What Are Terpenes? The Top 6 Terpenes in Cannabis + Benefits

What Are Terpenes? The Top 6 Terpenes in Cannabis + Benefits

Posted by Lily Kiepke on Jan 18th 2021

If you’ve ever smelled the zesty, citrusy scent of an orange peel or breathed in the refreshing scent of pine on a hike, you’ve inhaled terpenes.

Terpenes are all around us—in the foods we eat, the spices we use, even the products we use to keep ourselves and our homes fresh and clean.

And, as with almost all plants, terpenes are found in cannabis.

These powerful little compounds have lots of beneficial properties that help keep us healthy and happy, and may even boost the benefits of our CBD products, too.

Read on to get your top terpene questions answered, and details on the top 6 terpenes found in cannabis.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in the oils of plants like herbs and cannabis that contribute to their smell and flavor.

In nature, terpenes provide plants with “natural protection from bacteria and fungus, insects, and other environmental stresses,” explains medical cannabis resource Medical Jane.

In cannabis, terpenes are found in the sticky hairs covering the plant, and create the taste and smell profiles that distinguish different strains, reveals HowStuffWorks.

Today, terpenes are used in many products, including perfumes, body products, foods, and as the basis for essential oils, notes Medical News Today.

Are Terpenes Safe?

Terpenes are GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA and other agencies, per Medical Jane.

In 2011, a FEMA GRAS panel reviewed terpene’s GRAS status and “concluded that they present no safety issues to humans.”

Terpenes are used in food flavorings, chewing gum, insect repellants, paints, solvents, pharmaceuticals, household cleaners, and more, according to HowStuffWorks

Terpenes versus Terpenoids

Simply put, terpenoids are terpenes that have been dried, cured, or otherwise chemically modified, such as during the production of cannabis, clarifies Medical News Today.

How Do Terpenes Work?

While current research on terpenes is still limited, here’s what we hypothesize about how terpenes deliver their effects, according to Medical Jane, Leafly, and a 2001 review:

●they act on receptors and neurotransmitters

●they are prone to combine with or dissolve in lipids or fats

●they act as serotonin uptake inhibitors (similar to antidepressants like Prozac)

●they enhance norepinephrine activity (similar to tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil)

●they increase dopamine activity

●they augment GABA (the “downer” neurotransmitter that counters glutamate, the “upper”)

●they may support synergistic contributions of terpenoids on cannabis-mediated pain and mood effects (aka the entourage effect)

The workings of some terpenes are more well-documented than others. For example, linalool “influences at least 10 different pain-related systems in the body” and increases opioid and dopamine receptor activity, says Leafly, referencing a 2014 review.

Another terpene, limonene, “had a significant antidepressant effect in a mouse model of depression,” which researchers theorized was a result of “increased activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine” in the brain, explains Leafly, citing a 2013 study.

What Are the Benefits of Terpenes?

Terpenes may be highly beneficial for our health; they have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, and many have made their way into modern medicine.

According to a 2019 Review titled “Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes” published in the journal Medicinal Plants, different terpenes possess the following properties:

antimicrobial: “the ability to kill or stop growth of a microorganism in terpenes are commonly used in traditional and modern medicine”

antiplasmodial activity: myrcene, limonene, and pinene all possess “antiplasmodial activity,” or the ability to kill parasites

antiviral activity: “the bioactive terpenes present in various plants have shown various results for antiviral property,” or the ability to fight viruses

anticancer: “limonene is well recognized as an anticancer agent”

antidiabetic: phytochemicals (plant chemicals) like terpenes “have been recommended for treating type 2 diabetes”

antidepressant: terpenes like linalool and beta-pinene are “one of the most relevant bioactive compounds for treating depression and therefore can open doors for designing natural or synthetic antidepressant drugs”

anti-insect: terpenes like limonene and myrcene are “a healthy alternative [to harsh chemicals] to ward off insects”

Furthermore, “some terpenes might promote relaxation and stress-relief, while others potentially promote focus and acuity,” reveals Leafly.

Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

The entourage effect is the theory that when cannabis components are taken together, their combined effect is greater than the sum of their separate effects.

By components of cannabis, we mean cannabinoids (like CBD and THC), terpenes and terpenoids (like myrcene and limonene), and flavonoids (nutrient compounds).

The entourage effect suggests whole-plant products might help us better absorb active ingredients, target more areas of our body, overcome bacterial defenses, and minimize negative side effects.

