Properties of Terpenes In Cannabis — The Ultinate Guide

Discover The Properties of Terpenes In Cannabis

Cannabis consists of various substances and chemical compounds. About 140 of these compounds belong to a large group of aromatic and organic hydrocarbons called terpenes (also called terpenoids). The words terpenes and terpenoids are more often used interchangeably, although these terms have completely different meanings.

The main difference between these two are given as follows:

Terpenes are hydrocarbons (only elements of carbon and hydrogen)

Terpenoids are formed by denaturing of oxidation (drying and curing) or chemically modified.

What are terpenes?

These are organic, volatile chemicals of the general formula (C 5 H 8 ) n, whose major backbone is formed by the combination of five-carbon isoprene units.

The name terpenes is derived from turpentine — which is a component of conifer resin  (a sticky, pleasantly fragrant balsam, flowing out at the point of cutting or scratching the bark or wood).

Turpentine contains resin acids and hydrocarbons, which are referred to as terpenes. It is assumed that all organic compounds made of isoprene subunits and derived from plants are called terpenes. Scientists have identified over 20,000 terpenes found in various plants.

Terpenes are synthesized in the secretory tissue of cannabis, right in the middle of glandular trichomes, and has a big influence on their production. They can mainly be found in unfertilized, cannabis flowers before the plant matures.

Essential oils are extracted from plant material by distillation with steam or evaporation. Most of them are vaporized at the same temperature as THC (157 ° C).

Terpenes play an extremely important role because they provide plants with natural protection against bacteria, fungi, and insects, as well as relieve stress caused by the environment.

It is widely accepted that cannabis is able to affect the mind, emotions and human behavior. The psychoactive cannabinoid, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is mainly studied. However, there are many other cannabinoids and other substances such as terpenes and flavonoids found in marijuana, which play an important role in increasing the therapeutic effect of cannabis.

Terpenes are common components of aromas and odors. Unlike cannabinoids, they are responsible for the smell of cannabis.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) and other agencies have recognized terpenes as ‘safe’.

Properties of terpenes


Terpenes act on receptors and neurotransmitters, and are also susceptible to fusion and dissolve in lipids and fats.

They act as inhibitors that raise serotonin (similar to antidepressants such as Prozac) and also increase the activity of noradrenaline (similar to tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil) and dopamine. However, more detailed research is needed to determine how terpenes found in cannabis can be effectively used in medicine.

The terpenes composition is beyond the content of THC, CBD, and CBN.

Synergistic effects

Research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology has shown that other hemp substances (such as terpenes) may increase the effects of THC.

Cannabis with the same or higher CBD and CBN content compared to THC caused effects two to four times stronger than the expected effects of THC alone.

This suggestion was confirmed by a Wilkinson study to determine if there is any benefit from the use of marijuana extracts other than THC. Standardized hemp extracts (THC, CBD, CBN) were investigated on a mouse model with multiple sclerosis and brain of a patient with epilepsy.

The researchers found that CBN inhibited MS spasticity to a comparable level as THC alone, and also caused faster muscle relaxation and reduced the time needed to achieve maximum effect more than THC solo.

CBD did not inhibit spasticity. In the case of epilepsy, CBN was stronger and had a faster anticonvulsant effect than the isolated THC.

In the case of epilepsy, CBD also showed anti-convulsive effects.  

These studies show that not all of the therapeutic properties of cannabis are due to the THC content in the plant.

Dr.Ethan Russo further confirms this theory with scientific evidence by demonstrating that terpenes serve as inhibitors for the intoxicating effects of THC and increase the therapeutic index of THC.

This phytocannabinoid-terpene synergy, as Dr. Russo calls it, increases the potential of medicinal hemp extracts used to treat pain, inflammation, fungal, bacterial infections, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, addictions and even cancer.

What are flavonoids?

Flavonoids are one of the largest nutrient families known to scientists and include over 6,000 members already identified. 20 of these compounds have been identified in hemp.

Flavonoids are a  group of organic chemical compounds found in plants that perform the function of dyes, antioxidant, natural insecticides and fungicides that protect against attacks from insects and fungi.

