Terpenes in Cannabis Plants – A detailed explanation

Terpenes in Cannabis Plants - A detailed explanation

Anyone who has smelled hemp or cannabis knows the characteristic smell of the plant. And all the different Strains of the Cannabis Plant Genius also have a different smell or different scents. These odors of plants have their origin. The origin of the fragrance and taste of cannabis plants are due to chemical compounds of phytochemicals called terpenes, which also have different effects on the human body. In this article we will talk about this terpenes.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are molecules that are made by a bunch of different plants. Cannabis makes terpene molecules, citrus plants make terpene molecules and evergreen plants make terpene molecules. Terpenes are made by a lot of different plants including cannabis.

What are Terpenes?

They do have medical effect, even at very low concentrations and terpenes and cannabinoids actually share similar precursor molecules, so that they’re made from the same basic ingredients and the plants biological systems end up making different molecules.

It’s the terpenes that are responsible for the smell of cannabis, it’s flavors, because the cannabinoids THC and CBD don’t have any smell to them. So when we are smelling the terpenes, whether it’s a lemon kush or it’s a very piney fragrance, those are the terpenes and not the cannabinoids.

Safe and long use of terpenes in human history

Terpenes are common to human diets. They are listed by the regulatory agencies as generally recognized as safe. They behave very safely and have a long history of use in humans.

Topically they’re very safe fresh, there can be some minor irritation if the product is old. Terpenes can sometimes on rare occasions cause minor skin irritations but nothing ever harmful happens from them.

What they do is, they interact with different enzyme systems in the body such as neurotransmitters & second messenger systems. These are part of the ways that they create physiologic effects.

Cannabis has a wide variety of terpene expressions

The cannabis plant can have a very wide variety of terpene expressions, even within the same plant itself. The terpene concentration will vary throughout processing. The terpene levels can raise as the plant dries and also as the plant ages.

Cannabis has a wide variety of terpene expressions

As the dried cannabis flower age, it will lose some of its smell, those are the terpenes. So when you open a nice new jar of really smelly flowers, that can kind of permeate the room, those are the terpenes leaving the plant and going into the air.

The Benefits of Terpenes for the Cannabis Plant

In the plant, because of the way it uses them, will be fairly variable. For example upper leaves tend to be preyed upon by insects a lot of the time, so the plant will put out anti-insecticide terpenes such as limonene or piney.

In the lower plant might be more appropriate for it to put some of the bitter Cisco terpenes, to prevent grazing from forest woodland mammals animals, things like that. So different terpene levels in the upper versus the lower part of the plant.

The terpenes during further processing

The terpene levels can change throughout processing also, when you are preparing or making your own medicine with cannabis. A lot of people bake with cannabis, you’ll notice that the room starts to smell like marijuana after it’s been baking for a while, those are the terpenes in the air. They’ve left the plant and are not useful for medicine when they’ve done that.

One tip, when processing and making home medicine, keep the baked goods covered. Which would be something you normally wouldn’t do. For example when you’re cooking brownies, you would normally have them lift it up, but it might be appropriate to cover them with foil for example to keep some of the terpenes in there.

Terpenes are generally volatile molecules, which means they like to go into the air. Because of that, when one is processing terpenes or even just storing your flowers at home, is very important to keep them tightly sealed in glass containers.

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Different Concentration Levels of Terpenes

The different levels of concentrations can be quite broad and if you look at any kind of the laboratory analyzed fingerprints, a lot of labs are doing terpene analysis, you’ll see a pretty wide range of variables.

Different Concentration Levels of Terpenes

The human smell and the palate can be very effective at detecting certain terpenes and certainly combinations of flavors.

You’ll notice when you first purchase something at the store, and you take it home and you open it and you smell it. It might have a very powerful or pungent aroma to it. Again that are the terpenes.

But two or three weeks later, especially if that jar has been opened-closed-open-closed, those levels can change. So processing can change it, the type of soil that is grown in can change it, conditions of humidity and temperature during the time of growing can affect it.

What increases the content of terpenes in a plant?

Terpenes tend to do well in soils with a little less nitrogen. The French have a saying about wine: To make great wine, the grapes must suffer. They’re talking about real hot days, real cold nights and some of the plant molecules in the grape, for example the proanthocyanidins are much more expressed during stress. Some of the plant chemicals are more expressed during times of stress. So terpenes are quite variable.

But use your nose and the nose can become very sophisticated. Also we have beautiful laboratory analytics now. Some of the displays we’ve seen are quite nice in terms of gauging the various different levels.

Terpene concentrations can vary and this is one large reason why some people do much better with certain types of cannabis than others. Again, that’s a very individual specific choice.

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The medical aspect of terpenes

The medical aspect of terpenes

Terpenes are very effective, even at low concentrations, inhalation method, we have some good human studies on. Terpenes can be effective topically and orally as well they’re very versatile and they complement the cannabinoids and create synergistic effects, depending on how we use them.