For more on the entourage effect, including existing research, check out our article: The Entourage Effect: Why THC and CBD Are Better Together.

How Can I Take Terpenes?

Chances are, if you eat a diverse diet of foods and spices, you are already getting some terpenes.

But, if you’re looking to get more of the potential benefits of terpenes we’ve covered, adding CBD to your daily routine is a quick and easy way to increase your daily terpene consumption.

PHD Organics CBD uses CO 2 extraction, a safe and environmentally friendly method, that pulls out all of those beneficial cannabinoids and terpene oils from the hemp plant.

The result? A whole-plant product that is natural, organic, vegan, and free of THC, additives, dyes, and sugars.

Easily add CBD from a tincture or in isolate form to any food or drink, or apply topicals like lotions, ointments, and bath products to experience targeted relief.

6 Common Terpenes Present in Cannabis

Take a look at some of the most commonly found terpenes in cannabis, including their aromas, various sources, and some of their potential benefits.

1. Myrcene

Myrcene is one of the most common terpenes produced by cannabis, and has an earthy, musky aroma similar to cloves. Myrcene can be found in hops, lemongrass, bay leaves, citrus fruits, thyme, and other plants.

Described as “a potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antimutagenic,” myrcene is also said to speed up and enhance the effects of cannabinoids on CB1 receptors.

While the therapeutic potential of myrcene is still being explored, “its sedative and relaxing effects also make it ideal for the treatment of insomnia and pain,” claims Medical Jane.

2. Pinene

Pinene, as its name suggests, smells like pine and fir trees. Pinene can be found in pine needles and other evergreen trees, as well as rosemary, basil, and dill, according to cannabis resource Leafly.

“Pinene is used in medicine as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, bronchodilator and local antiseptic,” and may lessen the effects of THC, according to Medical Jane.

3. Limonene

Limonene has a strong, citrusy smell like lemons, oranges, and limes. In addition to fruit rinds, limonene can also be found in rosemary, juniper, and peppermint, says Leafly.

“Limonene is commonly used in a wide variety of natural products, such as cleaning supplies and fragrances,” notes cannabis industry source Weedmaps.

Limonene may help the absorption of other terpenes, and may affect the way our immune cells behave to protect the body, claims Medical News Today.

4. Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene, or beta-caryophyllene, has a peppery, spice-like scent, and can be found in cloves, cinnamon leaves, and black pepper.

Caryophyllene is unique because it interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system like a cannabinoid by acting as an agonist on CB2 receptors, says Medical Jane.

“Similarly to other terpenes, beta-caryophyllene may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body that could reduce pain levels in some people,” and one animal study revealed “reduced pain from inflammation and nerve pain,” details Medical News Today

5. Linalool

Linalool’s floral aroma can be found in hundreds of different plants, including herbs and spices like lavender, cinnamon, coriander, and mint.

“Linalool has been used for centuries as a sleep aid” due to its calm and relaxing effects, recounts Medical Jane.

In a study published in 2018, researchers examined the “anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-hyperlipidemic, antimicrobial, antinociceptive, analgesic, anxiolytic, antidepressant and neuroprotective properties of linalool.”

While more research is needed, the therapeutic potential of linalool and other terpenes warrants further exploration.

6. Humulene

Humulene is the terpene responsible for the distinctive “hoppy” smell of beer, and can be found in hops, sage, clove, basil, and ginseng as well as cannabis.

“Humulene is considered to be anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anorectic (suppresses appetite,)” says Medical Jane, who notes the terpene has long been used for weight loss due to its anorectic properties.

Other preliminary research may link humulene and other terpenes with “preventing allergic reactions and asthma,” but more research is needed to confirm these effects.

The Bottom Line

Terpenes found in the oils of plants including cannabis have a host of potential benefits that warrant further exploration by researchers.

Terpenes are already commonly used in a variety of everyday products, like foods, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, cleaners, and more.

Taking CBD is one way to boost your terpene consumption, as there are many different beneficial terpenes in the cannabis plant.

New to CBD? We’ve got you covered. Check out our guide: The Best CBD Advice for Beginners: 9 Tips and Tricks You Should Know


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About the Author

Lily Kiepke is a freelance writer and blogger based in the Denver metropolitan area. She enjoys using CBD to relieve anxiety and improve sleep. When she is not writing about cannabis, she can be found hiking in the Rocky Mountains or curled up with a good true crime book.