A tincture laying on top of cannabis leaves

What Are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do?

When it comes to flavor, it turns out you may have your nose to thank even more than your mouth. While some researchers report around 80% of the flavors we taste come from smell, others claim a whopping 90% of what we perceive as taste is actually smell

Think about wine. If you’ve ever seen a sommelier or general wine connoisseur do a tasting, you’ll likely notice they spend just as much time sniffing as sipping. And often these individuals will gravitate towards one or several smell profiles, from floral to fruity or herbal to earthy. 

The same could be said for flavors in beer. Ask any serious craft IPA drinker and they can likely rattle off at least a few of their favorite hops varieties. Some lean toward those with a pine-y aroma while others might prefer a more citrus-y or tropical profile.

If you’ve ever found yourself reaching for a particular strain of cannabis, you likely have the same substance to thank as those beer- and wine-lovers: terpenes. 

What Are Terpenes in Cannabis?

Terpenes are organic compounds found in certain plants. Any time you’ve inhaled the smell of pine, lavender, or orange peel, you’re getting a heavy dose of terpenes. And while we humans may love the aromatic properties, terpenes largely originated in coniferous plants to ward off herbivores and attract pollinators. Other types of terpenes may act as a part of the plant’s immune system, aiding in recovery and fighting off infectious germs and bacteria.

While terpenes can be found in many plant varieties and even some insects, they are often associated with cannabis due to their high concentration in the plant. Cannabis terpenes, specifically, are produced by trichomes, the sticky, mushroom-shaped crystals that cover the leaves and buds of marijuana plants.

So why do we care about terpenes in cannabis, specifically?

Aside from providing the pungent aroma that helps distinguish one strain from another and adds a tasty element to consumption, cannabis terpenes are also responsible for the varying effects of these strains. While two cannabis plants may have similar cannabinoid (tetrahydrocannabinol-THC and cannabidiol-CBD) structures, they can have completely different terpene structures, resulting in two very different experiences. In other words, if you’re looking to wind down after a long day, you’ll likely reach for a cannabis strain with a very different terpene composition than when you’re preparing to throw a party or practice your new hobby. 

Health Benefits of Terpenes

Cannabis is one of the most popular recreational drugs in the country, with increased legalization in the United States since Colorado and Washington state first legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012.

But the plant’s health benefits prompted medical legalization in some states more than 15 years prior. We have terpenes to thank for that, too; after all, many of these health benefits are rooted directly in the plants’ varying terpene compositions. Below are the most common terpenes found in cannabis plants and their associated benefits:*

  • Borneol: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-cancer
  • Camphene: antibiotic, anti-inflammatory
  • Caryophyllene: anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antidepressant, anti-anxiety
  • Delta 3 Carene: anti-inflammatory, antihistamine
  • Limonene: anti-cancer, anti-anxiety; stimulates weight loss
  • Linalool: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antimicrobial, antidepressant, anti-anxiety, aids neural function
  • Myrcene: anti-inflammatory, calming, induces sleep
  • Alpha- and Beta-Pinene: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, bronchodilator, memory support
  • Terpineol: anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory

Terpenes vs Cannabinoids

Terpenes and cannabinoids have many things in common. They are both a natural compound found in cannabis plants. They both boast a variety of health benefits and develop in the trichome of the plant. And, while its name may be misleading, cannabinoids, like terpenes, are found in other plants, as well — not just cannabis.

Unlike terpenes, however, cannabinoids do not contribute to a cannabis strain’s smell or flavor. This compound actually works with the cannabis terpenes in the endocannabinoid system (neurotransmitters and cannabinoid receptors of the nervous systems) to create the medicinal, therapeutic, or psychoactive effects of consumption. This relationship is referred to as the entourage effect.

There are two primary types of cannabinoids in weed, and you’ll likely recognize their names. For many decades, cannabis consumption focused primarily on the use of cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which provides the body or mind “high.” When we talk about marijuana legalization, we’re talking specifically about the legalization of consumption of this cannabinoid. More recently, however, another cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), has grown in popularity, as researchers continue to uncover its ability to treat various ailments. 

While benefits have been discovered when individuals consume THC or CBD in their pure form, the effects of these cannabinoids are amplified when in their full form, which includes terpenes.

Terpene Odors

While you may love the smell of your favorite strains of cannabis made possible by terpenes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want those odors lingering after a session or smelling up your kitchen after baking homemade edibles. But cannabis odors — particularly from certain terpene structures — can be stubborn. Often perfume-y air fresheners simply mask the smell temporarily before disappearing and leaving the same smell in their wake.

The solution? Fight fire with fire (hypothetically, of course). Combat naturally-occurring odors from cannabis plants with the natural, odor-absorbing properties of other plant oils. Cannabolish Odor Eliminating Sprays and Candles are scientifically formulated to eliminate cannabis odors from air and surfaces safely and effectively, so you can enjoy your favorite strains stress-free. 


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