On the medical side, very people have very different reactions to certain types of cannabis and a lot of that is the terpene profile. Understanding as a consumer, either a recreational consumer or a medical consumer, what works for them and what doesn’t work for them? That takes a lot of time and also takes experimenting with a lot of different products.

What do the studies on terpenes say?

When we look at studies, we know that rodents (laboratory animals) show there can be actually pretty profound effects on their activity. You can have the animals in a relatively lethargic state, introduce terpenes and you can observe increases in movements and movement patterns.

This can happen in very low concentrations, so that definitely suggest the pharmacologic effect on their nervous systems as low as five nanograms per ml.

We also see positive effects at undetectable levels in the blood, which could be because the terpenes even though they come in already low concentrations, they distribute pretty widely in the body, if it’s in the nervous system they really go into the lipids pretty quickly.

So the body can absorb a lot of the terpene and take them right out of the plasma but we can still have effects at very low concentrations.

Some studies show strong serotonin activity, which could be partially responsible for the effects on mood, pain and sleep.

Different Cannabis Strains – Different Terpene Profiles

Different Cannabis Strains - Different Terpene Profiles

We see this a lot with some of the Indica strains and just a caveat we know that we’re gonna be changing that nomenclature soon but certainly some types of cannabis will make people much more sleepy than other types of cannabis. A lot of this is involved with the terpene profiles.

We think, that when we have an educated palate, we can learn to smell the types of cannabis that tend to work best for us.

Some people will notice that they do much better with certain types of strains than others. Again back to the genetic component. A large part of terpene production is genetic, so utilizing genetic information can potentially be helpful for folks as well.

People need guidance because the huge variability of terpenes

Botanical medicine is a much more fuzzy kind of a slow medicine and it does require a lot of time and it requires at least somebody helping the patient who knows what they’re doing and who can make proper suggestions.

The patient can do a lot on their own through diaries, of dosages, strain selection etc. But an expert can sometimes be very helpful to make suggestions and the terpenes are a good example of this huge variability. Not only even within similar phenotypes of the plant but also within the same plan itself.

The cannabis one week is going to be a different type of cannabis two or three weeks later, especially if it gets is dry and exposed to open air and a lot of the terpenes can escape.

The production of terpenes

Terpene production is more genetically than environmentally determined, so the strain is very important. Cloning can produce similar results but there is an environmental component.

Terpene production increases with wide exposure, so think of wine being stressed in the heat of the Sun kind of a thing and decreases with soil fertility. But it does increase terpene yields when the plants are deprived of nitrogen.

To maintain tight tolerances, good manufacturing practices like you would a pharmaceutical for example, cannabis does require the vegetative processing of the plants to really have tightly controlled temperature, light and humidity.

The more sophisticated recreational grows are definitely doing a lot of this, home grows maybe not so much. But realize that there are environmental factors that definitely do affect it and that also genetics are the same.

Protecting your phenotypes, sharing that genetic information is an important part of the whole terpene profile.

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The different terpenes and their properties

Myrcene - Cannabis

Myrcene also known as Beta-Myrcene is a terpene that is common to a lot of other plants. Lemongrass has high levels of Myrcene in it, as do mangos and hops.

Hops and and lemongrass are known to have sedative and relaxing effects and hops is actually a cousin of cannabis in the plant world.

When combined with THC or CBD especially, there’s a synergistic effect with Myrcene and it really can help produce sedation. Myrcene is one of the molecules responsible for couch lock.

For those people who like Indica to really get into their body and feel relaxed, that a lot of the times is a high Myrcene component.

Myrcene does have some pretty remarkable physiologic effects as a standalone molecule. It’s anti-inflammatory through prostaglandin pathways.

So anytime you’re using an anti-inflammatory approach there are different anti-inflammatory pathways. When you hit more than one, you have this potential for synergy as well.

In addition to an anti-inflammatory it is a good pain reliever. We mentioned the sedative aspects of it. It is a muscle relaxant and in animal studies Myrcene blocks liver cancer from forming.

And again, it has potential for synergy with other pathways, whether that be for sleep induction, for pain relief, for muscle relaxation or for spasticity. This is a pretty good molecule and is shared by a bunch of other plants.

Sometimes it could theoretically be much cheaper to get terpenes from say lemon grass or mangos, than it would be to hunt for a cannabis plant and try to create one that’s super high in a certain level.

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D-Limonene also limonene is what it’s called. This has a very lemony smell to it, so even something like a fresh pledge, something that kind of smells clean and bright.

We know in human studies, that we can take depressed patients and we can put them in a room and expose them to the limonene at very low levels and measure their depression on something called a Hamilton depression score and you can literally see the before and after. Their scores on the depressions are reduced.

