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Guides, Lifestyle, Research

Understanding Cannabis Terpenes and Their Effects

Chane Leigh

by Chane Leigh

April 26, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 9 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides

Many people may not know that cannabis terpenes play a significant role in the benefits and effects of the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) also contribute to benefits but they are not the only players. In fact, terpenes interact with these chemical compounds and change effects. In order to benefit the most from cannabis consumption, the terpene content or profile of a strain is just as important as the cannabinoids. Terpenes define the true diversity among cannabis chemovars, formerly known as strains.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes, or terpenoids, are aromatic compounds that naturally occur in plants and create signature scents like that of lemons, lavender, or mint. They are explained as “the primary constituents of essential oils and are responsible for the aroma characteristics of cannabis.” Terpenes are hydrocarbons that are made and stored in the trichomes in cannabis, and when the plant dries and cures, as with cannabis flower, the terpenes begin to oxidize and shift from terpenes to terpenoids. 

Terpenes are also commonly isolated to add flavors and scents to many everyday products including, but not limited to, perfumes, body products, and foods. Plants produce terpenes to attract pollinators like bees, repel predators, and protect the plant by helping it recover from damage and boosting its immune system. 

Terpenes are not only responsible for the fragrance in cannabis, but they also offer therapeutic potential for cannabis consumers. For example, different terpenes may promote relaxation, airway dilation, and soothing, sleep, or mental focus while others fight against bacteria. 

While the indica vs sativa dichotomy has been used for centuries to differentiate between cannabis strains, we now know that the cannabinoid and terpene profiles can be used to predict the effects of different strains. In “The Cannabis Sativa versus Cannabis Indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD,” published in the academic journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, Dr. Ethan Russo argued that using indica vs sativa as a distinction between strains is not supported by cannabis science. Dr. Russo goes on to say, “it is essential that future commerce allows complete and accurate cannabinoid and terpene profiles to be available.”

Roles and Functions of Terpenes in Cannabis 

Medical News Today explains that “many terpenes are bioactive,” which means they have a biological effect on the body. There are over 200 terpenes in cannabis, and scientists are investigating the  terpene and cannabinoid pairing benefits, which can lead to better experiences and effects (9). For example, combining linalool with THC can help with countering poor memory effects and assist with keeping a clear mind. Combining pinene and CBG could be beneficial to patients with conditions such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Additionally, this 2018 study found that those who consumed CBD-rich terpene extracts benefited more than those who consumed CBD-isolate. 

Terpenes are believed to facilitate cannabinoid absorption and offer therapeutic properties. Terpenes affect your “high” by modifying the absorption of the cannabinoids. In other words, they are capable of boosting or reducing the absorption of chemicals like THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. The effects of terpenes on cannabis are also dependent upon boiling points and preservation techniques.

This is all made possible by the fact that cannabinoids and terpenes are able to bind to the receptors located throughout our body in the endocannabinoid system. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam coined the term “entourage effect” to describe the synergistic effect that happens when the compounds in cannabis are present and consumed together, as opposed to in isolation. Learn more about the entourage effect here

When it comes to picking a chemovar or strain to medicate with, follow your nose. Read the Certificate of Analysis (COA) to know the terpene and cannabinoid content of your favorite products. The COA may not always be accurate, but when you find a product you like you should know its contents, stick with it, and use as little as possible to minimize tolerance. 

Over time, you may begin to notice that specific terpenes grab your attention or enhance the medical benefits you are looking for. Interested patients should first consult with a qualified healthcare provider. Never self-diagnose or self-treat. More research is needed to fully understand exactly how cannabis terpenes affect us. Explore cannabis strains for beginners here.

Differences Between Terpenes and THC

While terpenes are aromatic compounds, cannabinoids are organic compounds that are also available in significant concentrations in cannabis plants. Most terpenes have the ability to interact with our endocannabinoid system in a similar manner, but the difference lies in how the body absorbs and uses the compounds. 

