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Terpenes: What they are, why they matter

From lemons and black pepper to pine trees and herbs, terpenes are everywhere. And nowhere moreso than in cannabis.

Known as the fragrant, essential oils that lend aromatic profiles to cannabis products, terpenes (from the word turpentine) do more than lend pungency to scent.

Beta-caryophyllene, for instance, is found in black pepper, oregano, green leafy vegetables and many strains of cannabis. It is gastro-protective and offers some promise as the basis for treatment of inflammatory conditions. Others, according to a 2011 study in the British Journal of Pharmacology,* “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections,” through an entourage effect that magnifies the therapeutic effects of plant compounds, noted researcher Dr. Ethan Russo.

In cannabis, scientists have identified more than 200 terpenes, although only a handful are present in significant concentrations.

Even so, that’s enough for sophisticated consumers who once only identified cannabis as indica or sativa to turn to terpene profiles to identify the ‘nose’ of their products, to use a sommelier’s term.

Linalool, for example, offers the spicy, floral nose found in lavender, and offers a sedating, calming effect that could possibly aid in relaxation and sleep. It’s also found in laurel, birch and rosewood.

Another popular terpene, Limonene, has the same citrus profile found in orange rinds, juniper and peppermint. It is said to help elevate moods or help with stress.

Pinene, a sharp, sweet-smelling terpene found in pine needles, conifers and sage, has been associated with memory retention and alertness.

So, next time you are looking for a cannabis strain, follow your nose to the terpene profile. It will unlock so much more about the plant and its effects.


*Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, Ethan B Russo, Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Aug; 163(7): 1344–1364.