15 Cannabis Terpenes Explained (Complete Visual Guide)

You might have noticed that not all cannabis strains smell the same. Pine, berry, mint… There’s more than a few distinctive fragrances in cannabis.

Cannabis has a unique smell. Some people find it unpleasant and overwhelming, while most weed enthusiasts find it very calming and enjoyable. Just like any other plant, pot has components that are responsible for its unique aroma and flavor.

Those components are terpenes, aromatic molecules secreted inside the tiny resin glands of cannabis flowers.

Terpenes produce a citrusy aroma in some strains, fruity and sweet notes in others and, while some may smell and taste like lavender, others can be more earthy and pungent. Certain strains even smell like cheese. But, it’s not all about the smell.

Terpenes also produce a wide range of medical effects and there are at least 80-100 terpenes unique to cannabis — the combination of terpenes and cannabinoids is responsible for the entire success of medical cannabis.

What are terpenes and what is their use?

Terpenes are organic chemicals produced by most plants, and even some animals such as swallowtail butterflies and termites. Terpenes are volatile aromatic molecules — molecules that evaporate easily.

These substances have two very important roles in every plant’s life: terpenes are the primary component of resin and they protect the flowers from predators.

Terpenes are used in the production of essential oils, in natural health and beauty products, in the fragrance and aromatherapy industry, as well as in conventional and alternative medicine. They are also synthetically created for use as flavoring and food additives.

Here are a few more fun facts about terpenes: natural rubber is made of terpenes, as are many steroids. Maple syrup contains about 300 different terpenes, which is why it’s so yummy.

But what about cannabis?

Terpenes give each strain its unique smell and taste. Not only that but they also enhance the health effects of cannabis by influencing how we process cannabinoids.

Let’s explore this in more detail.

How terpenes work with cannabinoids?

What we usually consume from cannabis are the flowers.

And just like all other flowers, cannabis flowers have their own recognizable scent.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, there are about 120 terpenes in cannabis. They coexist there with cannabinoids like THC and CBD (sometimes even working with them to better our experience), but it’s important to know that terpenes are not psychoactive like THC.

Some of these terpenes can be found in other plants, while others are exclusive to cannabis.

But, it’s not all about the smell, as terpenes also have many therapeutic properties:

They interact with our endocannabinoid system and assist cannabinoids in entering the bloodstream through a process called the entourage effect.

Myrcene, for instance, increases cell permeability and allows cannabinoids to be absorbed faster than they would get on their own.

Limonene is responsible for increasing serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter in charge of our mood. This explains why different strains may have different effects on our mood. The whole cannabis experience is suddenly starting to make sense, right?

Terpenes and the “Entourage Effect” explained

The “Entourage Effect” is a term coined by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam back in 1998, to represent the biological synergy of cannabinoids and other compounds like flavonoids and terpenes. (1)

Simply put, when terpenes work with cannabinoids (a likely scenario when consuming a whole plant product), they form a synergy that creates stronger and better effects than both would achieve on their own.

This symbiosis between cannabinoids and terpenes is what gives cannabis its special powers, as it improves the absorption of cannabinoids, overcomes bacterial defense mechanisms and minimizes side effects.

Research behind the medical properties of terpenes

Some terpenes are very effective in relieving stress, others are great when you need to relax, and some are awesome for boosting focus. There are many options here, as you’ll have a chance to see in the next few minutes.

Take myrcene, one of the most abundant terpenes in cannabis, which is responsible for inducing sleep. Or limonene, the citrusy messenger in charge for making us feel uplifted after smoking a joint.

In recent years, cannabis terpenes have become an important subject of scientific research.

It was Jürg Gertsch who first noticed the ability of beta-caryophyllene to bind to CB2 receptors, calling it “a dietary cannabinoid”. (2)

He also concluded that all green vegetables that contain this terpene are extremely beneficial for human use.