While THC is psychoactive and binds to endocannabinoid receptors, terpenes themselves are not intoxicating. They facilitate easier absorption of chemical compounds into the brain and bloodstream while also initiating the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and GABA.

Most Common Terpenes in Cannabis and Their Effects

cannabis terpene chart

We know that there are six headlining terpenes found in cannabis and each offers different benefits. Understanding the common terpenes and their effects can help determine which strain would be more beneficial for your needs. 


Limonene is produced in the peels and rinds of citrus fruits and gives fruits like oranges and lemons their signature scent. The benefits it offers include reducing inflammation, alleviating stress and depression, reducing pain, alleviating nausea, suppressing appetite, being anticarcinogenic and antifungal as well as being an antimicrobial agent. Popular strains that are high in limonene include Lemon OG, Trainwreck, Durban Poison, Bruce Banner, Sour Diesel, and OG Kush. 

Learn more about limonene here.


Linalool is responsible for the scent of lavender or birch. This terpene is also found in over 200 different plants including coriander, so chances are that you have consumed this terpene before. The benefits associated with this terpene include reducing inflammation, anti-epileptic properties (for those suffering from epilepsy), lowering stress and anxiety, antimicrobial properties and even repelling mosquitoes. Popular strains that are high in this terpene include Amnesia Haze, Lavender Kush, Granddaddy Purple, and Purple Urkle. 

Learn more about linalool here. 


Myrcene is the most commonly occurring terpene in the cannabis plant and is found in other plants like hops. This terpene has a spicy, musky smell and is found in lemongrass, mango, and thyme. When consuming this terpene, one can benefit from its ability to act as an anti-inflammatory agent as well as from its antimutagenic effects. These benefits or effects include the ability to provide pain relief, act as a sleep aid for insomnia as well as protecting our bodies against damage to our DNA from external toxins, which may cause the production or growth of cancer. Importantly, myrcene enhances cannabinoid crossing into the brain and allows for stronger effects from THC. Strains that are high in myrcene include OG Kush, ACDC, Purple Urkle, Critical Mass, and Granddaddy Purple. 

Learn more about myrcene here


Caryophyllene is characterized by its spicy scent and is found in hops, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and rosemary. The therapeutic benefits of this terpene include reducing inflammation (especially that induced by arthritis), balancing glucose levels (for those suffering from diabetes), inhibiting cancer activity as well as alleviating pain, stress, depression, and anxiety. Popular strains that are high in this terpene include Chemdog, Sour Diesel, Girl Scout Cookies, Cookies and Cream, and Death Star.

Learn more about caryophyllene here.


Humulene has spicy, woody, and earthy notes. Its aroma resembles the likes of black pepper, cloves, ginger, and sage, amongst other herbs. The potential benefits of this terpene include suppressing appetite, promoting wound healing, reducing inflammation, relieving pain (like an analgesic), bacteria-fighting properties as well as possible anti-proliferative or anti-cancer properties. Popular strains that are high in this terpene include Skywalker OG, Girl Scout Cookies, White Widow, Pink Kush, and Sour Diesel. 

Learn more about humulene here. 


Pinene is one of the most researched terpenes found in cannabis and is available in two varieties known as ‘alpha-pinene’ and ‘beta-pinene.’ These terpenes produce a citrusy, peppery, and earthy smell. Alpha-pinene smells like basil, dill, parsley, and hops, while beta-pinene smells more like pine needles and rosemary. The benefits of this popular terpene include boosting energy levels, improving mental focus, acting as a bronchodilator, reducing inflammation, countering short-term memory loss (common in dementia), fighting against cancer as well as being antiseptic and antiviral. Popular strains that are high in this terpene include Bubba Kush, Dutch Treat, Blue Dream, Jack Herer, and Harlequin. 

Learn more about pinene here. 

Are Terpenes Good or Bad For You?

