What Are Terpenes? More Than Meets the Nose
Would a strain by any other name smell just as sweet? Whether it’s the sweet, yeasty, fresh-baked aroma of Girl Scout Cookies or the juicy, citrus fragrance of Lemon Zkittles, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the smell and flavour of a cultivar, and the secret lies within terpenes.
With research broadening our understanding of cannabis, one type of compound found within our favourite strains has been found not just to be responsible for the aroma and taste we all know and love but could also affect the effects.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic oils and compounds produced by plants and by some insects. Terpenes are what give herbs, fruits, and plants their unique aromas and smell. In nature, these scents have several purposes, including attracting or repelling predators or pollinators, aiding in reproduction, or providing protection against the elements.
In cannabis plants, terpenes are produced by resin glands found within some types of trichomes, the delicate, tiny hairs on the surface of cannabis plants. Trichomes also produce THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Each strain will have its unique blend of terpenes, responsible for their smell and flavour.
Typically, cannabis plants will contain upwards of 200 different terpenes, with around 20-30 terpenes being the most prevalent and easiest to detect.
Terpenes, such as limonene found within lemons and linalool, found within lavender, have a distinctive smell and, theorized positive effects. Some terpenes, such as the ones sourced from the Japanese citrus fruit Yuzu, have been found to help modulate mood and alleviate negative emotional stress.
While research is still being done on the influence of terpenes, and the effects of cannabis, the ‘entourage effect’ is gaining popularity in explaining how the experience provided by different strains differ from each other.
A scientific review published in 2010 examined the influence of common cannabis terpenes on THC and CBD. The researchers had theorized that certain terpenes, which have beneficial, therapeutic properties themselves, interact with cannabinoids to deliver a new set of effects. Such insight could explain each strain’s different experiences, but more research is needed before anything conclusive can be said.
As the cannabis space evolves, cannabis producers are evolving, too. Many Licensed Producers, including Acreage Pharms, are now conducting lab tests to identify and measure the presence and amount of terpenes found within each of their cultivars. While research surrounding the entourage effect is still in its infancy, knowledge of cannabis terpenes could help you pick a strain that’s right for you.
Although terpenes appear in only low percentage amounts, there are a few dominant ones that you should take into consideration when determining your next cannabis purchase.
Common Cannabis Terpenes
Found within lemons and other citrus fruits, researchers have found that limonene has significant anti-stress properties and acts as an anti-inflammatory within animals. Limonene also serves to reduce anxiety.
Limonene has a fresh, lemon-like aroma, making it a popular addition to many foods, beverages and cleaning products. Many household cleaners will incorporate this terpene in their formulas to give off a fresh, citrus scent when used.
Read our guide on limonene to learn more about this sweet and sour terpene!
Most abundant in lavender and rose, linalool has been found to reduce anxiety and act as a powerful sedative. As its source would suggest, linalool is responsible for floral scents found within some varieties of cannabis.
Linalool has an aromatic, floral-like aroma with a hint of spiciness. In addition to being present in cannabis, it’s also found in over 200 types of plants. This terpene is so ubiquitous that two grams of linalool are consumed each year through food alone, even by those who don’t consume cannabis.
Read our guide on linalool to learn more about this floral and aromatic terpene!
Fragrant, spicy, and aromatic, myrcene is a terpene that’s found regularly in hops, bay leaves, and lemongrass. Myrcene is the most abundant terpene found in cannabis and is theorized to be effective in relieving pain and act as a powerful sedative.
Myrcene has a rich, earthy aroma with aromatic notes of spice musk. In beer, myrcene in hops provides a peppery and balsam aroma. When found in cannabis, this terpene gives cannabis an earthy, fruity, and musky scent.
Read our guide on myrcene to learn more about this spicy and musky terpene!
Found within pine trees, sage, and ironwort, alpha-pinene is commonly used in perfumes and cleaning products. Alpha pinene is the chief terpene responsible for the pungent, skunky smell of some cannabis strains. Also known as regular pinene, this terpene has also been found to increase energy and act as an effective anti-inflammatory in animal models.
Pinene’s fresh, piney scent has made it a popular aroma and flavour additive in many everyday products. Many household cleaners and air fresheners will contain this terpene to impart a forest-fresh scent when used.
Read our guide on pinene to learn more bout this woody and piney terpene!
Beta-Caryophyllene has a spicy and woody fragrance and is most prevalent in black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. Also known as caryophyllene, this terpene is an effective analgesic and has been found to reduce inflammation and neuropathic pain in mice and animal trials.
The terpene beta-caryophyllene is also a recognized dietary cannabinoid. Dietary cannabinoids act on the cannabinoid receptors found within the human body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce effects that mimic cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.
Read our guide on caryophyllene to learn more about this fragrant and aromatic terpene!
Nerolidol has a woody and floral citrus-like smell that’s reminiscent of tangy citrus, tree bark and wildflowers. Earthy and fruity, nerolidol is naturally produced in flowers such as orchids, patchouli and jasmine, as well as oranges and tea tree oil.
In animal trials, nerolidol has been found to act as a powerful stress-reliever and sedative. The medicinal community is also experimenting with this terpene for drug administration since it’s been found to also act as a skin-penetration enhancer.
Read our guide on nerolidol to learn more about this tangy and woody terpene!
Humulene has a hoppy and herbaceous aroma and is an isomer of β-caryophyllene, meaning the two terpenes share the same chemical formula but a different chemical structure. Humulene tends to be found naturally mixed with its isomer counterpart but is also a dominant component of hops and many herbs such as ginger and sage.
Humulene has a more storied history than other terpenes. Over the centuries, ingredients containing humulene have been used in traditional Chinese medicines and holistic health practices. In animal trials, researchers have found that humulene promotes antitumour activity and is effective in preventing tumour growth in mice.
Read our guide on humulene to learn more about this tangy and hoppy and herbaceous terpene!
Phytol is a byproduct of chlorophyll and is naturally produced in many varieties of green vegetables as well as some varieties of green tea. With a grass-like aroma that’s earthy and herbaceous, phytol only exists in trace amounts in cannabis, but nonetheless contributes to a strain’s overall terpene profile.
Phytol offers a wealth of therapeutic properties. In animal trials, it was discovered to offer anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. However, its inclusion in certain vape pens and vape products have raised concerns within the cannabis space.
Read our guide on phytol to learn more about this grassy terpene!
Browsing by Terpenes Instead of Strains
While research into cannabis is still in its infancy, many theories and anecdotal accounts suggest that there could be more to terpenes than meets the nose.
While nothing is for certain, knowing what kind of terpenes are involved in each strain could help you make a decision that’s better suited for not only your taste buds but your experience as a whole.
Acreage Pharms lab tests each strain and cultivar to provide accurate information on terpene profile and cannabinoid content. Instead of strain names guiding your decision, let the terpenes help you decide your next pick!