What you will learn in this post:
- What are Terpenes?
- What are the Common Cannabis Terpenes?
- What is a Terpene Chart?
- Cannabis Terpenes Chart: Frequently Asked Questions
Like wine and cigars, each cannabis strain possesses unique aromas. Some are invigorating, while others can make you wrinkle your nose. These aromas that hit your nose hairs are the result of chemical compounds called terpenes.
This article discusses what terpenes are, which are the most common in commercial cannabis strains, and how to use a terpene chart to help you find cultivars that are more likely to get you the desired effects.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in the essential oils of plants. They have diverse functions that affect the color and contribute to the flavor profile of each plant. As we’re learning, terpenes may play an important role in defining the therapeutic and mood-altering effects of your favorite cannabis strains.¹
There are different terpenes structures based on the number of isoprenes units they have: mono, di, tri, tetra, and sesquiterpenes. Isoprene terpenes combat abiotic (non-living) stresses like the weather. In contrast, mono and sesquiterpenes act as protectors and communicators between the plant, other plants, climate, and creatures.²
In cannabis, terpenes are found in the trichomes, those resin-filled bulbous sticky hairs found primarily on the buds, or nugs.
Research on how the body interacts with terpenes, especially in relationship to cannabis, is still in the early stages. The theory is that terpenes work closely with the rest of the cannabis plant’s chemical makeup (cannabinoids and flavonoids). This synchronicity gives users a unique psychoactive experience with each strain, known as the entourage effect.
Terpenes can be isolated and used in products like cleaning solvents, pesticides, and dyes – think aromas like pine (Pinesol cleaner contains the pinene terpene). They can also be isolated in specific cannabis products like edibles to help achieve the desired effect.
Terpenes are not unique or exclusive to cannabis. Some of the most popular terpenes for non-cannabis consumers are:
- Thymol - This terpene is found in thyme and other herbs and cheese like blueberries, mango, and gruyere. It has a gentle, sweet aroma. It is used for cooking and antibacterial³ applications.
- Borneol - Borneol is found in cinnamon, as well as over 250 other essential oils with anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory⁴ properties.
- Sabine - Sabine is found in turmeric, with a warm spicy smell. Some studies suggest it may aid in boosting immunity⁵ and fighting bacterial infections.⁶
What are the Common Cannabis Terpenes?
There are over 150 different terpenes found in the cannabis plant. Most research looking at terpene effects has focused on a single isolated terpene, and uses higher quantities than consumers will find in commercially available strains.
A few of the most common terpenes are:
- Myrcene – Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis, and is found in particularly high volumes in strains like Grand Daddy Purple, OG Kush, Jack Herer, and Soul Diesel. Due to its pleasant and sweet aroma, it is commonly used in fragrances. One study found that it may positively affect transdermal absorption and increase cannabinoid transport through the blood-brain barrier⁷, but further research is needed.
- Caryophyllene – This terpene is found in black pepper, hopes cloves, oregano, and basil. It has a robust woodsy odor. Studies have been done on caryophyllene’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to aid gastrointestinal issues. In cannabis, you can find caryophyllene in strains like Zkittles, Bubba Kush, GG4, and Blue Dream.
- Limonene – Limonene is one of the most recognizable terpenes. Found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, it is regularly added to fragrances, soaps, and foods. It has traditionally been used in Japanese medicine, and more recently has been studied for its potential anti-inflammatory benefits.⁸ Current studies have also shown limonene may have potential antioxidant effects⁹ and decreased cancer cell expression in women diagnosed with breast cancer.¹⁰
What is a Terpene Chart?
Some brands offer consumers a list of the top terpenes present in each cultivar, known as the terpene profile. This profile, along with the cannabinoid content, can give users an idea of how the strain will interact with their body.
A terpene chart is a valuable supplement to help medical cannabis patients and recreational consumers understand terpenes and their possible effects on the body.
The following terpene chart will give you an idea of how the terpenes may play a role in your cannabis experience.
Cannabis Terpenes Chart: Frequently Asked Questions
Do terpenes get you high by themselves?
Terpenes are not necessarily the compound in cannabis responsible for the psychoactive effects you feel when consuming. While some terpenes may have slight psychoactive effects, it’s more that the terpenes influence the other chemical compounds in the cannabis plant when interacting with your body.
An analogy often used by cannabis consultants (budtenders) is the following:
If consuming cannabis is like driving a car, the cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) act as the gas pedal while the terpenes steer the experience.
What is the difference between terpenes and terpenoids?
Terpenes and terpenoids are similar in their chemical structure, and both have potential therapeutic benefits that require further study. They are also found in cannabis and other plants, as well as used in a variety of other household items and herbal remedies.
While they are both organic compounds, terpenoids are derived from terpenes. The main difference is that terpenes are simple hydrocarbons, and terpenoids are oxygenated hydrocarbons where methyl groups are moved or removed.
How are terpenes different from CBD?
Both terpenes and CBD are non-intoxicating chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. They work together in what’s known as the entourage effect, the idea that all components of the cannabis plant work together with the body to create a unique experience.
