An Explanation of Cannabis Terpenes: The ‘Smell-Good’ Molecules

Do you love the citrusy smell of oranges, the spicy aroma of ginger, or how about the sweet and floral fragrance of fresh basil? If you said yes, then we couldn’t agree more. 

Everything we just described comes from a very important molecule in nature — terpenes. 

This article is all about terpenes, and not just the ones found in cannabis. We’ll talk about why terpenes are so special, how they impact the body, and then provide a list of the most common terpenes.

And we’re off! 

What are terpenes and why do they matter?

Terpenes are molecules that give plants their fragrance and aroma. Besides plants, terpenes are also in flowers, fruits, herbs, and trees. 

Imagine this for a moment. One day you’re enjoying the zesty smell of lemons from your lemon tree, and later you take in the calming scent of lavender oil from your diffuser. A few moments later, you’re reveling in the sweet and spicy smells of your hot tea, made with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and lemongrass. 

Then as you wake up the next day, all those smells suddenly disappear — they’re completely gone. If terpenes no longer existed, that would become your new reality. 

The point is, terpenes are all around us. They make life much more lively. Not only do they smell good, but they also give taste to our foods and drinks. Without terpenes, I think it’s fair to say that life would be a bit bland. After all, our sense of smell and taste is pretty important.

Terpenes in cannabis plants 

Another thing to add is that terpenes are a common molecule in cannabis. In fact, out of the 400 compounds in cannabis 200 or more of the compounds are terpenes.  

It might not be a surprise that so many terpenes can be found in cannabis. After all, many of us associate cannabis plants with their strong, potent smells. 

What can terpenes do for our bodies?

Throughout history, terpenes were used in aromatherapy and other modalities of healing due to their benefits. At the time, science couldn't explain those benefits. However, from research, animal studies, and some human trials, science now understands why people relied on terpenes for thousands of years.   

We won’t go into too many scientific details here, rather we’ll briefly explain how terpenes interact within our bodies. 

Terpenes interact with certain enzyme systems and neurotransmitters that can cause physiological changes inside us. When physiological effects take place, they can impact our mood, sleep, movement, appetite, or memory.   

This is why some people report positive changes after a peppermint oil has been diffusing in their home for a few hours. Or the reason some people feel relaxed when drinking chamomile tea. 

At this point, terpenes are sounding pretty impressive, right? After answering this next question, you might fall in love with terpenes all over again. 

Can terpenes get you high?

Although many different types of terpenes exist in cannabis plants, none of them are psychoactive. Only THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, has intoxicating effects. 

In short, terpenes will not make you high. 


How many terpenes are there?

In cannabis plants, there are more than 200 terpenes. The most common terpenes have spicy, piney, floral, earthy, citrusy, or minty aromas. 

We’re going to give you some examples of cannabis terpenes, their aromas, and where else you can find them besides in cannabis strains.  

  • Myrcene (MUR-seen) has an earthy, spicy and clove-like aroma. Besides its popularity in many cannabis strains, you can also find myrcene in hops, wild thyme, mangoes, and basil.
  • Caryophyllene (carry-OFF-uh-leen) is commonly found in black peppercorns, dark leafy greens, and cloves. So, it should come as no surprise, that this terpene has a spicy and peppery fragrance.
  • Linalool (LINN-uh-lool) has floral notes and is the primary terpene found in lavender. People claim to use lavender for its calming and relaxing effects.
  • Pinene (PIE-neen) has the fresh and sweet smell of pine needles and conifer. One whiff of a CBD hemp flower with pinene and you’re instantly taken to a forest full of yummy smelling pine trees.
  • Limonene (LIM-o-neen) You may have guessed it. Limonene is a terpene in lemons and limes. Also, other citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits contain limonene. The sweet, tangy, and citrusy aroma of limonene can be very uplifting and euphoric. 

Other common terpenes you may find in a full-spectrum CBD product, include:

  • Nerolidol
  • Bisabolol
  • Terpinolene
  • Ocimene 
  • Humulene
  • Carene
  • Eucalyptol
  • Carene

In summary

To sum it up, terpenes are awesome molecules that you can find sprinkled everywhere in nature. They give cannabis plants their tantalizing aromas, make herbs and fruits incredibly delicious, and the smell of trees and flowers dreamy and delightful.  

We hope you learned something new about terpenes. 

Do any of the terpenes mentioned in our article stand out to you? Let us know in the comments below!

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