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Terpenes 101: Demystify them and understand their effects

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Have you ever heard of the famous terpenes when talking about cannabis?

Cannabis connoisseurs rely heavily on the aromas of their herbs to determine which strains they prefer, as well as judging them by their flavors.

In reality, what these cannabis enthusiasts are evaluating are the terpenes found in the plant.

In the following lines, we help you FINALLY demystify everything surrounding terpenes and unravel the main terpenes that are present in the cannabis plant as well as their effects on human health.

What are terpenes exactly?

Terpenes are aromatic molecules with a very pronounced odor that give various plants, flowers and trees a wide range of scents and flavors. They are found almost everywhere in nature, where more than 20 000 varieties of terpenes coexist.

The cannabis plant itself naturally produces more than 100 different terpenes, all of which are gathered in its trichomes (the tiny, transparent hairs found on cannabis flowers and leaves). Originally, these molecules serve as a defense mechanism against insect and animal pests, in addition to attracting pollinating insects (1).

Terpenes are mainly responsible for the different aromas of cannabis such as lavender, citrus and earth smell, and even the classic skunk smell (2).

Comparable to essential oils (3), they are traditionally recognized for their important virtues and can have many beneficial effects on health, by acting directly on the brain cells to modulate their activity (4). The terpene profile is therefore a very important element to consider when you buy your cannabis, especially to know if the cannabis strain you chose will have energizing or sedative effects (5).

Terpenes are a key part of what makes every strain of weed unique. These molecules act in symbiosis with cannabinoids to create specific and often very promising medical effects (6).

The main terpenes and their benefits

As mentioned above, more than 100 varieties of terpenes exist in the cannabis plant. We have chosen to present you the 7 main ones, taken from the book CanDrinks: Cocktails & Cannabis, which are found most often in the weed plant.

1- CaryophylLEne or « bEta-caryophyllene »

Aromas: Peppery spices and wood

Effects: Stimulant

Caryophyllene is a terpene that reminds of the spicy smells of cinnamon, cloves and wood. It is a very particular terpene because it is also able to interact with receptors of the endocannabinoid system in the human body. It thus plays on the perception and the regulation of the pains and the inflammations (7). We can therefore say that in addition to being one of the main terpenes of cannabis, it could almost be considered a cannabinoid.

Many potential beneficial effects are associated with caryophyllene:

  • Analgesic properties ;

  • Anti-inflammatory properties ;

  • Pain relief ;

  • Stress reduction ;

  • Treatment of anxiety and depression ;

  • Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease ;

  • Treatment of ulcers (8).

A study conducted in China in 2014 (9) has shown that the use of this terpene could offer very promising results in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease (10). It can also combat the symptoms of arthritis and other neuropathic pain (11).

Although almost all strains of weed contain caryophyllene, you can find a high concentration of this terpene in strains of cannabis such as:

  • Bubba Kush ;

  • Chemdawg ;

  • OG Kush ;

  • Rockstar ;

  • Skywalker OG ;

  • Sour Diesel (12).

Note that beta-caryophyllene is also found in basil, oregano, black pepper and cloves (13).

2- Humulene

Aromas: Wood and earth

Effects: Sedative

Humulene is the terpene responsible for the distinctive smell and flavor of the beer. Its aromas are similar to those of caryophyllene and both terpenes are frequently found in the same plants. Humulene is very often used in medicine: experts tend to increase the humulene content of certain herbal medicines to ensure their effectiveness.

The main potential beneficial effects of humulene on the body are as follows:

  • Antibacterial and antimicrobial properties ;

  • Anti-inflammatory properties ;

  • Appetite-suppressant properties ;

  • Sleep improvement ;

  • Treatment of certain types of cancer (14).

Here are some cannabis varieties that contain humulene:

  • Candyland ;

  • Death Star ;

  • Girl Scout Cookies ;

  • Headband ;

  • Original Glue ;

  • Pink Kush ;

  • Super Sour Diesel ;

  • White Widow (15).

Humulene can also be found in ginger and ginseng (16).

3- Limonene

Aromas: Citrus and fruit

Effects: Stimulant

Limonene is one of the most popular terpenes among cannabis users. It is easily recognized by its sweet citrus scent and is found in abundance in a wide variety of cannabis strains. When consumed, it offers a very pleasant and refreshing flavor as well as a highly energizing effect.

Most cannabis users love the euphoric effects of limonene. The main benefits of this terpene are as follows:

  • Antifungal and antibacterial properties ;

  • Anti-inflammatory properties ;

  • Increased concentration ;

  • Mood regulation and feeling of well-being ;

  • Treatment of anxiety and depression (17).

Limonene is the second most common terpene found in different strains of cannabis. Among the strains that contain it the most are the following:

  • Banana OG ;

  • Berry Whte ;

  • Black Cherry Soda ;

  • Do-Si-Dos ;

  • Lemon Haze ;

  • MAC ;

  • Wedding Cake ;

  • White Fire OG (18).

Apart from the cannabis plant, limonene can be found in citrus fruits, rosemary and peppermint (19).

4- Linalool

Aromas: Sweet flowers, herbs and citrus

Effects: Sedative

Linalool is the terpene whose aromas are the most easily recognizable of all the other terpenes. It is also frequently used in the cosmetic industry and can be found in a variety of fragrances and products. Its main aroma is lavender and it is linalool that is responsible for this incomparable fragrance.

The main potential beneficial effects of linalool on the body are as follows:

  • Analgesic and antiepileptic properties ;

  • Anti-inflammatory properties ;

  • Reduction of hyperactivity ;

  • Sleep improvement

  • Treatment of anxiety and depression ;

  • Treatment of certain types of cancer ;

  • Treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (20).

The main strains of cannabis where linalool can be found in high concentrations are the following:

  • Durban ;

  • Deep Purple ;

  • Mazar ;

  • Red Haze ;

  • Rainbow Belts ;

  • Wedding Mints (21).

Linalool is also found in mint and laurel (22).

5- Myrcene

Aromas: Earth, ripe fruit and natural musk

Effects: Sedative

In cannabis, myrcene is the most common terpene present and is considered one of the ten main terpenes. It has a fairly earthy smell, very reminiscent of cloves. Myrcene also contains strong flavors of red grape, balsamic and spice.

This terpene also has many medicinal properties:

  • Analgesic properties ;

  • Antibiotic and antibacterial properties ;

  • Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties ;

  • Muscle relaxation ;

  • Pain relief ;

  • Sleep improvement (23).

Furthermore, myrcene has been shown to be a great help in the absorption of cannabinoids by the body, thus promoting the therapeutic effects of cannabis (24).

The main varieties of cannabis composed of myrcene are t