Terpenes: You’ve likely heard the name, but do you know what they are, and why they’re so important to cannabis? With so many different terpenes, each of which provide their own flavor profiles and benefits, it would be hard to have it all memorized!
To get to the bottom of your burning questions, we turned to Dr. Nick Jikomes, Leafly’s Director of Science and Innovation. Leafly is always our go-to source for all things cannabis, from thousands of articles and user reviews, to an incredible search engine that helps you find products based on strain preference, benefits, and consumption method. You can even order popular local picks directly to your door through Leafly.
Terpenes: The Nose Knows
So, what are terpenes? “Terpenes are a diverse class of organic compounds used by plants as a kind of chemical communication–plants use them to communicate with the outside world,” explains Dr. Jikomes. “They are volatile, small molecules that float through the air. Typically, they will either communicate “come closer” or “stay away.”
At the most basic level, terpenes are known for their flavor profile. More often than not, they taste how they smell. This is why you should follow your nose when selecting the best terpene for you.
In a succinct article, Leafly shares why following your nose is one of the best ways to explore terpenes in cannabis for yourself: Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis strains their unique scent. In other words, terpenes are the reason Tangie smells like sweet oranges, Permafrost like a pine forest, and Sour Diesel like a bucket of funky fuel.
Research has yet to demonstrate exactly how these aromatic compounds contribute to the effects of cannabis, but theoretically, different terpenes may help shape the sensations imparted by different varieties of cannabis. Just as different essential oils have different uses, so might cannabis terpenes.
“[Terpenes] can have different physiological effects depending on their chemical structure,” explains Dr. Jikomes. “They have a large variety of smells and can have physiological effects ranging from antimicrobial to anti-inflammatory. Some of them can affect receptors in the brain, some can be irritants, and so on.”
What are the most common terpenes? “The most abundant terpenes found in Cannabis are myrcene, β-caryophyllene, limonene, pinene, and terpinolene,” explains Dr. Jikomes. “There are dozens of other terpenes found in Cannabis. Each distinct type of Cannabis cultivar produces a distinct combination of terpenes.”
Cannabis strains cover a vast variety of different terpenes. Here are some of the most common terpenes you’ll encounter, along with their smell and effect profiles:
Smells like: Earthy, fruity, clove-like
Benefits: May provide relaxing effects
Myrcene is commonly found in all strains, whether indica, sativa, or hybrid, including popular sativa-dominant hybrids like Tangie and Blue Dream. You’ll also notice myrcene is common in both THC and CBD strains alike.
Smells like: Strong woodsy odor
Benefits: Known to relieve inflammation
This stress-relieving terpene is also present in many hybrids known for their relaxation and anxiety reducing effects. Given this terpene’s unique aromatic notes, it’s fairly easy to detect in a strain.
Many cannabis topicals and salves utilize strains with high levels of caryophyllene, showcasing its natural aromatic profile while also providing therapeutic benefits.
Smells like: Citrus
Benefits: May alleviate stress and anxiety
Some strains exhibit higher levels of limonene than others, but these levels can vary widely across harvests depending on genetics, growing techniques, and curing processes. The only way to know if your strain is high in limonene is through lab-tested batches.
Smells like: Pine trees
Benefits: May help with pain, anxiety, and inflammation
Keep in mind that pinene-dominant strains are uncommon (meaning it’s rarely the most abundant terpene in a strain), but it’s commonly seen as the second most abundant terpene in a strain’s terpene composition.
Fun fact: pinene can also be found in conifer trees, orange peels, turpentine, pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil, and parsley.
Smells like: Flowers, herbs, pine, citrus
Benefits: Believed to have uplifting effects
Terpinolene plays a key role in defining the taste and smell of many cannabis strains, including the immensely popular, terpinolene-dominant strains Dutch Treat, XJ-13, and Golden Pineapple. It’s also likely to affect a strain’s therapeutic and experiential qualities.
Smells like: Sweet, flowers, citric
Benefits: Antimicrobial, sedative, anxiety reducing
Most strains rich in linalool can impart effects associated with indica-dominant genetics, which include both mental and physical relaxation, sleepiness, and a strong case of the munchies.
Smells like: Earthy, woody, spicy
Benefits: May provide anti-inflammatory benefits
Humulene usually appears in slightly smaller quantities than its terpene counterparts, often taking a back seat in a cultivar’s flavor profile with its subtle notes of earth and florals.
Smells like: Perfume, sweet, earthy, citrusy
Benefits: Uplifting effects
Although concentrations of ocimene vary greatly between cultivars, some strains tend to produce higher-than-average amounts. Keep in mind that ocimene rarely plays a lead role in a strain’s terpene profile, but it’s sometimes the second or third most abundant terpene.
How do you find the best terpene for you? By using Leafly’s strain explorer to see the terpene profiles of popular strains available at a shop nearby. Now that you’ve got the TL;DR on terpenes it’s time to put your knowledge to the test. Get started here!
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