Cannabis 101

What are Cannabis Terpenes?

You might be familiar with the term, as it has been taking the cannabis industry by storm, but what exactly are cannabis terpenes and how do they impact your high? 

Terpenes are the aromatic compounds contained in many plants, creating their characteristic scent and protecting plants from infectious germs and animal grazing. Now, terpenes are commonly associated with cannabis due to the high concentrations found in the plant. Thanks to the proliferation of cannabis research, scientists are exploring the potential health benefits of terpenes and how they alter the effects on the human body.  

What Exactly are Terpenes?

These aromatic compounds impact how plants and herbs smell, and are often isolated by manufacturers to create the scent and flavor of products such as foods, perfumes, and body care products. In nature, terpenes play a critical role protecting plants and assisting in damage recovery. Whether it be repelling predators, attracting pollinators, or fighting off infectious germs, terpenes are critical in nature. 

The Difference Between Terpenes and Cannabinoids

The chemical compounds found in cannabis are known as cannabinoids. These compounds such as THC activate receptors found in the human body’s endocannabinoid system, providing the “high” experienced from smoking weed. Similarly, CBD is a cannabinoid that delivers medicinal benefits by activating the same receptors without the psychoactive effects.

Terpenes on the other hand are mostly responsible for the aroma found in cannabis plants. Recent studies suggest that terpenes may have a related effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system, however, humans absorb and utilize terpenes in a different way than cannabinoids. 

How Do Terpenes Affect Cannabis Users?

The bioactive nature of most terpenes results in an effect on the human body when consumed. The specific terpenes and concentration contained in a cannabis strain impacts how it is felt. The potency of terpene aromas serves as the foundation of essential oils, which are used within alternative therapies. 

Those familiar with aromatherapy understand how inhaling these scents can affect mood. Research is now illuminating similar effects from terpenes consumed via cannabis, implying that these compounds impact the effect THC and CBD have on cannabis users. More and more studies are being conducted to isolate terpenes and determine their potential within medical research. One such study conducted by Chemico-Biological Interactions suggests that many terpenes have benefits that could function as a viable alternative medicine. 

Common Types of Terpenes

Cannabis contains about 400 known terpenes, but most have not been linked to specific effects. Some of the most common terpenes include:


Abundant in nature in two forms (a-pinene and b-pinene), Pinene is responsible for the bright aromas of plants such as basil, pine needles, and rosemary. The therapeutic benefits of this terpene are still being unlocked, but studies have shown that airborne pinene within a healthy forest has anti-inflammatory and infection fighting effects. 


Recognizable by its citrusy scent, Limonene has been proven to modulate the behavior of immune cells. This can protect against a number of disorders, providing the following therapeutic benefits:

  • Antiviral
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-diabetic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-cancer


Found in plants like thyme, lemongrass, and hops, Myrcene is a very common cannabis terpene. Studies suggest that Myrcene contains potent antioxidant properties, helping protect the brain from post-stroke oxidative damage. While these studies utilized high concentrations of Myrcene, there are a lot of potential benefits of cannabis with Myrcene. 


Terpenes are an important consideration within the cannabis experience. From the aroma and flavor to the psychoactive effects, these compounds are becoming an increasingly popular way to predict the effect of cannabis on users. The science around terpenes is still relatively new, so no definitive claims can be made about them. Many factors contribute to the effects of cannabis including physiology, setting, and tolerance. Terpenes are but one component adding to the experience. 

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