What is Terpenes and What is the Benefit?

Although the only component of cannabis that garnered much attention at the onset was the cannabinoids, another component of the plant is beginning to show that's its usefulness to the plant could rival that of its cannabinoid counterparts. Those who are conversant with the cannabis species would have come across the terms terpenes on one or two occasions. Both cannabinoids and terpenes are chemical compounds that can be found in cannabis. But they are not the same thing. While it is true that cannabinoids affect the mind and psychological being, terpenes could be said to be responsible for the aroma of the cannabis species due to the aromatic nature of the terpenes. Moreover, outside cannabis, terpenes are also found in other plant and even animal species. More and more producers or growers of the plant are beginning to appreciate terpenes more and more because of the good smell and taste they add to the plant and their extracts. During the course of this article, we will discuss not only terpenes as components of the cannabis plant but also the medicinal effects of terpenes. 

What are Terpenes? 

By way of definition, terpenes could be a chemical molecule found in the cannabis plant that is not psychoactive in nature. So, they are not part of the components of the plant that induce the feeling of euphoria or "highness" in users of the plant flowers or its extracts. Instead, terpenes present in marijuana are responsible for its flavor and taste. So with adequate knowledge of the terpene constituent of a product, one could influence the resulting taste and aroma of said product. Although many people use the terms terpenes and terpenoids interchangeably, they are not exactly the same. While terpenes are hydrocarbons, terpenoids have been denatured by the process of oxidation (hence the flowers are dried and curled up at this point). Because they are responsible for smell and taste does not mean that they are decorative components. Some terpenes have significant effects on alleviating various symptoms.

Terpenes are produced or synthesized in the secretory cells of the plant located within the glandular trichomes. The presence of light increases its production. Unfertilized female cannabis flowers have the highest naturally occurring amount of terpenes (before they undergo the process of senescence (aging). Due to their aromatic or volatile nature, they are obtained or extracted from the plant sample through the process of steam distillation due to their thermolabile nature. This means that if heat is applied past a certain point, the terpene content of the product would be damaged.

Types of Terpenes

We have two major types of terpenes that are essential to our discussion. The first type is the typical cannabis terpenes. The other kind is hemp terpenes. You might not know that hemp and cannabis are different, but they are in terms of their oil content and terpenes. The hemp terpenes are gotten from the hemp plant, while the cannabis terpenes are obtained from marijuana. While they are both of the same plant species, hemp has a lower medical significance when compared to marijuana. This is because of the low amount of cannabinoids in hemp. So if you are aiming to purchase cannabis CBD oil, do not purchase hemp CBD oil as they are not the same thing. The amount of CBD present in hemp CBD oil is not as much as its counterpart cannabis CBD oil. Moreover, cannabis oil is more regulated and healthier than hemp oil.  So we will be focusing on terpenes of cannabis origin for the purpose of this article.

Cannabis terpenes

Similar to other cannabinoids, these also bind to the receptors of the brain to induce varying effects. These terpenes also act by combining with their cannabinoid components to give a number of effects. While some terpenes could act to increase the degree of your "high," others can cancel out the effect. So depending on the species, the terpene present would be different and would tend to have an entourage effect with the cannabinoid predominantly present in that particular species. But this does not mean that you should go around trusting your sense of smell and taste when determining the effect of terpenes present in a specific species. Lab-tested products are more trustworthy than that. 

How to Use Terpenes

There are six major types of cannabis terpenes, and they all have their unique uses. They are

  1. Myrcene: these have a boiling point of about 168ᵒC and has an aroma similar to musk, clove and even citrus. It usually accounts for more than half of the terpene content of the cannabis plant. It has an effect of complimenting THC (entourage effect). Hence, it leads to a longer and faster "high" or in more scientific terms; it increases the psychoactivity of THC. It has sedating and relaxing effects.

Additionally, it has anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and general antiseptic effect. Also found naturally in mango, citrus, thyme, etc.

  1. Pinene: Boiling point of 155ᵒC. It has sharp, sweet and somewhat piney aromas. It is effective in memory retention and alertness. It has other medical uses in the treatment of inflammation and asthma (as a bronchodilator).
  2. Limonene: Boiling point of 176ᵒC. Aromas include citrus, orange, and lemon. Its effect includes stress relief and elevation of mood. Other medical uses include use as an anti-depressant, an anti-anxiety drug or component, in gastric reflux and as an antifungal. Also found naturally in peppermint, citrus rinds, and juniper.
  3. Caryophyllene: Boiling point of 160ᵒC. The aromas include pepper, wood, and spice. So far, it has no known physical effects. Serves as an antioxidant, in alleviating muscle spasms, inflammation, insomnia, and pain. 
  4. Humulene: Has a boiling point of 198ᵒC. Aromas are wood-like and earthy. Acts physiologically to suppress appetite. Has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and pain relief applications. Occurs naturally in hops and coriander.  
  5. Linalool: has a boiling point of 198ᵒC. Aromas include floral, spice, and citrus. Acts physiologically with sedating and calming effects. Also useful in cases of insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and even convulsions. Also found in lavender, laurel, birch, citrus, and rosewood.


To extract for laboratory purposes, steam distillation is the way to go. But for personal use, to avoid damaging it due to heat, it would be best to use a vaporizer pen or an adjustable eNail.

Are Terpenes Legal

A simple and short answer would be, depending on the source. From non-cannabis plants, yes. Hemp-derived, yes. Cannabis, no.

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