They also reduce their use over time of antidepressant medications. We see a lot of folks changing their medications with cannabis. We recommend any antidepressant drug to be done under the supervision and care of a physician, but what the science is showing is, that this terpene is actually having an effect. Limonene is a very potent antidepressant through inhalation.

What we like to use the lemon fragrances for or if people are having a bad reaction to THC a lot of the times, the lemon can kind of lift them out of that dour mood.

We don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience of trying a particular strain and then all of a sudden you’re in a bad mood or you’re worried about something. That may or may not be this, but if you see that same pattern happening over and over again with the same strain that could be indicative one thing that can be very helpful are some of the lemon flavors with that.

Limonene does affect serotonin pathways, so there is a mechanism that physiologically makes sense why we would be having these anti-anxiety properties. It can help with GERD. Topically it can be helpful against acne bacteria.

In laboratory and cell tissue studies it actually causes breast cancer lines to self-destruct. It literally turns on an auto destruction program in breast cancer cells. Again, not in humans. We need more study.

We find it to be very synergistic with THC, for folks who tend not to like THC but may need a little bit of THC because that helps with their pain. It is a good terpene to have for daytime use.


Pinene is one of our favorites, not because of what it does but because we can just smell it so easily. A lot of the times we don’t even need a lab to know that it’s there.

It is anti-inflammatory through prostaglandin pathways and it also acts as a bronchodilator, which means it opens the airways, which can be good for asthmatics. Especially good for folks who may have trouble with inhalation, a Pinene oriented product where they want to do an inhalation might make that a little bit better.

Pinene does aid in memory. That’s one of the places where we think it can be most useful for people who tend to get a little dumb or stupid when they’re using too much THC. The Pinene can kind of help neutralize that, as along with the CBD, and it does aid the memory as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, so we know the mechanism about that.

Beta Caryophyllene
Beta Caryophyllene

The evolutionary function of this terpene is, that the plant uses it to stop itself from being eaten, either by insects or even mammals and herbivores. At the same time, there is a predatory lacewig insect, that when it smells Beta Caryophyllene it’s attracted to the plant.

It’s actually repelling the insects that it doesn’t like, and it is attracting the insects that eat the insects that the plant does not like. Kind of like a ladybug will take care of insects in a beneficial way.

It is also very common to black pepper. Beta Caryophyllene is a terpene that is common to black pepper and also copaiba balsam.

Beta Caryophyllene has a good anti-inflammatory activity at low level and can be good in a topical product.


Linalool is a terpene that is common in lavender and many people are familiar with lavender. It’s become very popular with lavender pillows and has a very nice relaxing smell for a lot of folks.

It’s believed that Linalool modulates glutamate and GABA neurotransmitters.

It is largely responsible for some of the anti-anxiety effects of it and also it is a sedative on inhalation in a rodent model. Linalool will slow them down.

It is an analgesic via adenosine receptors, so is working on a different pathway from the prostaglandins that a lot of the other terpenes run on. We think of this as a sedative, something that along with Myrcene can really help with a couch lock.

Again, the terpenes can be present in the cannabis plant or they can come from another plant such as lavender. We don’t necessarily need to have them together.

We don’t recommend this, but some folks will actually sprinkle in a little bit of lavender flower with their smoke, to add a little bit of a flavor. We don’t know very much about the smoking of lavender, but from a terpene perspective that certainly make sense on one level.

But a regular lavender diffuser in the atmosphere or even a lavender candle or something like that can have a positive influence in the room for patients or recreational users who are using cannabis. This is something that tends to be calming and sleep inducing.

A higher medical value of Cannabis with the knowledge of Terpenes

We do think that we have a shortage of experts in the field and this specialized knowledge is important too, because it’s not about whether or not cannabis works, it’s how to get it to work better or best.

When we have a shortage of experts, the market doesn’t behave like it should, because the consumers are not experiencing the positive effects that they could be experiencing if they are getting good education and good advice.

What is important is quality of products, good selection of products and folks who can make good recommendations for those products and then consumers who are educated enough to make intelligent choices.

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Create awareness to choose the right product

To choose a product A, B or C and to try them out and see which one may work best for them. We do think that the whole industry suffers with a lack of expertise and we hope that part of what we’re doing here is to kind of raise the overall level of awareness, so that people can make good choices out there for this botanical.

With botanical medicine there are so many things to consider and it is not so much having an ideal perfect product but having the patient be aware and be able to make choices and adjustments. Knowledge is a very critical thing and that’s one of the things we’re here doing at thehempoilbenefits.com.

The Hemp Oil Benefits

As a passionate writer and researcher, the cannabis expert is an important cornerstone of The Hemp Oil Benefits. He has been writing for large but also smaller websites in the industry for many years. His experience and expertise is a welcome addition to our team. Learn more about us.

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