What Are Terpenes?

If you have ever purchased cannabis products, you may have heard the word terpene coming up in reference to the effect your product will have. Read on to find out more about these oils and how they can enhance your cannabis experience.

If you purchase cannabis products, you may have heard of a little something called terpenes. In layman’s terms, terpenes are essential oils that enhance the high you get from cannabis and provide numerous medical benefits. But how exactly do they work? And what benefits can they provide? Read on to find out.


What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants and even in some insects. They function to ward off herbivores that might eat the plants and to attract helpful predators and pollinators.

Cannabis has especially high levels of terpenes which give the plant its distinctive aroma. They also contribute to the Entourage Effect that can enhance your high and can provide medical benefits within the body.

Terpenes are made in the trichomes of the plant. Trichomes are shiny, sticky mushroom shaped crystals that cover the leaves on the buds.

There are over 100 different identified terpenes in the cannabis plant. The differences can be subtle, but a lot of progress has been made in classifying them and their effects. So now we can try to understand the terpenes for real.

Terpenes can be put into categories like sweet, sour, spicy or bitter. These categories can further be broken down into specific smells. Each smell is consistent with certain strains and the effects they can provide.

Some companies have terpene wheels available to help customers identify each terpene and their specific benefits.

How do Terpenes Work in the Body?

The way terpenes work in the body has been explored by neurologist and researcher Ethan Russo. Russo published a paper to describe the way terpenes and cannabinoids work together to boost and modulate each other’s effects in the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). His findings revealed that cannabinoids and terpenes could increase or decrease the effects of THC and other chemicals in the body that interact with the ECS.

He also found that terpenes can provide several health benefits including the reduction of pain, inflammation, depression and anxiety. They can also be useful in the treatment of addiction, epilepsy, cancer and fungal and bacterial infections.

Terpenes work through the power of smell. Smell is intertwined to the limbic system which is responsible for processing emotions and memory. It can impact mood and behavior and is directly linked to anxiety, self-regulation, sensory dysregulation and more.

Therefore, simply smelling certain terpenes can cause any number of good and bad reactions in the body.

Different Types of Terpenes

As mentioned earlier, there are various types of terpenes and each have their own characteristics and can provide their own benefits in the human body. Here are some more common examples.

Limonene: Limonene provides a refreshing, citrusy smell and is often used as an additive in cosmetics and cleaning supplies. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties and can work to treat toenail fungus in humans. It can be absorbed through inhalation and improves the absorption of other terpenes through the body tissue and skin. It is known to relieve stress and improve mood.

One study conducted in 2011 showed that Limonene could be effective in breast cancer treatment and prevention. The research provided evidence that the terpene can prevent cancer cells from accumulating.

Pinene: Commonly found in pine trees, pinene comes in two types, alpha and beta. Alpha pinene smells like pine needles and can be found in nature. Beta Pinene smells like rosemary, basil, dill or parsley.

PInene is a powerful bronchodilator that is beneficial for airflow to the lungs making it a recommended treatment for asthma sufferers. Pinene is a strong anti-inflammatory agent and has local antiseptic properties. In addition, it crosses the blood-brain barrier to improve memory and alertness. It has been known to counter memory loss associated with THC.

A study conducted in 2014 showed that A-Pinene can have a powerful antioxidant and antibacterial effect. The research provided evidence that Pinene could have ‘toxic effects on all bacterial species’ when combine with A-terpineol, linalool and eucalyptol.

Myrcene: Myrcene can be found in mangoes, hops, thyme and lemongrass and is said to be one of the most abundant terpenes found in cannabis. Its presence will determine whether the strain is indica or sativa.

According to some sources, if a plant has more than .5% myrcene, it will produce indica-like effects providing a more relaxing high. If the presence of myrcene is less than 5%, it will produce a more alert effect characteristic of the sativa strain.

Myrcene has been shown to promote relaxation in a 2002 mouse study.

Linalool: Commonly found in lavender, linalool provides a light, floral aroma. It is known to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. It works as a sedative and can also relieve seizure symptoms and provide relief for those dealing with psychosis.