Shortly after that, Dr. Ethan Russo published an article in 2011, in the British Journal of Pharmacology, and pointed out to the therapeutic properties of terpenes in cannabis, especially those missing in cannabis products that only contain a single molecule (CBD oil as a primary example). (3)

Dr. Russo also described the cannabinoid-terpene interaction as a “synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections”.

Further research discovered that terpenes, terpenoids, and cannabinoids all have the ability to kill respiratory pathogens, for instance, the MRSA virus.

However, that’s not even half of the story. Terpenes have a lot more health effects which we’ll go into next.

15 terpenes in cannabis explained

Since there are around 120 terpenes in cannabis, it would take us a while to go over each of them in great detail. Instead, here are some of the most abundant terpenes in common medical cannabis products.

Myrcene

Myrcene is the most abundant terpene in cannabis, which is where it’s mostly found in nature. In fact, one study showed that myrcene makes up as much as 65% of total terpene profile in some strains. (4)

The smell of Myrcene often reminds us of earthy, musky notes, similar to cloves. It also has a fruity, red grape-like aroma.

Strains that contain 0.5% of this terpene are usually indicas, packed full of sedative effects. Myrcene is also supposedly useful in reducing inflammation and chronic pain, which is why it’s usually recommended as a supplement during cancer treatments.

Strains that are rich in myrcene are Skunk XL, White Widow, and Special Kush.

Bonus tip: If you want to experience a stronger buzz from marijuana, eat a mango about 45 minutes before smoking. Mango contains a significant amount of myrcene, so eating it before consuming cannabis will strengthen the effects of THC and increase the absorption rate of other cannabinoids.

Limonene

Limonene is the second most abundant terpene in cannabis, but not all strains necessarily have it.

As the name itself says, limonene produces a citrusy smell that resembles lemons, which is no surprise as all citrus fruits contain large amounts of this compound. Limonene is used in cosmetics and also in cleaning products.

When it comes its therapeutic purposes, limonene is a mood-booster and a stress-crusher. Researchers also found it to have anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, with one study even announcing that limonene may play a role in reducing tumor size. (5)

Getting a hold of this terpene is easy — strains that have “lemon” or “sour” in their name are usually rich in limonene.

Some good examples of these are O.G. Kush, Sour Diesel, Super Lemon Haze, Durban Poison, Jack Herer, and Jack the Ripper.

Linalool

If you’ve ever wondered what makes cannabis smell the way it does, myrcene and linalool are to blame. With its spicy and floral notes, this terpene is one of the most abundant in the majority of strains out there and, together with myrcene produces that pungent and spicy scent.

Linalool can also be found in lavender, mint, cinnamon, and coriander. What’s interesting is that just like those aromatic herbs, linalool also produces sedation and relaxation.

Patients suffering from arthritis, depression, seizures, insomnia and even cancer, have all found relief with this amazing terpene.

Some well-known linalool strains are Amnesia Haze, Special Kush, Lavender, LA Confidential, and OG Shark.

Caryophyllene

Best known for its spicy and peppery note, caryophyllene is also found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and spices like oregano, basil, and rosemary.

Beta-caryophyllene binds to CB2 receptors, which makes it an ingredient in anti-inflammatory topicals and creams. Caryophyllene is the only terpene that binds to cannabinoid receptors.

Besides its analgesic and anxiolytic properties, some studies have found that caryophyllene has a very promising role in alcohol rehabilitation.

A group of scientists performed research on mice and found that this terpene reduces the voluntary intake of alcohol. They even recommended caryophyllene for treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms. (6)

Strains like Super Silver Haze, Skywalker and Rock Star are all rich in caryophyllene.

Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene

These twin terpenes smell like pine trees which is also where they can be found in large amounts. Other plants rich in pinene include rosemary, orange peels, basil, parsley and cannabis, of course.

Like many other, pinene terpenes have an anti-inflammatory effect on humans.

They also help improve the airflow and respiratory functions, while also helping reduce memory loss related to excessive THC consumption. I know that this can sound weird because we’re talking about cannabis, but if the strain is rich in alpha and beta pinene, it can actually help with asthma.

