What are terpenes?
Terpenes are the fragrant oils found in fruits and plants (including cannabis) that give each strain its individual scent and flavour - they’re what you notice when you smell a lemon for example. They also comprise the main ingredient in essential oils. Terpenes are thought to provide a range of benefits seperate to those produced by cannabinoids.
The cannabis plant has more than 100 terpenes and each strain has its own profile. This is why if you use a different strain of cannabis - even if it has the same concentration of CBD and THC - you may notice different scents, flavours and effects. You can think of it a bit like wine - each variety has different flavours and scents that make each brand unique. In fact there’s even an equivalent cannabis sommelier - a ganjier!
What do they do?
In plants terpenes help protect the plant from harsh weather and predators. In humans it’s thought that terpenes have the ability to work with the cannabinoids in cannabis to enhance their effects and interact in what we call the entourage effect.
The entourage effect is the theory that when full spectrum cannabis (the whole plant) is used (as opposed to isolates like pure CBD) the compounds all interact with each other to produce enhanced sensations and effects.
Or in other words, a little of everything can be better than a lot of one.
An example of the entourage effect is the use of combination THC and CBD treatments. CBD modifies how THC works. This can mean that psychoactive effects like agitation and anxiety caused by THC are minimised by the presence of CBD, allowing treatment to be tolerated better.
Common terpenes and their reported effects
Found in: cloves, rosemary, black pepper
Potential effects: anti-anxiety, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, relaxant
Aromas: pepper, wood, spice
Found in: pine
Potential effects: antidepressant, anti-neoplastic, memory enhancement
Aromas: piney, sharp
Found in: chamomile
Potential effects: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, pain relief, stress relief
Aromas: sweet, fruity, nutty
Found in: lemons, citrus, ginger
Potential effects: anti-anxiety, immunity, anti-inflammatory
Aromas: lemon, orange
Found in: hops, sage, ginseng
Potential effects: Anticancer, anti-inflammatory, analgesic
Aromas: wood, earthy
Found in: mangoes, hops, lemongrass
Potential effects: anti fungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, sedating
Aromas: floral, earthy, citrus
Found in: lavender
Potential effects: analgesic, anti-anxiety, sedating
As noted, cannabis has over 100 terpenes and each strain has different terpenes present. Information on which terpenes are in each strain can be found with the product information. If you find you’re not getting the benefit you would like from your treatment, changing to a different strain with more suitable terpenes may be helpful.
It’s important to remember research into terpenes is still being conducted and further studies are needed to have a full understanding of how the compounds work.
Sommano SR, Chittasupho C, Ruksiriwanich W, Jantrawut P. The Cannabis Terpenes. Molecules. 2020 Dec 8;25(24):5792. doi: 10.3390/molecules25245792. PMID: 33302574; PMCID: PMC7763918.
Cox-Georgian D, Ramadoss N, Dona C, Basu C. Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes. Medicinal Plants. 2019;333-359. Published 2019 Nov 12. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-31269-5_15