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What are Cannabis Terpenes?
What are Cannabis Terpenes?
2020.06.11

You've heard everyone from dispensary employees to cannabinoid experts talking about a different compound than THC, CBD, and other phytocannabinoids. Cannabis terpenes make up the majority of the 545 known plant chemicals derived from the ancient, healing vegetation. Out of the 20,000 found in nature, scientists have identified approximately 140 marijuana terpenes.

What are Terpenes?

Cannabis terpenes are the flower's protectors. The strong aroma the plants emit serves an essential purpose—Keep them safe from predators. Additionally, the fragrance also lures the pollinators to help the plants grow. As mentioned, these aren't limited to the hemp and cannabis plants, medical terpenes are found in dozens of plants around the world.

Although we call them terpenes when they reach your retail location, the plant parts oxidize (mix with oxygen) after they're cultivated and cured and become terpenoids. Most retailers, brands, and researchers use the term terpenes for simplicity.

Along with producing a variety of enticing aromas, such as lavender, mint, pine, and citrus, the potent plant chemicals also define the flowers' unique tastes, which explains why some cannabis cultivars give the distinct flavor of biting into an orange or even a chocolate bar when you take the first few hits from your pipe, vape pen, bong, or pre-roll.

Researchers believe that the different terpene flavors and scents offer more than individual health advantages. Studies show that the various compound levels, including cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and minerals, work together to provide the entourage effect. All 545 compounds offer a synergetic response that enhances the benefits of each and reduces the overall side effects that some users can experience.

The theory, as explained by Dr. Ethan Russo, a board-certified neurologist and psychopharmacology research specialist, can be summed up with, "The plant does it better."

Most Abundant Terpenes & Their Effects

Marijuana strains vary by appearance, aroma, flavor, and wellness characteristics. These differences come from the various concentrations of compounds, including the terpenes, that are found in each cannabis cultivar. As mentioned, the terpene chart shows at the bare minimum, 20,000 of these chemicals are found in different plants cultivated around the world. Similar to cannabinoids, some cannabis-derived terpenes are more abundant than others.

Another characteristic you'll see listed for terpenes is the temperature they vaporize at. Like cannabinoids, these compounds activate when they hit a specific temperature. To take full advantage of THC and CBD terpenes, don't exceed these heating limits, or they'll disappear before you have a chance to experience them.

Experts know more about terpenes than most of the compounds found in hemp and marijuana plants because of how many are found throughout nature. Here is a list of terpenes and their aromas, tastes, effects, and other flowers, trees, and plants that have them.  

Myrcene

Myrcene is often a dominant cannabis compound that makes up as much as 50% of some cultivar's terpene profiles. It has a musky aroma with earthy undertones and a fruity flavor. Myrcene is commonly found in lemongrass, mangos, and hops. Research show's the terpene's effects include the potential to relieve inflammatory and chronic pain by reducing the body's sensitivity to pain. It also has a sedative response that can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer.

Some myrcene dominant strains include,

  • OG Kush
  • ACDC
  • Grape Ape
  • Critical Mass

Myrcene vaporizes at 332ºF (167ºC).

Alpha-Pinene

There are two varieties of this terpene, alpha- and beta-pinene. It's the most identified terpene in cannabis and throughout nature. As the name suggests, the aroma is reminiscent of walking through a pine forest and is commonly found in pine needles. Other plants containing pinene include dill, rosemary, parsley, and basil. Studies indicate this marijuana terpene also acts as an anti-inflammatory. But additional information suggests it has the potential to help improve memory, fight bacterial infections, and help expand the lungs to increase oxygen intake.

Common cannabis strains with alpha-pinene include,

  • Blue Dream
  • Penelope
  • Mango Haze

Alpha-pinene vaporizes at 311ºF (155ºC).

Caryophyllene

This terpene is different than the others. Research shows that caryophyllene can interact with the endocannabinoid system (ENS) like cannabinoids, which makes it the only known terpene to have that distinction. It has a spicy scent with woodsy undertones and a peppery taste. Other than cannabis, the medical terpene is found in black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. Experts believe caryophyllene may reduce stress and could be useful in the future treatment of gastrointestinal issues, pain, and anxiety, and depression.

Common cannabis strains with caryophyllene include,

  • Original Glue
  • Candyland
  • Bubba Kush
  • Chemdawg

Caryophyllene vaporizes at 266ºF (130ºC).

Limonene

As the name suggests, limonene has a citrus aroma and taste, and it's commonly found in lemon and orange rinds, as well as juniper, rosemary, and peppermint. In general, citrus products are believed to boost mood and reduce stress and anxiety. However, studies also show it may be ideal for inflammatory and chronic pain relief.

Common cannabis strains high in limonene include:

  • Hindu Kush
  • Lemon G
  • Cookies and Cream

Limonene vaporizes at 332ºF (167ºC).

Humulene

Humulene is best known for its connection to hops, the main ingredient in beer. Some cannabis strains can contain as much as 40% of the medical terpene, putting its potency close to myrcene and pinene. It has an earth-like aroma with spicy undertones. Other than cannabis and hops, humulene can be found in cloves, basil, and coriander. Research suggests it has the potential to help reduce inflammation.

Common cannabis strains high in humulene include,

  • Headband
  • Death Star
  • Thin Mint GSC
  • Sherbet

Humulene vaporizes at 222ºF (106ºC).

Linalool

You've probably inhaled linalool before cannabis, and it may even be an aroma you enjoy. Also found in the lavender plants, the potent terpene has a deep floral scent. On its own, many consumers comment on the flower's ability to reduce stress, relieve anxiety, boost mood, and help improve their sleep. Medicinally, linalool may help patients with inflammatory pain, neurodegenerative diseases, and conditions involving anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.

Common cannabis strains high in linalool include,

  • Do-Si-Dos
  • Scooby Snacks
  • Zkittlez

Linalool vaporizes at 388ºF (198ºC).

Ocimene

Another common terpene found in many CBD oils and cannabis strains is ocimene. It has a sweet and herbal aroma with woodsy undertones and a fruity taste. The marijuana terpene is found in mint, mangoes, pepper, kumquat, and parsley. Records show it has antiviral properties and may act as a decongestant. Unlike the other terpenes, it doesn't have the anti-inflammatory characteristics.  

Common cannabis strains with ocimene include,

  • Strawberry Cough
  • Space Queen
  • Chernobyl
  • Lemon Sour Diesel

Ocimene vaporizes at 122ºF (50­ºC).

These are the most abundant cannabis terpenes. With 140 found in the hemp and marijuana plants, there's much more research coming. Additionally, cannabis breeders are using this information to create targeted cultivars to meet individual users' needs. For example, breeding CBD-dominant strains with a high-myrcene count as a slumber remedy.

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