Some flavonoids extracted from cannabis plants have been tested for pharmacological effects. Clinical outcomes are promising, but more research is needed to fully understand the role of flavonoids in overall therapeutic effects during cannabis treatment.

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Especially if they interact with cannabinoids, they can synergistically increase or decrease their activity.

Flavonoids, among others antioxidant activity, have a positive effect on blood vessels, protection of the circulatory system, detoxification of the body and also have a positive effect on the eyesight.

Circle of terpenes

Terpenes have proven to be an important component of plant hormones and molecules, pigments, sterols and even cannabinoids. Above all, they are responsible for the pleasant of marijuana aromas and physiological effects associated with them.

Patients in the United States often ask for fragrance when choosing a cannabis grade. This is to identify the specific variety and its operation.

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Sativa strains often have a light, fruity scent, while indica varieties have a strong sweet or slightly sour odor.

Studies show that marijuana strains can vary widely. Those with a high concentration of specific terpenes have a completely different smell than other varieties. Most say that the scents that smell of musk or cloves provide a calming, relaxing effect (high levels of “myrcene terpene”).

Piney terpene, on the other hand, helps to promote mental fitness and preservation of memory (high level of “Pinene terpene”).

“Lemon” flavors are preferred for general mood and attitude (high level “limonene terpene”).

In a spectral analysis carried out by ” Green House Seed Co “.  Terpenes (all strains) were identified, and then a “circle of taste” was created to help patients choose a particular strain.

Although the main task of the wheel was to sell different seeds of this particular company, the concept and vocabulary used became an invaluable tool for patients using cannabis.


terpenes profile


Koło terpennów / Source: Greenhouse Seeds Co.

Since then, many companies have developed their own terpene wheels, mainly due to the sale of their products or services. By mapping terpene profiles, we are able to predict and even manipulate the effects and healing values of strains and give the breeder unlimited possibilities for the development of new, highly desirable cannabis species by basing decisions on real analytical data.



Myrcene, and especially b-myrcene, is a monoterpene and the most often produced terpene by cannabis (some varieties contain 60% of essential oil). Its aroma was described as musky, earthy or clove. The high content of myrcene in Indica type (about 0.5%) can result in the well-known effect of “couchlock” a very strong state of relaxation.

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Mircen is found in hop oil, citrus fruits, laurel leaves, eucalyptus, wild thyme, lemongrass and many other plants.

It has very special healing properties i.e. it reduces the resistance of the brain barrier, which will allow some of the substances present in cannabis to work faster. In the case of cannabinoids,

Myrcene allows you to achieve the full effect faster, after the application of i.e. THC, and also increases the maximum level of CB1 receptor saturation, thus allowing to achieve the maximum psychoactive effect.

It is a strong painkiller, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic. It blocks the effects of cytochrome, aflatoxin B, and other pro-mutagenic carcinogens.

Research focused mainly on the role of beta-myrcene, which prevents the development of peptic ulcer disease.

It has a calming and relaxing effect, which makes it ideal for the treatment of insomnia and pain.

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Since it is known that myrcene is a component of citrus oil, many people say that eating fresh mango about 45 minutes before smoking marijuana will accelerate the intensity of psychoactive action.

It should be remembered that only ripe fruits contain a higher level of myrcene that may result to mind altering if combined with cannabis.



It is a bicyclic monoterpenoid. It has the characteristic smell of fir and pine. There are two structural isomers in nature: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Both forms are important components of pine resin.  Alpha-pinene is the most common terpene found in nature.

Penen can be found in many conifers as well as non-coniferous trees. It occurs mainly in balsamic resin, pine forests and some citrus fruits. These two pinene isomers are the main ingredient of turpentine (a resin with a characteristic smell), and penen is the main monoterpenes, which has important physiological significance for both plants and animals.

It has a tendency to react with other substances, which creates various other terpenes (i.e. Limon).

It is used in medicine as an anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, expectorant and local antiseptic. Alpha-pinene is a natural compound isolated from pine needles, which has anti-cancer activity and has been used as an anti-cancer drug in traditional Chinese medicine for many years. It is also believed that the effect induced by THC can be reduced by mixing with terpene pinene.


