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What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are responsible for giving cannabis its most distinctive trait: its smell. Anyone familiar with the scent of cannabis can instantly recognize its presence, whether it’s in someone’s home, a greenhouse, or on the street.

Yet, the scents of different cannabis strains each have subtle qualities that make them unique. This range of different scents makes choosing marijuana to smoke similar to choosing a fine wine or craft coffee blend. The range of complex aromas is equally complex because there are roughly 150 known types of terpenes found in cannabis plants.

Terpenes are chemical compounds known as unsaturated hydrocarbons that create the distinct scent of many plants, such as pine, lavender, and orange peel, as well as the many amazing fragrances and flavors in cannabis.

The scent from terpenes is actually produced from the flower of the plant, much like the fragrance of a rose. In nature, terpenes serve to protect plants from grazing animals and the ill effects of infectious germs. Not all animals enjoy those distinctive scents — they may actually take them as a warning sign that a plant is not safe to eat.

Terpenes also help plants produce resin. Resins are the part of plants distilled in essential oils, and used for medicinal purposes.

Cannabis growers can use their knowledge of terpenes to grow and sell infinite varieties of aromatic strains with unique mental and physical effects thanks to terpenes.

Learn some of the most common terpenes and their unique qualities.

What Are the Terpenes Most Commonly Found in Cannabis?

Scientists have currently identified about 20,000 in different plants, and 150 of these can be found in the cannabis plant, while 80-100 are found in no other plant. This is why the scent of cannabis can create a strong sensory memory stamp in people’s minds.

Among these, the ten most common terpenes in cannabis have been studied for their unique medical benefits. These include the following:

  • Limonene

  • Myrcene

  • Pinene

  • Linalool

  • Geraniol

  • Humulene

  • Terpineol

  • Valencene

  • Terpinolene

  • Ocimene


This terpene is the most common one found in cannabis. This chemical compound is particularly fragrant, even for a terpene. It can be found in a wide array of fruits and plants, such as mangos, hops, bay laurel leaves, and thyme. The aroma is an earthy scent reminiscent of cloves.

Health benefits: It is believed to enhance the sedative characteristic of Indica strains along with reducing inflammation and providing pain relief.


This terpene is most commonly found in lemons and other citrus fruits. Limonene produces an unmistakable citrus aroma that these fruits are known for. It is the second most common terpene found in cannabis, but not all of the strains contain it.

Health benefits: Limonene aids digestion and reduces inflammation. It also has antifungal properties, it is considered to be a mood enhancer, and it may even reduce the size of tumors.

Pinene or A-pinene

This is the terpene responsible for the pine tree scent that some cannabis strains contain.

Health benefits: Pinene is useful for relieving pain, improving airflow in the lungs, and as a bronchodilator, which means it enhances overall respiratory function.

Pinene/A-pinene also contains antioxidant and antibacterial properties. It is believed to inhibit the memory loss related to frequent THC use.


This terpene is the floral-scented terpene found in lavender. The calming aroma that this aromatic compound provides leaves you feeling relaxed and tranquil, which is why lavender is a popular ingredient in essential oils and calming teas.

Health benefits: Linalool is used for pain relief and sedation, which makes it a useful sleep aid. In some cases, this terpene is used as an antipsychotic and anti-inflammatory.


This terpene emits a rosy and tobacco-like fragrance. It’s commonly used in perfumes, and it is considered to be an effective mosquito repellent.

Health benefits: This terpene helps with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant uses. As an antioxidant, geraniol is believed to reduce the risk of cancer.


This terpene is the main one present in hops. Hops are one of the main ingredients that give beer its flavor. It offers an earthy scent with spicy notes and can be found in a variety of plants, such as sage, cloves, and black pepper.

Health benefits: Humelene is known to be an appetite suppressant and will fight inflammation within the body.


This terpene is a rarely occurring terpene that has a lilac scent. It offers both a calming and uplifting effect.

Health benefits: Studies show terpineol also contains antimalarial properties.


An exotic terpene found mostly in Valencia oranges, Valencene has a sweet citrus scent.

Health benefits: This terpene acts as an insect repellent.


This terpene emits a piney fragrance with floral notes. It is most commonly found in sage and rosemary, and it is often used in soaps and perfumes.

Health benefits: Terpinolene is known to induce drowsiness, reduce anxiety, and lower stress levels.


This terpene has a tropical and musky aroma.

Health benefits: Ocimene is used for its anti-inflammatory, as well as antifungal and antiviral properties.

Cannabinoids and Terpenes: The Entourage Effect

Another unique facet of cannabis is the THC and CBD chemical compounds it produces. THC is known for giving a euphoric effect on our psyche by releasing serotonin in our brains, while CBD physically relaxes our bodies and improves sleep.

Terpenes assist cannabinoids in different ways by helping our bodies absorb them at different rates. This is known as the entourage effect. However, each terpene is slightly different in how it impacts the brain and its neurotransmitters, so they can cause us to feel subtly different moods.

The entourage effect isn’t just used to describe the relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes either. It also includes the cumulative benefits of flavonoids and other compounds found in the plant. This is what makes medicinal plants so fascinating: their combined effects far outweigh the individual impacts of their properties.

Want to learn how the cannabis industry is crafting terpenes to create unique effects? Read this Chemical and Engineering News article full of details on how terpenes interact with both CBD and THC.

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