve gone over what terpenes are and why they matter for your cannabis experience, let’s review some of the common terpenes you should know:
Myrcene is a terpene found in cannabis and other plants, such as mangos, lemongrass, and thyme. Its smell profile is earthy and musky and gives cannabis a sweet flavor profile. Recent studies have demonstrated the potential anti-inflammatory effects of Myrcene in patients with osteoarthritis.
This terpene has been used in folk medicine, with the first use recorded in India thousands of years ago. Since then, it's been used worldwide for various illnesses, such as improving sleep, reducing pain, and promoting relaxation.
Limonene is a terpene that gets its name from its citrus fragrance. It's found in lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit, so you can probably guess what it smells and tastes like. Limonene is one of the most prominent terpenes in plants.
There are several potential benefits of Limonene, with several studies examining the possible effects on the immune system by acting as an anti-inflammatory. In addition, Limonene is commonly associated with an uplifting or energizing experience.
If you like a lemony flavor, you might prefer strains like Emerald Jack or Liberty Haze. It's important to note that different strains offer different taste profiles. For example, depending on the strain, you might get a lemon or tangerine flavor profile, so limonene experiences may vary.
Pinene is commonly used in cleaning products for sterilization, but alpha-pinene is the most abundant terpene in nature, found in basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, pine, and of course, cannabis. A few strains that include higher levels of pinene include Blue Dream, Grape Ape, Pineapple Express, and Blue Haze.
Preliminary evidence suggests that pinene has anti-inflammatory effects and is toxic to some strains of bacteria. While this terpene won't get you high like THC because it doesn't bind to cannabinoid receptors, it has uplifting effects similar to what you might feel when smelling your favorite pine-scented candle.
Terpinolene is a rare terpene found in cannabis and other plants. However, cannabis typically contains lower levels of terpinolene and higher levels of other terpenes, like Myrcene. Terpinolene is multi-dimensional with a scent profile that consists of citrus, pine, and sweetness and is described as herbal and floral with a hint of pine, resulting in a fresh fragrance.
Terpinolene is used in many products, including soap and perfume, because of its scent. Yet, it's known to have a soothing effect that induces relaxation and reduces stress. You can find terpinolene in several strains of cannabis, including Jack Herer, Golden Pineapple, and Ghost Train Haze.
If you like black pepper, you might enjoy caryophyllene. Caryophyllene, also known as beta or b caryophyllene, is a common terpene in cannabis known for its spiciness. It has a strong peppery scent and is sometimes used in tea because preliminary evidence shows it may have therapeutic benefits.
Like all the terpenes on this list, more research is still needed. But individuals who use caryophyllene report a calming sedative effect.
The beta-caryophyllene is known to attach to the CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Because of this, it can be utilized to help alleviate intense cannabis effects. Chewing on a peppercorn can introduce beta-caryophyllene into the system, providing relief from these symptoms.
There are many ways to enjoy terpenes in cannabis, such as smoking in a joint or water pipe, dabbing, vaping, using them as topicals, and eating them in edibles. How you enjoy terpenes is a matter of personal preference. However, some methods are better than others.
Wondering how to make the most out of terpenes?
Choose strains based on terpene profile, store your products properly, and use the best delivery method.
Many people choose cannabis products based on THC content rather than terpene profile. However, terpenes directly affect strain, so you should consider the type of effect you're looking for.
For example, if you want a calming effect, choose a strain with Caryphyllene or Terpinolene. But if you want an uplifting or energizing experience, Limonene is a better choice.
As we've mentioned, there are many ways to consume cannabis. However, terpenes are fragile and easily destroyed through heat. Combustion in the form of smoking a joint can also instantly destroy terpenes.
On the other hand, vaporization doesn't combust or destroy terpenes. Instead, it uses precise heating to preserve the terpenes. So, vaporizers of all types, including vape pens and e-rigs, are generally better alternatives to joints because they don't destroy the volatile compounds in cannabis that can contribute to the entourage effect.
In addition to how you consume terpenes, you should consider how you store your cannabis products. Plastic can degrade terpenes and cannabinoids, so many producers use glass to seal their products. You should also keep your products in air-tight containers to prevent deterioration.
Apart from smoking flower, there are several other ways to experience terpenes, including concentrates, edibles, and topicals.
Concentrates are easily consumed via vape pen or e-rig, and edibles are available in both food and drink form.
As terpenes are essential oils, you may also benefit from using them in topicals. Note that very few cannabinoids and terpenes can absorb into the bloodstream topically, which is why they may provide only localized effects.
Terpenes are an essential aspect of the cannabis experience and are responsible for its distinct aroma, flavor, and even the overall feelings produced. Different terpenes can have different effects, so depending on whether you want to be relaxed or uplifted, you can find a strain with the terpenes that fit your desired mood.
Whether you want to smoke a vape or take an edible, there are various ways to enjoy your cannabis experience and see all that terpenes have to offer.