The Dirt on Terpenes: The Science Behind the Scent

The Dirt on Terpenes: The Science Behind the Scent

Terpene analysis is currently one of the most important trends in the cannabis industry, but many patients don’t even know what terpenes are. Allow us to break it down for you!

The Chemistry of Lavender

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in plants that give different flora — and, indeed, different strains of cannabis — their unique scent and flavor profile. They also have distinct effects on the human body that have been tapped for a variety of medicinal uses for thousands of years. There are at least 20,000 identified terpenes found in nature. Depending on which source you consult, cannabis plants contain anywhere from 100 to 200 different terpenes.

In cannabis, terpenes are divided into primary and secondary categories, depending on their prevalence and role within the particular plant. Differing combinations of primary and secondary terpenes, cannabinoids, and other chemicals within a strain are what bring about the broad range of effects obtainable through cannabis use.

The some of the more prevalent terpenes of cannabis are:

Alpha-bisabolol, the major active component of chamomile.

Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene, found in pine trees and rosemary.

Borneol, widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, with a camphor-like aroma. 

Caryophyllene, the spicy, peppery scent in oregano and cloves.

Eucalyptol, found in tea tree, cardamom, and sage.

Humulene, also used in Chinese medicine, abundant in hops, sage, ginger and ginseng.

Limonene, oil found in the peels of oranges and other citrus fruit.

Linalool, a primary component of Lavender (see inset).

Myrcene, the most common terpene found in cannabis, also in hops, lemongrass, basil and mangoes. 

Ocimene, a sweet, woodsy scent often used in perfumes, also found in mint, parsley, and tarragon.

The Purpose of Terpenes

In nature, plants (and some insects) use terpenes to both attract pollinators and repel predators, as well as to protect them from bacteria and fungus. Cannabis plants produce terpenes within their trichomes — in macro photographs, trichomes are those tiny

Trichomes close up
Macro close up of trichomes on female cannabis indica plant leaf on black background.

mushroom-like crystals. Within the trichomes, any number of terpenes are formed, along with cannabinoids and flavanoids. All of these elements interact to determine how cannabis will affect a user, and give us so many incredible strains to try.

Similar to how aromatherapy relies on terpenes’ ability to impact the nervous system, the terpenes in cannabis interact with our endocannabinoid system to increase and modify the effects of cannabinoids, directly improving the medical benefits of cannabis. This is referred to as the entourage effect. For example, the myrcene affects the permeability of cell membranes, allowing more THC to reach the brain. Other terpenes can limit the absorption of THC, which can be useful for patients who prefer less psychoactivity from their medication.

Future posts will feature specific terpene profiles, so keep your eyes here for more!