Pinene is also beneficial for patients suffering from arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, and even cancer.

Strains that are great sources of pinene are Jack Herer, Strawberry Cough, Blue Dream, Island Sweet Skunk, Dutch Treat, and Romulan.

Alpha-bisabolol

Alpha-bisabolol (also known as levomenol and bisabolol) has a pleasant floral aroma and is also present in chamomile flower and candeia tree.

This terpene found its use primarily in the cosmetics industry, but lately it has caught the attention of researchers for its supposed medical benefits.

Alpha-bisabolol proved to be effective in treating bacterial infections and wounds and is a great antioxidant with anti-irritation and analgesic properties.

It can be found in strains like Harle-Tsu, Pink Kush, Headband, OG Shark, and ACDC.

Eucalyptol

Also known as cineole, eucalyptol is the primary terpene of the eucalyptus tree. It produces minty tones but most cannabis strains only have it in traces. On average, it makes up around 0.06% of the complete cannabis terpene profile.

Eucalyptol is extensively used in cosmetics as well as medicine. When it comes to its medical value, eucalyptol relieves pain but also slows down the growth of bacteria and fungus.

Although it is still in the early stages of research, this terpene has shown some promising effects on Alzheimer’s as well.

You can get your daily dose of eucalyptol with strains like Super Silver Haze and Headband.

Trans-nerolidol

This one is a secondary terpene, found mostly in flowers like jasmine, lemongrass, and tea tree oil. Its smell is a mixture of rose, lemon and apple tones, and can be described in general as both woody and citrusy.

Trans-nerolidol is best known for its antiparasitic, antioxidant, antifungal, anticancer and antimicrobial properties.

Strains like Jack Herer, Sweet Skunk, and Skywalker OG are all rich in nerolidol.

Humulene

Humulene is the first terpene found in hops and its aroma is made up of earthy, woody and spicy notes.

Besides cannabis, it can be also found in clove, sage, and black pepper.

It has many medical properties. Also, it proved to be effective in suppressing appetite, which could make it a potential weight loss tool.

Furthermore, like many other terpenes mentioned above, humulene also reduces inflammation, relieves pain and fights bacterial infections.

You can find humulene in strains like White Widow, Headband, Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Diesel, Pink Kush and Skywalker OG.

Delta 3 Carene

This terpene is found in a number of plants, like rosemary, basil, bell peppers, cedar and pine. Its aroma is sweet and resembles the smell of cypress.

When it comes to its medical properties, Delta 3 carene seems to be beneficial in healing broken bones, which is a beacon of hope for patients suffering from osteoporosis, arthritis and even fibromyalgia.

Interestingly enough, Delta 3 carene stimulates our memory and helps with memory retention. This is a major point in finding a cure for the Alzheimer’s Disease.

Camphene

The best way to describe the smell of camphene is fir needles, musky earth, and damp woodlands. Camphene’s aroma is often mistaken with myrcene, which is that trademark marijuana smell as most of us know it.

Camphene has great potential in medicine. When mixed with vitamin C, it becomes a powerful antioxidant and it is widely used in conventional medicine as a topical for skin issues like eczema and psoriasis.

Its greatest potential, however, lies in its ability to lower the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which are connected to many cardiovascular diseases.

Camphene is present in Ghost OG, Strawberry Banana and Mendocino Purps.

Borneol

Borneol, with its herbal minty scent, can be found in herbs like rosemary, mint, and camphor.

This terpene is a good natural insect repellent, which makes it great for preventing diseases like the West Nile virus, which is passed by ticks, fleas, mosquitoes etc. One study even found that borneol kills breast cancer cells. (7)

Strains high in borneol are Amnesia Haze, Golden Haze, K13 Haze.

Terpineol

The aroma of terpineol can be described as floral-like, reminiscent of lilacs, apple blossom, and a hint of lemon. Terpineol tastes like anise and mint.

