What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes aren’t unique to cannabis plants. A plant can present numerous terpenes—all at various ratios with one typically overpowering the others, resulting in the smell or flavour we have come to recognise.
Aug 22, 2017
Cannabis 101

Terpenes are found in the same area of the marijuana plant that produces THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. It’s said that these chemicals developed odors to help cannabis thrive by attracting pollinators, repelling insects, protecting against bacteria and deterring fungi. However, how do odors change from plant to plant?

Profiles transform depending on the plant’s individual climate, soil, age and extraction processes. Researchers have found a synergistic relationship between cannabinoid compounds—the factors that ultimately affect our endocannabinoid system.

Both THC and terpenes concentrate on the psychoactive area of your brain to alter chemical outputs like dopamine and serotonin, but terpenes can adjust how much THC gets through the blood-brain barrier—creating unique effects that vary from plant to plant.

A New Horizon

While still in its infancy, mapping terpenes provides a higher level of accuracy when determining which strain is which. Some strains have even been found to have matching THC and CBD levels, meaning differences solely lie in terpene profiles. This new level of information gives a wealth of material for breeders to develop new strains, as well as help users decide which strain to choose depending on medical needs and desires.

Research has primarily focused on THC and CBD cannabinoids, but more than 200 varieties of terpenes have already been identified—each with their own unique characteristics and compositions.

“Terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids, and myriad other secondary compounds are working together with our receptor systems to produce a complex and unique experience.”

Common Terpenes

In our growing awareness of terpenes, we have recognized the scientific reason behind such potent smells and wide-ranging physical effects. It’s a new world that researchers and breeders are just now getting a handle on, providing insight into how each one affects you on a variety of levels.


If you’re feeling down, limonene terpene varieties improve can lift your mood and attitude. These lemon-smelling strains can help with anti-depression and gastric reflux.


Distinguishable by its musky, earthy or clove-like scent, this terpene typically presents a relaxing effect to its users and is said to enhance the plant’s THC’s psychoactive characteristics. It’s the most common profile found in cannabis and is also found in bay leaves and lemongrass.


Need a mental boost? Consider a variety with this pine-based terpene for better mental alertness and memory retention. Occasionally considered to smell both sharp and sweet, it’s also found in pine needles, conifers and sage.


Used to suppress appetite and provide anti-inflammatory relief, humulene can smell woody. You may find similarities to your favorite brews: These oils are also found in hops.


Looking for something floral and citrusy? Also found in lavender, birch and laurel, this variety is the chamomile of terpenes. Users will feel calm and slightly sedated and is ideal for those with insomnia, depression or anxiety.


Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are the pungent oils that colour cannabis varieties with distinctive favours like citrus, berry, mint, and pine. The most fascinating characteristic of terpenes is their ability to interact synergistically with other compounds in the plant, like cannabinoids. Many cannabis analysis labs now test terpene content, so any consumer can have a better idea of what effects their strain might produce. With their unlimited combinations of synergistic effects, terpenes will likely open up new scientific and medical terrains for cannabis research.

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All information on this page is subject to MCDSA’s disclaimer.


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