According to Wikipedia, terpenes are a “large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers, and by some insects.” Their role is first and foremost to produce distinct aromas. Terpenes are behind the characteristic scent of mangos, pine trees, anise, and a wide array of plants you can identify by smell. Terpenes are abundant in tree resin and are the main ingredient of essential oils. They are commonly used in food, cosmetics, and the pharmaceutical industry.
Note that while these terms are often used interchangeably, terpenes and terpenoids are not the same thing. From a chemical standpoint, terpenes are hydrocarbons (hydrogen and carbon molecules), unlike terpenoids which contain additional functional groups that are usually oxygen-based. But while slightly different chemically, these two classes share a lot of similarities, so the information in this article applies to both.
Terpenes are integral parts of the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant contains more than 100 identified terpenes, and each of them comes with its own characteristics, scent, and set of potential benefits. Each cannabis strain contains a diverse terpene profile—for example, strains with the name “Lemon” often contain large amounts of limonene alongside other terpenes.
Terpenes and cannabis are so closely entangled that a common misconception is that terpenes are cannabinoids. That’s not true, and terpenes (with one exception which will be discussed later on) do not interact with the body in the same way, i.e., they do not bind to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors.
Another important chapter in the relationship between terpenes and cannabis is the recent movement toward a better strain classification system. Most cannabis strains are currently classified into two major categories by species, indica and sativa. While still a matter of debate in the scientific community, emerging research shows that this classification may be outdated, and that the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of the plant gives us a much better indication of the potential effects and benefits a strain has to offer.
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While CBD itself doesn’t actually contain terpenes, terpenes and CBD are commonly used together. Many broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD products contain a variety of terpenes in their formulas, which not only help by lending an original aroma but also by adding to the way of benefits. We previously discussed their effects as standalone chemical compounds, so let’s take a look at the way terpenes synergize with cannabinoids.
While not measurably, the entourage effect is almost certainly enriched with the addition of terpenes. But what is the entourage effect? It’s been long hypothesized that the effects of the whole cannabis plant are far more beneficial to us than the sum of the plant’s parts. CBD, THC, and the rest of the cannabinoids work together in synergy and produce a much more wholesome effect. With terpenes being a very important part of the chemical profile of cannabis, there is a high chance that they also add to this synergy.
But what does that mean for you? If you want to reap the full benefits of CBD oil, going after a broad or a full-spectrum CBD product is probably the best choice. (Note that full-spectrum CBD oil contains low amounts of THC, which is probably not enough to get you high but may cause you a failed drug test.) But a full or broad-spectrum CBD oil is not guaranteed to contain terpenes, and when it does, the terpene content may be negligible. For this reason, it is always worth checking independent test results. This way you can be sure that your product contains the right amount of the specific terpenes you want to add to your regimen.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most important terpenes found in cannabis, their basic characteristics, and the effects they have on the human body.
Myrcene is found in large concentrations in the cannabis plant. It exudes a musky herbal aroma.
As you’d expect from its name, limonene is a terpene with a characteristic citrusy aroma. It is often found in fruit rinds and a wide array of citrus fruits.
Caryophyllene is the only terpene that acts as a cannabinoid. It binds to the brain’s receptors and acts as an antioxidant. It has a spicy and peppery aroma.
Terpinolene is widely used in perfumery due to its complex piney herbal scent.
Pinene is the most abundant terpene in nature. It has a characteristic piney aroma and can be found in a wide variety of plants.
Humulene’s characteristic herbal scent is behind the hoppy aroma of beer.
Linalool is the main terpene in lavender and comes with a strong, floral aroma.
It is also important to note that each terpene has its own boiling point. That’s especially useful when using a variable temperature vaporizer. If you are interested in the ideal temperature for vaporizing cannabis terpenes, make sure to check our best temperature to vape weed article.