Understanding Terpenes Are and What They Do

When it comes to what makes up the effects of the cannabis plant the things you hear the most about are cannabinoids – specifically, THC and CBD. However, many are unaware of the fact that there are other compounds in the plant that play a big role in not only the effects of the plant, but also give it the aroma it is so well known for. Unlike cannabinoids which are specifically found in cannabis, terpenes are found in all types of fragrant plants and are responsible for many of the effects that are associated with essential oils as well as cannabis.

“Thousands of plant species produce terpenes,” says Wolfgang Dostmann, PhD, a professor in the department of pharmacology at University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. “Anything that is plant-derived and smells aromatic contains some combination of terpenes…They have strong odors, usually, and protect the plants from predators such as herbivores and parasites.”

Many of the terpenes you find in cannabis plants are found in other plants like lavender, chamomile and many others. These terpenes are responsible for the scents we mention when trying to describe a particularly dank strain – piney, citrus, floral, fruity, peppery, spicy or even skunky. For example, a terpene called limonene is responsible for most citrus aroma, while alpha-pinene is responsible for most pine aromas.

“The strains and their effects are largely dependent on terpene levels within the plant,” he explains. “Whether you want to fall asleep or get some work done, the terpenes in your strain will determine how well that will work out. More [relaxing] ‘indica’ strains are thought to contain high levels of [the terpenes] linalool and myrcene, making them smell deep and low, with hints of lavender, grape, berry, or skunk. Uplifting strains will smell more like fresh-cut grass, pine, and fresh citrus.”

Not only do terpenes play a massive part in giving cannabis its signature aroma, but it also plays a part in the medicinal benefits of the plant just as they do with other plants. For example, pinene has potential medicinal value in the treatment of asthma, pain, ulcers, anxiety and even cancer and known to have leave you feeling alert, improve memory retention and even counter some of the effects of THC. Similarly, limonene could be beneficial to those suffering from anxiety, depression inflammation, pain and cancer and is known for its ability to elevate moods and relieve stress.

This is only a brief overview of terpenes, what they are, and how they help create the effects and aromas we have come to expect from cannabis. Terpenes play an important role in the world of cannabis both in medicine and regular consumption – and understanding how terpenes change the way cannabis affects us can help you better know what to expect from any given strain.

Jillian Nelson