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What are Terpenes?

Over the past couple of years, terpenes have gained more attention in the cannabis community. Terpenes are among the dominant, essential oils of plants that give them their specific aromas. They are aromatic, organic hydrocarbons that are found in a variety of plants, and some can even be found in insects.

Ten years ago, cannabis growers and consumers were primarily concerned with the THC levels in cannabis. Now, present day consumers are becoming more aware that terpenes are responsible for the distinct smells of cannabis strains. But, the interest in cannabis terpenes doesn’t stop at the smell. Research suggests that when terpenes interact with cannabinoid receptors, they can assist the effects of cannabinoids. Since then, products high in terpenes have increased in popularity. More breeders, growers and extractors are now working to enhance the flavor profiles of cannabis by maximizing and preserving terpene levels.

Terpenes originate from the same glands as the cannabis plant containing THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. The terpene profiles can help us understand why people with medical conditions seem to benefit more from one strain over another, regardless of having similar THC levels.

To provide  research conducted by Dr. Ethan Russo, MD, Director of Research and Development at International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, concluded that terpenoid content offers “complementary pharmacological activities that may strengthen and broaden clinical applications, and improve the therapeutic index of cannabis extracts.”

Here is a closer look at terpenes and their health benefits:

A Closer Look at Terpenes

Terpenes belong to a group of compounds called aromatic hydrocarbons. They are produced in the same resin glands of a cannabis plant as CBD and other cannabinoids. There are an estimated 200 terpenes in a single cannabis plant, but only a handful of them exist in amounts substantial enough to have a noteworthy impact. They are categorized according to the number of units of a five-carbon molecule known as isoprene, such as monoterpenes, diterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and so on.

Each terpene has a unique scent, and many have been studied for their unique effects. Furthermore, potential synergistic effects have been proven when cannabinoids and other terpenes are combined, as opposed to acting on their own.

Isoprene is the structural backbone of terpene compounds. Terpenes are important to the cannabis plant because they assist with reproduction and survival. Their strong scent serves the purpose of luring pollinators and repelling predators.

However, unlike cannabinoids, terpenes are not unique to cannabis. They can also be found in many plants, fruits, and herbs, including apples, oranges, grapes, peas, almonds, onions, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and more. Because of this they appear often in the common human diet. It is important to note that terpenes have been recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe for consumption.

Most Common Terpenes in Cannabis

Different strains of cannabis have different terpene profiles, with varying combinations and concentrations.

The following are several types of terpenes that are common and abundant in the cannabis plant:


Myrcene is the most prominent terpene produced by cannabis. Multiple analytical labs claim the myrcene concentration dictates whether a strain will have a sedative indica effect or the effects of an energetic sativa.

Sometimes, myrcene can account for up to 50 percent of the terpene volume in the plant. It has an earthy or clove-like aroma that is considered the typical smell of cannabis. When it is abundant, it is responsible for producing a strong sense of sedation or a “couch-lock” euphoric effect. Studies have found myrcene to be an effective sedative, muscle-relaxant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent.


Cannabis that is rich in limonene has a strong, citrusy smell. Due to its refreshing scent, it is often used in aromatherapy. Highly absorbed by inhalation, limonene can help treat bronchitis, heartburn, and bacterial infection, as well as promote weight loss and enhance mood. There is also research suggesting it can kill cancer cells and block cancer-forming chemicals. Additionally, limonene makes other terpenes more easily absorbable through the skin.


There are two kinds of the terpene  pinene. The first smells like fir or pine needle, whereas the second has a rosemary, parsley, or dill-like aroma. According to studies, this terpene possesses antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and bronchodilator properties. It has been widely used in Chinese medicine for its ability to help fight cancer.


Caryophyllene produces a woody, peppery, or spicy scent. It is the only terpene that interacts with the endocannabinoid system; a regulatory system that naturally produces and works with cannabinoids to improve a wide range of physical and psychological functions in the body. It is known that caryophyllene interacts directly with one or the two main cannabinoid receptors, the CB2 receptor (abundant in the body’s immune system), to elicit anti-inflammatory effects. Caryophyllene has also been used for treating chronic pain, ulcers, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal problems, and anxiety.


With a sweet, floral aroma, linalool is another terpene that is widely used in aromatherapy. Possessing calming and relaxant properties, linalool can help treat sleeping difficulty, anxiety and convulsions. In addition to this, it plays an important role in the production of vitamin E throughout the body.

Relationship between Terpenes and CBD

The cannabis plant has been the subject of many scientific studies because of its remarkable chemical diversity. Its chemical compounds collectively possess an extensive range of therapeutic properties. Not only do these compounds benefit the body itself, as they have also been found working together to enhance each other’s effects. This phenomenon is known as the “entourage effect”.

Terpenes and CBD can have a significant influence on each other’s mechanisms, producing potent synergy for treating many health conditions. Myrcene for example, can increase blood-brain barrier permeability, to enable CBD and other beneficial compounds to pass through more easily. Additionally, pinene combines with the cannabinoid to reduce cannabis’ psychoactive effects, which is known to sometimes cause anxiety and compromise cognition and memory. CBD also works with the terpenes limonene and linalool to prevent and treat acne.

How are Terpenes Extracted from Cannabis?

Due to their high volatility and delicateness, terpenes are more difficult to extract than other chemical compounds in the cannabis plant. They will be damaged, altered or lost if they are exposed to overly high temperatures. Therefore, they need to be extracted with a lighter touch in order to keep their beneficial oils intact.

There are two traditional terpene extraction methods: (1) Steam distillation and (2) Hydrodistillation. Steam distillation involves hanging a basket of cannabis plant materials over a vessel filled with boiling water. Steam from boiling water passes through the basket and then dissolves and carries lighter oils such as terpenes to a condenser, which liquefies them for easy collection.

Hydrodistillation works the same way as steam distillation, except the plant materials are directly placed in boiling water. Although these traditional methods are effective in extracting terpenes, they do not produce the best results because they require the use of very high temperatures.

In addition to steam distillation and hydrodistillation, several new terpene extraction methods have been developed over the years. One of those methods is “vacuum steam distillation,” which can steam-distill at about half the temperature of boiling water. This method ensures terpenes will retain as much of their beneficial properties as possible rather than being damaged by high heat. Another method scientists have discovered is the “supercritical carbon dioxide extraction” method. This high-tech method does not leave any solvent in the finished extract, and it allows the temperature and pressure to be adjusted to achieve specific results.


  • Terpenes are the oils that give cannabis plants and flowers their unique smell.
  • Terpenes originate in the same glands of the cannabis plant as THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.
  • Myrcene is the most common terpene, responsible for producing a sedating effect.
  • Due to the entourage effect, it is recommended that terpenes are used in combination with CBD or other cannabinoids.
  • It is advised that consumers select CBD products that have undergone a proper manufacturing process, in order to ensure maximum therapeutic relief and safety.

Daintri is a leading online retailer of quality CBD products, many of which are also rich in terpenes. Made from potent CBD hemp strains, these products are produced with advanced extraction processes to ensure that they contain the highest quality compounds. They can be used for supplementing specific health needs such as inflammatory pain, stress, anxiety, sleep, or to improve general health.



*To view Daintri’s sources for this and all Education Center articles, click here.
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