Limonene is a monocyclic monoterpenoid and one of the two main compounds made of terpene pinene. As the name suggests, it has a strong citrus scent. Limonene-rich strains affect the overall improvement in mood and attitude. This citrus terpene is the main ingredient of citrus fruit, rosemary, juniper and peppermint skins as well as some oils from pine needles.

Limonene is strongly absorbed by inhalation and quickly appears in the bloodstream. It helps in absorbing other terpenes through the skin and other tissues. It has been documented that it inhibits the growth of many species of fungi and bacteria, which makes it a great antifungal agent for diseases such as onychomycosis.

Limonene may be helpful in the prevention of various cancers, and it is taken orally during the testing phase as a medicine for breast cancer. It was also found that it can contribute to easier weight loss.

Plants use terpene limonene as a natural insecticide to repel predators. It was used mainly in the food and perfume industry until the invention of a citrus cleaner a few decades back. It has very low toxicity and rare side effects of use.


Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in many plants such as Thai basil, cloves, cinnamon leaves and black pepper. His scent was described as peppery, woody and spicy. Caryophyllene is the only known terpene interacting with the endocannabinoid system (binding to the CB2 receptor).

Studies show that beta-cyphophyll is a promising cancer drug. It selectively binds to the CB2 receptor and is a preferred CB2 receptor agonist. In addition, it has been identified as a functional, non-responsive ligand that binds to the CB2 receptor and to the macrocyclic, anti-inflammatory cannabinoid contained in hemp.

A study published in PubMed Central® (PMC) showed that phytocannabinoids in combination with cannabidiol (CBD) and terpene beta-cyphophyll provided via the oral route seem to be helpful in the treatment of chronic pain due to their safety and the small number of side effects caused.

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Other attempts suggest that beta-cyphophyll in combination with the CB2 receptor may be a great therapeutic agent that will prevent nephrotoxicity (poisonous effects on the kidneys) caused by chemotherapy anti-cancer drugs (eg cisplatin).

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers “published an article on the chemical composition of black pepper isolated oil, whose caryophyllene is the main ingredient. Black pepper oil has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties. Strains with a high caryophyllene content may be useful in the treatment of arthritis and neuropathic pain.

Beta-caryophyllene is used especially in chewing gums in combination with other sharp citrus aromas.


Linalool is a non-cyclic monoterpenoid with the scent of lavender flowers. Varieties with high linalool content have a relaxing and calming effect.

For centuries it has been used as a sleeping remedy. It reduces the feeling of anxiety caused by pure THC, which makes it useful in the treatment of psychosis and anxiety.

Research suggests that it can significantly reduce pneumonia caused by cigarette smoke. It also strengthens the immune system because it directly activates immune cells through specific receptors and pathways.

Linalool also reverses the histopathological feature of Alzheimer’s disease and can restore cognitive and emotional functions thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved its effect as a flavouring agent. It is a component of body and bath cosmetics, and its vapours have proven to be an effective insecticide for fleas, fruit flies and cockroaches.

Linalool has been obtained from several hundred different plants such as:

  • Plants of the family Lamiaceae (mint and other aromatic herbs)
  • Plants from the laurel family (laurels, cinnamon and palisander)
  • Plants from the Ruta family (citrus plants)
  • Although technically they are not plants, some fungi also produce Linalool

It is an important precursor in the formation of vitamin E.


Terpinene is a common ingredient in sage, rosemary and also large-blown cypress oil.

In the United States, it is most often used in the production of soaps and perfumes. It is a great insect repellent. It often has a sweet aroma reminiscent of citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons.

It has a great influence on the nervous system and is used to cause drowsiness or sleep, as well as to reduce psychological excitement and anxiety.

It has also been found that it reduces AKT1 protein expression in K562 cells and inhibits cell proliferation of many human tumours.