Terpineol has a pleasant scent, similar to lilac, and is a common ingredient in perfumes, cosmetics, and food.

It is a well-known relaxant and is usually the one responsible for the notorious couch-lock effect which is often connected with indica strains. Medical benefits of terpineol also include antibiotic and antioxidant properties.

It can be found Girl Scout Cookies, Jack Herer, and OG Kush.

Valencene

This terpene got its name from sweet Valencia oranges — where it’s present in large amounts. With its sweet citrusy aroma and flavor, it’s also used as an insect repellant.

Even though we don’t know much about valencene, we do know that it can be found in strains like Tangie and Agent Orange.

Geraniol

Besides cannabis, geraniol can be found in lemons and tobacco. Its smell resembles a mixture of rose grass, peaches, and plums.

It’s usually used in aromatic bath products and body lotions.

Geraniol has shown a lot of potential as a neuroprotectant and antioxidant.

It’s present in strains like Amnesia Haze, Great White Shark, Afghani, Headband, Island Sweet Skunk, OG Shark and Master Kush.

References

  1. Ben-Shabat S, Fride E, Sheskin T, Tamiri T, Rhee MH, Vogel Z, Bisogno T, De Petrocellis L, Di Marzo V, Mechoulam R, An entourage effect: inactive endogenous fatty acid glycerol esters enhance 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid activity, European Journal of Pharmacology, July 1998, 353(1):23-31.
  2. Gertsch J, Leonti M, Raduner S, Racz I, Chen JZ, Xie XQ, Altmann KH, Karsak M, Zimmer A, Beta-caryophyllene is a dietary cannabinoid.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, July 2008, 105(26):9099-104.
  3. Ethan B Russo, Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Aug; 163(7): 1344–1364.
  4. Mediavilla, Vito, Simon Steinemann, Essential oil of Cannabis sativa L. strains. Journal of the International Hemp Association, 1997, 4(2):80-82.
  5. Miller JA, Lang JE, Ley M, Nagle R, Hsu CH, Thompson PA, Cordova C, Waer A, Chow HH, Human breast tissue disposition and bioactivity of limonene in women with early-stage breast cancer, Cancer Prevention Research, Jun 2013, 6(6):577-84.
  6. Al Mansouri S, Ojha S, Al Maamari E, Al Ameri M, Nurulain SM, Bahi A. The cannabinoid receptor 2 agonist, β-caryophyllene, reduced voluntary alcohol intake and attenuated ethanol-induced place preference and sensitivity in mice, Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, September 2014, 124:260-8.
  7. Chuan-bin Yang, Wei-jing Pei, Jia Zhao, Yuan-yuan Cheng, Xiao-hui Zheng & Jian-hui Rong, Bornyl caffeate induces apoptosis in human breast cancer MCF-7 cells via the ROS- and JNK-mediated pathways, Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, 2014, 35:113–123.
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In charge of Greencamp’s health section, with a decade-long experience of using cannabis for stress relief. Her spare time is mostly divided between dancing, traveling and reading.

35 thoughts on “15 Cannabis Terpenes Explained (Complete Visual Guide)

  1. Very interested in this. Just not the frustrations of going to the Cannabis Clinic to sit thers for 2 hours beyond my schedualed appointment and still havent skyped eith the Dr. And to be told by the desk people that the Dr. Doesnt perscribe high doses of 18-22%. There was still 4 people that were ahead of me that still had not seen the Dr that you skype with either. I walked out very unhappy and still a 45 minute drive home….ridiculous. can you help with these problems?

    • Sandy, I’m terribly sorry that happened and hope it won’t change your mind on using cannabis. We are working on something rather interesting which should help in situations like yours, so if you haven’t already, sign up to our newsletter so we can let you know about it asap. For the time being, you can browse our website and see if there are any articles that deal with your particular illness. I suggest to go to an individual post (like this one https://greencamp.com/marijuana-for-pain/) and just type your condition in the search bar.

    • Hi Iris, beta-caryophyllene can be also found in dark leafy green vegetables like spinach and chard. Hope this helps you.

