What Is Limonene and What Are the Benefits, Effects, and Top Strains?

limonene terpene effects
By Nick Congleton Updated March 8th

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

What gives cannabis strains their distinctive smell? Why do they taste different? For the answer to both questions, you can thank terpenes like limonene. Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds found in all plants that give each plant a signature smell and taste. But it doesn’t stop there. Scientists and savvy consumers alike are now looking to terpenes for a more complete picture of a strain’s potential benefits and effects.

The cannabis plant can produce many different terpenes depending on its genetics, and limonene, or more scientifically D-limonene, is the one usually responsible for sweet, citrus, and fruity aromas. The limonene terpene isn’t limited to the cannabis plant, either. Limonene is found in abundance in the rinds of all citrus fruit, especially oranges. In fact, the limonene terpene is one of the most commonly occurring in nature. And while the way it works in the body isn’t well understood, early-stage studies have shown promising potential for health applications.

limonene terpene

How Does Limonene Work?

Some of limonene’s purported benefits are well established in traditional medicine. In Japan, a fruit known to be packed with limonene has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory properties in treating asthma.

Despite a long history in traditional medicine, there isn’t much human research out there. Most modern studies on the effects of the limonene terpene have been conducted either on cells and chemicals or in animals, and the science still isn’t clear on exactly how D-limonene interacts with nerve cells and other organs within the human body.

Scientists do know, however, that when someone breathes in limonene it releases chemicals associated with pleasure and positive emotions in parts of the brain linked to anxiety and depression. So while further research is needed before definitive claims can be made, there is promising evidence.

Potential Benefits of Limonene

Limonene has many potential benefits that are the subject of further study. Even those potential benefits with substantial research behind them cannot yet be applied to limonene as it’s found in cannabis. In some cases this is due to the size of the study, or the lack of human trials. And in all cases we found, the quantities of the terpene that far exceed what consumers will find in commercially available strains. 

  • In addition to its use in Japanese traditional medicine, there have been several studies conducted that appear to corroborate claims of limonene’s anti-inflammatory benefits. (1)
  • Another study demonstrated that limonene may have anti-oxidant effects. The study suggested that limonene has potential to stop free radicals from increasing inflammation and further cell damage in leukemia cells. (2)
  • There are some promising preclinical studies into limonene’s potential cancer-fighting benefits. One study showed that limonene has potential to decrease breast cancer cell expression in recently diagnosed women. (3)
  • Other studies in animals have demonstrated that limonene may have a role to play in fighting other forms of cancer, including skin cancer, but further research is needed. (4, 5)
  • Limonene might have benefits to heart health as well. One study found that limonene reduced several forms of cholesterol as well as blood sugar in mice. (6)

As of this writing, limonene is not an approved treatment for any of the conditions listed above. So while the results of these studies indicate potential benefits of the terpene under the right circumstances, a great deal more research needs to be done.

Cannabis Strains High in Limonene

Limonene is found in multitudes of products outside of the cannabis world. Limonene is extremely common in cleaning products and perfumes. It’s also found in cosmetics and lotions. And plenty of food manufacturers also use limonene as an additive for both flavor and aroma.

Within commercial cannabis strains, limonene is one of the most common terpenes. The concentrations, though, aren’t as predictable. Genetics, growth conditions, and the way the cannabis was harvested and cured all play a role in the amount of limonene in a strain.  There are, however, a few cannabis strains known for their higher limonene content. You can find them listed below.

  • Banana OG
  • Berry White
  • Black Cherry Soda
  • Do-Si-Dos
  • MAC
  • Purple Hindu Kush
  • Tahoe OG
  • Wedding Cake
  • White Fire OG

Limonene is one of the most common terpenes in both cannabis and nature as a whole. Its fruity citrus aroma is certainly refreshing, and early-stage studies suggest it may have a variety of potential benefits under the right circumstances and in the right quantities. If you’re looking to try limonene’s effects for yourself, check out cannabis strains with a lemon-citrus smell, or better still, find a strain that’s lab certified to have a high limonene concentration.


  1. Chang, Gu Hyun. “Limonene suppresses lipopolysaccharide-induced production of nitric oxide, prostaglandin E2, and pro-inflammatory cytokines in RAW 264.7 macrophages.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20625233/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  2. “Anti-inflammatory effects of limonene from yuzu (Citrus junos Tanaka) essential oil on eosinophils.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20492298/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  3. “Human breast tissue disposition and bioactivity of limonene in women with early stage breast cancer.” NCBI, 3 April 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3692564/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  4. Gould, MN. “Chemoprevention and therapy of cancer by d-limonene.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7948106/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  5. Alam, Sarwar. “D-Limonene modulates inflammation, oxidative stress and Ras-ERK pathway to inhibit murine skin tumorigenesis.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22318307/. Accessed 28 March 2022.
  6. Zhou, Zhiqin. “Preventive and ameliorating effects of citrus D-limonene on dyslipidemia and hyperglycemia in mice with high-fat diet-induced obesity.” PubMed, 5 September 2013, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23838456/. Accessed 28 March 2022.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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