A study conducted in 2002 showed that linalool can also be used as a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Other terpenes include:

Terpinolene: Provides a smoky, woody aroma and can work as a sedative, antioxidant, anti-cancer and antibacterial.

Beta-Caryophyllene: Has a woody, peppery taste and works as a gastroprotective and anti-inflammatory.

Humulene: Also found in hops, this is a strong anti-inflammatory and appetite suppressant.

sliced lemon

Do Terpenes Get You High?

Terpenes are extracted from the cannabis plant, much like THC and CBD. While THC can get you high, terpenes cannot. THC might contain terpenes, but the terpenes will not be responsible for getting you high, the THC will.

Although terpenes can not get you high, they can have effects on your mood making you feel happy, relaxed or even sleepy.

Are Terpenes Legal?

Yes, terpenes are legal.

They are not psychoactive drugs and they are not on the controlled substance list.

However, not all products that contain terpenes are legal everywhere. Products that contain THC with terpenes are still illegal in many parts of the United States due to the compound’s psychoactive nature.

On the other hand, hemp products are 100% legal in the United States and can contain several powerful terpenes.

Using Terpenes

In the past, consumers did not know much about the cannabinoid and terpene content in the products they were purchasing. Now, situation is changing rapidly. Today, brands often sell products based on the effects they provide and that is directly linked to the terpenes profile of the products.

So, in other words, if customers are looking for a sativa like effect, they can ask for a product with a lower myrcene content to get the kind of high they are looking for.

On the other hand, if they are looking for relief from medical symptoms like pain, stress nausea, they can look for cannabis items that are high in terpenes that provide the desired effects.

Because growing and plant genetics determine terpene quality and content, growers are also able to adjust how and what they grow to meet patient demand. This provides a faster and more transparent process as compared to waiting for a new pharmaceutical drug to hit the market.

Vaping Terpenes

Vaping can be a good way to enjoy cannabis products and is a healthier alternative to smoking. However, if you choose this method for enjoying your products, and are looking for the beneficial effects terpenes can provide, it is important to be aware of the temperature you are vaping at. Some compounds, like cannabinoids, require higher boiling point to turn to smoke while others are ineffective at higher temperatures.

In the case of terpenes, they have different molecular structures so their boiling points will vary. Linalool has a boiling point of 388 F while THC has a boiling point of 315 F. There are many vaporizers available on the market that offer features for customization. Some devices allow you to change temperatures through a smart phone app. Customers are advised to experiment with different temperatures until the find what works best for them.

Isolate vs. Distillate Terpenes

Terpenes can have different effects depending on how they are extracted. Isolate terpenes are stripped of any chemicals and do not contain additives. Isolate terpenes can be used in oils, aromatherapy or added into any products. They can even allow professionals opportunities to create customized strain profiles for cannabis products.

Distillate terpenes are found in CBD distillate which may contain terpenes but will also contain THC. Levels of THC are usually low in these kind of products but it may still show up in a drug test.

Extraction Methods for Terpenes

If you are trying to produce organic terpenes without any other natural chemicals, the extraction process can be challenging. It requires a light touch and a special process in place to extract them without damaging them.

There are some popular extraction processes including:

Steam Distillation: This process involves suspending a perforated basket of herbs containing terpenes above boiling water. The steam passes through the basket to penetrate the plant material causing the steam containing the terpenes to pass out of the top of the distiller to form an oil.

Hydrodistillation: This process is very similar to steam distillation, but the plant material is placed directly into the water.

CO2 Extraction: This is the preferred method of extraction. CO2 Extraction does not involve high temperatures of distillation that can alter or destroy the critical compounds in the plant. CO2 extraction is more complex than other methods and requires expensive machinery and extensive knowledge. It involves carbon dioxide being used under high pressure and low temperatures to extract the oil.

terpene extraction


Terpenes offers many health benefits, and are versatile enough to be used in aromatherapy. Terpenes can also be dabbed onto the skin and are available in customized products. Terpenes are becoming more and more accepted as a natural alternative to medical treatments providing few unpleasant side effects. Research your options so you can find the best way for you to begin incorporating terpenes into your daily routine.

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