      Btw, I’m so happy you liked my article.

  2. Thanks for the information. I knew of some of these terpenes but not their effects or which strain help with which condition. I have multiple ailments and use a variety of strains. I very much appreciate the fact that you included which strain to use for a specific ailment. If you plan to write more on the subject please consider identifying some high CBD strains with varying ratios of CBD to THC. I currently use 1:1 for pain and straight CBD, meaning very low THC levels, for irritable bowel syndrome. I also use CBD to lessen the psychoactive effects of THC, perhaps you address that as well. Thanks again,
    Tere

    • Hi Tere, thank you for your kind words. I’m so glad this article was useful. We have a few articles on Greencamp regarding CBD, like this one about high CBD strains:

      https://greencamp.com/high-cbd-strains/

      There are also several articles explaining how CBD lessens the psychoactive effects of THC. So if you dig around the website I’m sure you’ll find more helpful information, especially for your conditions.

  3. Absolutely sublime, very well written and informative. My sister (who is strictly against cannabis in every way) remained rather speechless as I read this article to her. Great job!

  4. Helena,
    Thank you for this infographic, I will share it with my members in my newsletter. Since I work alot with High CBD strains, would like to see more CBD strains listed as examples of the different terpenes…
    It gives people a good idea of the many benefits of cannabis besides the cannabinoids..just the tip of the iceberg!

  5. Thanks so much for the info Helena! Terpenes are an emerging science and it’s refreshing to see people like yourself sharing this type of information. Thanks from your pal in BC, Canada ~Bud

  6. Best article I’ve seen on explaining terpenees. I’m in Oregon in the US. I’m in my 60s & I do have a medical card. I’ve been using cannabis to reduce chronic pain and have just started exploring using terpens. I vaped a Jack Herer Terp Sauce last night & felt immediate relief and did not need my nightly THC capsule to fall asleep. My Rheumatologist is completely supportive of replacing prescription meds with cannabis. Can’t wait to try a specific terpenes with my favorite Sativa. I enjoy your articles. Thanks so much!

  7. I’d be interested in hearing about how long THC stays ‘testable’ in your body fluids.
    Here in strya, the cats out of the bag with recreational use.
    The administration is working on medical use, but first they have to grow it, then denature it, can’t have people getting high, something bad might happen…
    So I choose to self medicate without the administrations permission, it has it’s drawbacks, dealing with black market goods and suppliers.
    Now the administration has dealt an underhand prohibition, they now do roadside tests for Cannabis consumption.
    These tests only indicate presence of THC, they do not determine intoxication.
    There have been convictions where motorists have tested positive, but are not affected.
    I’d like to know a bit more about residual THC.
    Myself I’m only a very light consumer, but I have concerns of being tested and returning a positive result, even though I’m not affected.
    I believe they do a saliva test, or a mouth swab, and I think you have to actually consent, as it is invasive.
    I’m thinking of going to my doc and fessing up, to cover myself for the possibility of a positive THC result.
    Thoughts on any strains, residual THC?

  8. So what if I had a ipa beer with a load of hops added at the end of the boil (which gives the beer “hop flavor” that is coming from the terpenes of the hops)? If terpenes are so wonderful, then ipas could be medicinal!

  9. Great Reading! I think it will be very helpful trying to figure what terpenes and which kinds of cannibus I need to use to enjoy the rest of my life. With cannibus I am getting off the Opoids and feel better than I have in 20 yrs.

  10. Thank you for this very helpful article. i have shared it with my fibro groups. I have so far tried the humulene, very effective, the myrcene, very effective, and the linalool for mood, somewhat effective. I’m interested in the Geraniol for neuroprotection. But cannot find it in Canada yet. The pineen does seem to perk me up a bit as well. I’m currently adding a couple drops to cbd oil. I’m not sure if simply adding a drop or two is the right way to do this? If you have any additional info on use with cbd oil, i would appreciate any information. thanks again!

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