The Nose Knows: Major Terpenes in Cannabis

When you’re asked what you like about a specific cannabis product, one of the first things that will likely come to mind is what it smelled like. Since the sense of smell is uniquely tied to everything from memory to taste to mood, it is reasonable to assume that if a consumer likes the way something smells, that something may provide said consumer with the taste and benefit they’re in search of. Because terpenes provide the aroma in cannabis, we can start to see how aroma influences our perception of strains when we look at the most common terpenes found in cannabis.


Introduction to terpenes


While there are over two hundred different terpenes known to exist within cannabis, by focusing on the six most pervasive terpenoids the same picture of smell and effects can be seen. Many of these are pervasive within nature and can be seen in some of your favorite plants. Terpenes are the largest group of chemical compounds in plants, with between 15-20,000 unique compounds making up the entire catalogue found in nature. These chemicals serve a myriad of purposes in a practical sense. From insecticidal and insect repellents to enhancing bitterness to discourage animal grazing terpenes serve many benefits from a practical sense. Terpenes can interact with the body in a seemingly unlimited number of ways thanks to their vastly different structures (phytochemical pharmacology). Permeating cell walls, interacting with nerve endings, stimulating enzyme production and many other reactions can be observed when studying terpenes. The simply vast number of possibilities shows how these volatile compounds can have such a drastic impact on the experience of cannabis.


Top six most common terpenes in cannabis

While there are upwards of 200 unique terpenes that have been found in cannabis, the following six offer only a small glimpse into the wonderfully complicated world of herbal synergy and entourage effects that is offered by the infinitely variable spectrum of cannabis.


Let's start with ‘the mother of all terpenes’, Myrcene.


Myrcene is the single most common terpene in cannabis. When isolated, this terpene presents with a grapey, earthy, fruit aroma. Myrcene has been shown in studies to present several interesting responses that can be directly tied to the ‘indica’ response that cannabis users have become familiar with. As a muscle relaxant, barbiturate, and sedative, Myrcene may be singularly responsible for the ‘couch-lock’ affect that is so often attributed to indica cultivars. Myrcene is much more stable than some of the other common terpenes and it is therefore able to remain in the trichomes through the drying and curing process. When looking for an indica experience, make sure to examine the amount of myrcene in the product you are considering.


Another familiar terpene that is instantly recognizable is Limonene.


This terpene is most found in citrus rinds and is responsible for the bright, citrus scent that is associated with oranges or lemons in cannabis. Limonene, in juxtaposition with myrcene, is responsible for the ‘sativa’ experience. Research has shown that this compound can dramatically influence serotonin production in mammals, leading to clinically effective treatments of depression in humans that resulted in most patients being able to stop using anti-depressant chemicals when exposed to citrus oil over the course of the study. Limonene is inherently safe and easily metabolized, while able to be stored in the tissue like the brain. This compound is incredibly powerful in terms of its ability to regulate the mood of cannabis users and should be seriously considered when looking for a more uplifting experience relative to a myrcene heavy cultivar.


The most common terpene in nature is also one of the most common in cannabis, Alpha and Beta Pinene.


Present in every pine tree and a plethora of other foliage, pinene is prized in essential oils as an insect repellent. Therefore, it is most found in high levels in the upper flowers of the cannabis plant where it can have the most impact against pests. More interesting are the potential applications that these powerful terpenes have in clinical studies. Pinene is renowned as a bronchodilator, meaning that it is extremely efficient at reducing inflammation in the airway and helping improve conditions such as asthma. Alpha Pinene may help other compounds to better bond with the CB2 receptor in the endocannabinoid system, improving overall cannabinoid uptake in cannabis. One of the most beneficial aspects of pinene in relation to cannabis is that it may help to improve short term memory performance, reducing the impact of THC on memory.


Linalool is another classic terpene with some amazing potential for study.


Linalool is responsible in part for the ‘classic’ marijuana scent. Found most often in lavender, this compound has shown some incredible potential for several different medical uses. This terpene falls into the ‘indica’ experience category, with powerful sedative and relaxing effects. Linalool, along with CBD, can work exceptionally well as an anti-convulsant, helping to stop and possibly prevent seizures. Perhaps most remarkable are the potential implications Linalool can have along with cannabinoids to support a positive response in Alzheimer’s patients. Studies have shown that it can reduce cognitive impairment and reduce memory loss, allowing for a recovery in some patients and improving mental states overall.


Humulene, a terpene named for the hops species, is a multifaceted terpene.


As the closest relative to cannabis, it is no surprise that Humulene is pervasive in the cannabis plant and one of the most seen terpenes in dispensaries. It seems to be beneficial for a remarkable wide range of impacts medicinally. The classic ‘beer’ scent that Humulene provides is earthy, woody, and spicy. Commonly found in pepper, it is responsible for the sharpness and spiced notes often found in ‘sativa’ strains. Humulene is a powerful anti-bacterial compound, but most interestingly is the ability of Humulene to regulate appetite. Contrary to most people’s experiences with cannabis, this terpene can effectively spark weight loss in many people. Humulene is also believed to be a potential anti-cancer compound. It can inhibit tumor growth by producing chemicals that are able to destroy cancerous cells.


Closely related to Humulene, Caryophllene is another common terpene with many similar effects.


Often found in black pepper, rosemary, and cloves, this sharp-nosed terpene blends well with the hoppy bitterness that is so common in cannabis. Well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, Caryophyllene has many applications for medicinal benefits within the body. Along with Humulene, this compound was shown to inhibit tumor growth by up to 90 percent. Another amazing potential use for Caryophyllene is its ability to regulate mood and stress.


Because it is one of very few non-cannabinoids that can directly interact with the CB2 receptor in the endocannabinoid system, this terpene is able to have many of the same mood-lifting effects that is often falsely associated with sativa plants. This results in a reduction in anxiety and depression, a positive effect on modulating stress and an overall increase in lifespan for animal studies. Combine this with Caryophyllene’s ability to interact with neurological receptors to reduce inflammation, seizures, and damage to the brain, and you’ll find that it is truly a powerhouse for medical use.


Incorporating terpene knowledge into your wellness routine


By understanding the difference in how some of these compounds interact with cannabinoids and the body, you will be able to take control over what your personal experience is like with cannabis. No matter if you are looking to help a specific medical condition, or just looking to have more control over how you interact with cannabis, terpenes will be able to ensure that cannabis is able to integrate into your wellness routine seamlessly.