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Terpenes – The Hot New Thing in Cannabis

With a rising number of states legalizing Cannabis, there’s naturally rising interest in the properties of the plant. While most of us have heard of THC and CBD, there are other compounds found in cannabis that are receiving growing interest.

Of course, THC and CBD are just two of the cannabinoids found in Cannabis. THC is responsible for most of the psychoactive qualities of the plant. CBD, on the other hand, has no intoxicating effects and is believed to oppose the side-effects of THC such as anxiety and disordered thought patterns.  

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are a large class of naturally-occurring aromatic compounds found in many plants, especially conifers, and in some insects. But they’re also found in marijuana.

Terpenes have a strong smell that protects the plant from being eaten and attracting the parasites and predators of their enemies. The aromas also attract pollinators to the plant.

Terpenes constitute the primary ingredients in many essential oils of various flowers and medicinal plants. These compounds are widely used in fragrances as well as aromatherapy. On the female Cannabis plant, the small hair-like growths that protrude from the leaves and flowers contain glandular trichomes.

These contain many important compounds, including cannabinoids (like THC and CBD), flavonoids, and terpenes. When harvesting the buds, it is essential that the plants are handled carefully so that these trichomes stay intact.

If the trichomes remain in the end product, the result will be Cannabis varieties that have strong and distinctive flavors, as well as particular colors and aromas.

Rising Interest in Terpenes

There are over 20,000 kinds of existing terpenes, and the Cannabis plant produces more than 100. When combined with THC and CBD, terpenes have been found to have various biological effects. These effects depend on the type of terpene and the amount.

Nowadays, a growing number of companies are experimenting with the addition of certain terpenes to certain combinations of THC and CBD. Using science and technology, these companies are coming up with custom combinations to offer consumers something different.

More and more cannabis consumers are looking for different flavors and different kinds of high. Companies are rising to the challenge, and the public is becoming more aware of terpenes and what they can offer.

Companies are also starting to mark their products with the amount and type of terpene in the product description. The trend towards novelty and customization in cannabis consumption is likely to increase, so producers are continuing to experiment with different kinds of terpenes for different effects.

Medical Potential

Apart from different tastes and aromas, different percentages of different terpenes in marijuana are thought to have a synergistic effect alongside more conventional medical treatments.

In a 2011 academic paper, neurologist and researcher Dr. Ethan Russo speculated that terpenes “could produce synergy concerning treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”

When essential oils became popular, scientists began researching the medical benefits of aromatherapy and terpenes. While a lot more research is required into the effects of differing amounts of various terpenes, it’s clear that they possess great potential.

For example, nearly all the terpenes found in Cannabis have either an anti-inflammatory effect or an analgesic (pain-killing) effect. The potential in just those two areas is major.

Different Terpenes Have Different Effects

While the Cannabis plant produces over 100 terpenes, the following are some of the better-known ones and their main effects:


This is also found in citrus plants like lemon, and has an energizing effect as well as being an antidepressant.  


As the name suggests, this terpene is also found in lavender. It is known for its calming effects.


This is the most common terpene found in Cannabis and has a sedative effect.


This terpene has a peppery, woody flavor, and is a strong anti-inflammatory.


This has a woody, smokey fragrance and has antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-cancer, and sedative effects.


This is a terpene that gives the hops used to make beer their characteristic aroma. It acts as an appetite suppressant and anti-inflammatory.


Responsible for the distinctive fragrance of pine needles, this terpene has energizing and therapeutic effects.

How Much Do You Need?

According to experts, any terpene whose effects you desire will be overwhelmed by the impact of THC if it is present at under 1.5 percent. On the other hand, if a particular terpene is present at over 2 percent, the effects will be dramatic in terms of flavor and impact.

Whether you have a high-energy, uplifting high or a highly-sedative, relaxing experience is a function of the level of particular terpenes in the strain of Cannabis you are consuming. Certain terpenes can increase or decrease the effects of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, meaning a different kind of high, depending on the dominant terpene.

For example, if a particular strain is high in the terpene limonene, you are likely to feel energized and active, and your mood will lift. The opposite effect is true of strains high in myrcene. This terpene increases the effects of THC, making you sleepy and relaxed, but also providing you with analgesic, antibacterial, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Selective Breeding

The typical cannabis flower is usually under 2 percent terpenes, but about 20 percent cannabinoids. NaPro Research in California has been selectively breeding plants for different terpene and cannabinoid levels for a number of years, which is what it takes to change the composition of a plant.

One of NaPro’s offerings contains 4.5 percent myrcene that they claim will cause one’s eyes to feel heavy for 15 minutes, to be followed by “balanced, euphoric pain relief.”  They’ve also built a search tool to allow one to check the chemical composition of Cannabis products for value and quality.

The Future

If the current trend of experimentation in terpenes continues, some interesting experiential effects are bound to be discovered, and there is great potential for discovering new medical uses for Cannabis.

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