There are, however, many differences between the two.
Terpenes are chemical compounds that provide plants with their flavor and smell and can help determine the color of a plant. They bind to a variety of different receptors in the human body. While they do not directly interact with the endocannabinoid system, they can affect how cannabinoids absorb in our bodies.
CBD is one of over 150 cannabinoids found only in the cannabis plant, along with THC. CBD has no smell and modulates the endocannabinoid system by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors.
How do you get the most terpenes when growing?
The terpene content of each strain or cultivar can vary from grow to grow. Several factors can impact terpenes, including:
- The quality of the genetics,
- Soil type and quality,
- Whether or not plants are flushed,
- Harvest time,
- And post-harvest care, including cure and trim.
Can terpenes be affected during curing and processing?
Terpenes are located in the buds’ trichomes, and can easily be lost during the drying and curing process. Processing of the nugs can result in a loss of terpenes as well.
There are a few different processes to extract terpenes from the cannabis plant. Making distillate is when the plant is stripped of everything, including terpenes, and only the THC is left. Live resin concentrates are extracted from fresh frozen flower, which preserves terpenes before extracting any oil. Solventless extractions preserve the full terpene and cannabinoid of the original cultivar.
How do you preserve terpenes for stored cannabis?
Once the nugs are packaged for purchase, there are a few ways that customers can help to preserve the terpene content.
First, it is important to be mindful of the packaging date. Weed has a relatively long shelf life. Some say up to a year. However, due to terpene's volatile nature, older weed will likely have lost some of their original terpene content. All cannabis products on legal shelves have a harvest and package date.
After the original package is opened, it is essential to maintain good moisture content. Be careful not to expose the nugs to too much moisture, light or air. This can cause the weed to become overly dry or overly moist. Dry weed can result in a loss of terpenes (as well as flavor, aroma, and desired effects), while weed that's too moist can be challenging to burn and grind and may present an increased risk for mold.
A few tricks and tools can help to keep the nugs at their best, including how you store your weed. UV-protected, airtight jars or a humidor can be excellent storage units for cannabis flower. You can also purchase humidity packs that you can throw in the jar that will help to maintain proper moisture.
Only purchase and grind what you need. Buying and grinding more than what you plan to consumer risks exposing your flower to too many outside elements that can deteriorate the terpene content.
¹ Cox-Georgian, Destinney, et al. “Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes.” Medicinal Plants, 12 Nov. 2019, pp. 333–359, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120914/, 10.1007/978-3-030-31269-5_15.
² Rosenkranz, Maaria, et al. “Volatile Terpenes – Mediators of Plant‐To‐Plant Communication.” The Plant Journal, vol. 108, no. 3, 28 Aug. 2021, pp. 617–631, 10.1111/tpj.15453. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.
³ Trombetta, D., et al. “Mechanisms of Antibacterial Action of Three Monoterpenes.” Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, vol. 49, no. 6, 25 May 2005, pp. 2474–2478, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1140516/, 10.1128/aac.49.6.2474-2478.2005.
⁴ Ehrnhöfer-Ressler, Miriam M., et al. “Identification of 1,8-Cineole, Borneol, Camphor, and Thujone as Anti-Inflammatory Compounds in a Salvia Officinalis L. Infusion Using Human Gingival Fibroblasts.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 61, no. 14, 26 Mar. 2013, pp. 3451–3459, 10.1021/jf305472t. Accessed 30 Aug. 2022.
⁵ Krifa, Mounira, et al. “Immunomodulatory and Anticancer Effects of Pituranthos Tortuosus Essential Oil.” Tumour Biology: The Journal of the International Society for Oncodevelopmental Biology and Medicine, vol. 36, no. 7, 1 July 2015, pp. 5165–5170, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25663463/, 10.1007/s13277-015-3170-3. Accessed 30 Aug. 2022.
⁶ Verma, Ram S, et al. “Chemical Composition and Antibacterial, Antifungal, Allelopathic and Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitory Activities of Cassumunar-Ginger.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 98, no. 1, 24 July 2017, pp. 321–327, 10.1002/jsfa.8474. Accessed 28 May 2020.
⁷ “Myrcene - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics.” Www.sciencedirect.com, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/myrcene.
⁸ Hirota, Ryoji, et al. “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Limonene from Yuzu (Citrus Junos Tanaka) Essential Oil on Eosinophils.” Journal of Food Science, vol. 75, no. 3, Apr. 2010, pp. H87–H92, 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01541.x
⁹ Chaudhary, S. C., et al. “D-Limonene Modulates Inflammation, Oxidative Stress and Ras-ERK Pathway to Inhibit Murine Skin Tumorigenesis.” Human & Experimental Toxicology, vol. 31, no. 8, 1 Aug. 2012, pp. 798–811, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22318307/, 10.1177/0960327111434948.
¹⁰ Crowell, P. L., and M. N. Gould. “Chemoprevention and Therapy of Cancer by D-Limonene.” Critical Reviews in Oncogenesis, vol. 5, no. 1, 1994, pp. 1–22, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7948106/, 10.1615/critrevoncog.v5.i1.10
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.