Terpenes: The Scent, Taste, and Effects of Cannabis Strains

// January 11, 2017

If you’re a regular cannabis user, chances are you’ve heard the term ‘terpenes’ thrown around. But what are they, and why should you care about them? The short answer is that terpenes are compounds in cannabis that give different strains their particular taste and smell. They also have a variety of therapeutic effects, and the kinds of terpenes present in a strain can determine what symptoms it will be good at treating.

If there is a strain whose aroma you particularly enjoy, you have its unique combination of terpenes to thank. Whether it’s the pungent and earthy scent of a strain like New York Cheese, or the citrus and pine of Trainwreck, these aromatic natural oils are the source of every strain’s characteristic smell. Terpenes are oils produced by the plant’s resin glands, or trichomes: the same glands that secrete THC and CBD. While scientists have been studying the effects of THC on the brain for decades, terpene research is in its relative infancy, so we are constantly learning about their effects on the body and mind. For example, terpenes can affect how much THC actually gets absorbed by the receptors in the brain, which means that strains with certain terpene profiles can actually “unlock” more THC from the plant and get you higher. This kind of interaction between terpenes and cannabinoids is known as the entourage effect, and has become a key area of focus in cannabis research.

Cannabis is not the only plant that produces terpenes; they occur in a wide variety of species. A notable example is hops, a key ingredient in brewing beer, which owes its flavour profiles to its terpene content. In fact, most of the terpenes found in cannabis can also be found in other plants.

Common Terpenes in Cannabis

There are at least 140 different terpene compounds that exist in cannabis, each with their own unique characteristics. We’ll go over three of the most easily recognizable: pinene, limonene and linalool.

Pinene is the aptly-named terpene that gives pine trees their distinctive smell, and it is present in strains such as Jack Herer and OG Kush. Pinene is an effective anti-inflammatory, can help your lungs absorb oxygen, and promotes alertness. This makes strains high in pinene particularly suitable for pain management and combatting the effects of asthma.

Another common terpene is limonene, a compound that gives strains like Trainwreck, Lemon Tree and Grapefruit their tangy citrus smell. Limonene is also found in the peels of citrus fruits, and is responsible for the powerful aromatic punch that’s released when you zest a lemon. Studies indicate that it can have a number of positive effects on the body, including stress relief, mood elevation, relief of gastric issues, and improvement in the absorption of other beneficial compounds found in cannabis.

Linalool is another terpene you may recognize in one of your favourite strains. It has a floral scent, and also occurs in lavender and coriander. It is commonly used to make essential oils and aromatherapy products, and is widely known to have powerful stress relieving capabilities. Strains that commonly contain linalool include G-13, Master Kush, and LA Confidential. These strains are helpful for relieving anxiety, combatting insomnia, and soothing pain. Linalool has even been known to ease the effects of epilepsy, effectively lessening the occurrence and severity of seizures.

Next time you’re in the shop picking up some of your favourite bud or concentrate, take a moment to see if you can identify the smells of these incredible aromatic compounds!

By Galen Robinson-Exo