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Understanding Terpenes

How much do you know about terpenes? Terpenes are found in ALL plants, including cannabis. Terpenes are aromatic molecules produced from the resin of plants. Along with flavonoids, they are the scents/tastes of plants. Different cannabis strains have their own terpene combinations, creating a unique smell. Cannabinoids, however, do not produce scents.

Terpenes provide several vital plant functions. Some plants use their terpenes defensively to keep away predators. Some kill their predators. Many plants use terpenes to attract pollinating insects, helping them reproduce. Some plants release them due to stress (even plants stress!).

But what about cannabis?

Cannabis terpenes are not only responsible for the plant’s smell, but also the taste. But terpenes deliver so much more than smells and flavors.

A study done by Dr. Ethan Russo, MD, the Director of Research and Development at International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute and a Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals, reveals they offer “complementary pharmacological activities that may strengthen and broaden clinical applications and improve the therapeutic index of cannabis extracts.” This means terpenes have synergistic effects when combined with cannabinoids and other terpenes.

Terpenes have shown to help treat bacterial and fungal infections, reduce chronic pain, anxiety, and depression, as well as many other conditions.

They also behave similarly to some cannabinoids. In fact, terpenes are responsible for the amount of THC that binds to cannabinoid receptors in our body. Cannabinoids and terpenes together produce a strong synergy. This improves the absorption of both, known as the “Entourage Effect”.

7 common terpenes found in cannabis:


Limonene unsurprisingly gives off a citrus aroma. Found in strains such as Super Lemon Haze, Chernobyl, and Tangie. Limonene is also used in many cosmetic & cleaning products. Research supports limonene can boost the immune system and may reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

It shows powerful antioxidant properties and may reduce the incidence/aid in the treatment of some cancers. Limonene’s benefits include pain and heartburn relief, skin repair, and reducing inflammation in the gut. It contains antifungal and antibacterial properties, indicating it may aid in cold or flu recovery.


A study conducted on mice showed the potential of beta-caryophyllene as a treatment for anxiety and depression. The study suggests beta-caryophyllene has beneficial pharmacological effects over existing benzodiazepines and SSRIs. It demonstrates that this terpene is effective in producing anxiolytic and antidepressant effects. The research also shows the CB2 receptor impacts the modulation of emotional behavior. This makes it a possible option for anxiety and depression.


Linalool produces a floral, at times spicy aroma. People often use linalool to help reduce stress, inflammation, depression, & anxiety. One of the most universally-loved terpenes for stress relief, it acts as a sedative, anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, anti-microbial, & analgesic. It’s found in 200 types of plants, including lavender, lemon, mint, & coriander. 

A study monitored lab rats exposed to a stressful condition while simultaneously inhaling linalool. Results showed mice exposed to linalool vapors spent more time in fearful situations. They continued to work to escape the situation instead of submitting to the stress.

A study done in 2016 supports linalool as an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s. After administering to mice with Alzheimer’s, it reversed many associated cognitive impairments associated. It also reduced brain plaques and cellular damage contributing to brain degeneration.

Research has discovered that linalool may also help opioid addiction. It’s anti-inflammatory which helps those of us with arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, & other inflammation-related conditions.


Humulene is also known as a-caryophyllene. One of the most popular strains high in humulene is Gorilla Glue. Studies show humulene to act as an anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-bacterial, appetite suppressant, and insecticidal. Humulene is also the terpene that gives beer its famous “hoppy” aroma!


Myrcene is found in mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass, and basil. Users of this strain usually get a sedative, “couch-lock” feeling. Since myrcene is found in mangoes, evidence suggests eating a mango prior to consuming CBD might extend the effects through synergy. Myrcene benefits include antibiotic, analgesic, & anti-inflammatory.


Pinene is in pine needles, turpentine, orange peels, dill, basil, & rosemary. It was originally developed as a defense mechanism to ward off predators, but also attracts pollinators.

Pinene’s known benefits include: promoting alertness, anti-inflammatory properties, & boosting memory (can counter short term memory loss from THC). Research reveals that pinene’s anti-inflammatory properties can help ease symptoms of osteoarthritis. It also acts as a bronchodilator , easing asthma symptoms, aids in respiratory health, and protects the body from viruses like bronchitis.

Pinene has a strong, earthy aroma, so once you recognize it, recognize which cannabis strains contain high amounts of it. Some strains include Jack Herer, Dutch Treat, Blue Dream, Romulan, Strawberry Cough, OG Kush, and Island Sweet Skunk.


Caryophyllene is found in cloves, cinnamon leaves, Thai basils, and black pepper. It has a woody, spicy aroma. Research shows caryophyllene binds to the CB2 receptor and is a CB2 agonist .

There are many, many other terpenes! Some include terpinolene, camphene, terpineol, phellandrene, carene, pulegone sabinene, and geraniol. Understanding how terpenes work opens a whole new door for cannabis products & our health.