Terpenes are generally considered to be beneficial for health and well-being, and they may enhance the therapeutic and pain-relieving potential of cannabis.

On their own, many studies have indicated that terpenes have anti-inflammatory properties, sedative and anxiolytic effects, and the potential to help relieve stress and anxiety.

Thanks to their unique aroma profiles, these compounds may also be used in aromatherapy settings to help induce relaxation, uplift mood, and improve focus.

Nevertheless, just like any natural compound, terpenes may induce some adverse effects in certain individuals. It’s best to start ingesting them in small doses until you understand how they affect your individual needs and desires.


As you can see, there are many of these aromatic compounds which can be consumed in cannabis products—giving you some of the best benefits you can get from the plant. When deciding which cannabis strain to purchase from a dispensary or consume based on their cannabinoid and terpene profile, it is important that you steer clear of synthetically derived terpenes as they run higher risks of adverse effects. To end on a positive note, consuming cannabis with significant terpene content is not only beneficial but can also be enjoyable as the aromas tease your sense of smell and contribute to the flavor and effects of the flower.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the other types of terpenes?

Other less common types of terpenes include ocimene, terpinolene, terpineol, geraniol, borneol, bisabolol, camphene, eucalyptol, and nerolidol. These terpenes each have unique effects, as well as aroma and flavor profiles.

Do terpenes make you high?

Terpenes won’t induce a traditional high, yet certain types are deemed psychoactive due to their influence on the brain. Although terpenes lack intoxicating properties on their own, some speculate they could modulate the effects of THC, the cannabinoid accountable for the euphoric sensation associated with cannabis.

How long do terpenes last?

Terpenes in flower or other terpene-rich products will typically remain intact for approximately a year, given that you follow optimal storage recommendations and practices.

How do terpenes differ from cannabinoids?

Terpenes primarily influence the aroma and taste of cannabis, but they may also have therapeutic effects. Different terpenes are associated with various effects, such as relaxation, focus, or euphoria. Cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, producing a wide range of effects such as pain relief, euphoria, and relaxation.

1. Eucalyptol. Harmony Dispensary. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from 

2. Johnson, J. (2020, March 6). What are terpenes? Medical News Today. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from 

3. Li, Y. H., Sun, X. P., Zhang, Y. Q., & Wang, N. S. (2008). The antithrombotic effect of borneol related to its anticoagulant property. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 36(4), 719–727. 

4. Lodi, M. (2019, April 2). Terpenes 411: Camphene. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from 

5. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2022). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 11463, Terpinolene. Retrieved March 30, 2022 from

6. Ocimene. Ocimene – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from 

7. Pamplona, F. A., da Silva, L. R., & Coan, A. C. (2018). Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-analysis. Frontiers in neurology, 9, 759. 

8. Piomelli, D., & Russo, E. B. (2016). The Cannabis sativa Versus Cannabis indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 1(1), 44–46. 

9. Russo E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. 

10. Sommano, S. R., Chittasupho, C., Ruksiriwanich, W., & Jantrawut, P. (2020). The Cannabis Terpenes. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(24), 5792. 

11. Terpenes. Cresco Labs. (2019, June 19). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from 

12. Terpineol – an overview. ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from 

Post Your Comments

Henry Wilson says:

July 29, 2021 at 12:32 am

Thank you for sharing this! It is a really well written piece. It is really common to buy natural terpenes for Cannabis in NV, considering the medical benefits it has.

franky says:

September 10, 2022 at 5:13 am

Great site,

Bobbye Karma says:

September 30, 2022 at 5:08 pm

Have you heard that Terpenes are good for protecting against Cov ID?

Yong Vanhee says:

October 13, 2022 at 4:59 pm

Where can you find the best terpens for a certain medical condition.

Tawny Were says:

June 19, 2023 at 12:00 pm

I love this site very informative they have everything you need to know about cannabis thanks guys


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