Alpha-terpineol, terpinene-4-ol and 4-terpineol are three closely related monoterpenoids. The aroma of terpineol is compared to lilac flowers. Often occurs in cannabis varieties containing a high level of pinene, which, unfortunately, masks the fragrant aromas of terpineol. Alpha-terpineol has a calming and relaxing effect. It also contains an antibiotic, AChE inhibitor and antioxidant antimalarial properties.


It has an aroma similar to peppermint and citrus and is believed to have special healing values. It was used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of digestive disorders.

Phellandrene is one of the main ingredients of turmeric oil, which is used to prevent and treat systemic fungal infections.

It is the easiest to identify terpenes in the laboratory. It is enough to treat the solution of Phellandrene with a concentrated solution of sodium nitrate, and then with a few drops of glacial acetic acid, and very large crystals of Phellandrene nitrate will appear immediately.

First discovered in eucalyptus oil. It was not until the early 1900s that Phellandrene from eucalyptus oil contained two isomers, and the oxidation of potassium permanganate gave two different acids derived from different isomeric Phellandrene. Previously you could have confused it with pinene or lime, and today we know many essential oils, where Phellandrene is present, although it can only be detected in the oils of some species at certain times of the year.

Phellandrene is found in many herbs and spices such as cinnamon, garlic, dill, ginger and parsley. Some plants (lavender, fir) produce beta-Phellandrene as a component of their essential oils. Pepper oil, dill oil and ginger oil are almost exclusively made of Phellandrene. It is absorbed through the skin (especially alfa-phellandrene), which is why it is used in perfumes, although it is also used as a seasoning for food products.


Geraniol produces a sweet, lovely scent similar to pink. This makes it very popular in the selection of bath and body cosmetics and is an effective mosquito repellent. Medically, geraniol promises to be a promising treatment for neuropathy.


It is a monoterpene of vegetable origin that emits a sharp smell of moist forests and fir needles. It can play a key role in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

“Plos One” published a study that claims that camphene reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels in rats with hyperlipidemia. It can be used as an alternative to pharmaceutical lipid-lowering agents, which have been shown to be the cause of intestinal problems, liver damage and myositis.

It is a component of many essential oils such as turpentine, camphor oil, Citronella oil and ginger oil. Used as an aroma additive for food, it is industrially produced by catalytic isomerization.


Delta-3-carene is a bicyclic monoterpene with a sweet-sour smell. It occurs naturally in many healthy, beneficial essential oils such as cypress oil, juniper berries, as well as fir needles. At higher concentrations, it can strongly affect the nervous system. It is often used to dry excess body fluids (tears, mucus, sweat).

It is non-toxic but may cause irritation when inhaled. Perhaps a high concentration of delta-3-carene in some varieties may be partially responsible for the symptoms of coughing and itching of the throat and eyes while smoking marijuana.

Naturally present in:

  • pine extract,
  • peppers,
  • oil from basil,
  • grapefruit,
  • orange juice,
  • citrus oils (mandarins, lemons, limes, oranges, kumquats)

Karen is the main ingredient of turpentine and serves as a spice in many products.


Humulene is a sesquiterpene also known as alpha-humulene, alpha-caryophyllene, and a beta-caryophyllene isomer. Occurs in hops, in sativa strains and in Vietnamese coriander. It is he who gives the beer a hop aroma.

It is considered to be anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and appetite suppressant. It is usually mixed with beta-caryophyllene and used as an anti-inflammatory agent. It has been used by many generations in Chinese medicine.


Monocyclic monoterpenoid, which is a component of marijuana. The high concentration of pulegone occurs in rosemary, which breaks down acetylcholine in the brain, allowing cells to communicate better with each other.

The ethnopharmacological study showed that pulegone is an important sedative and has fever-reducing properties. It also alleviates the side effects of short-term memory loss, sometimes caused by a higher THC level.

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It has a pleasant mint flavour and is considered a powerful insecticide.


Sabinene is a bicyclic monoterpene, whose aroma resembles the smell of pine, orange and spices. Research suggests that Sabinene should be further investigated as a natural source of antioxidants and new anti-inflammatory drugs for the development of dietary supplements, nutrients and plant-based medicines.

It occurs in many plants such as spruce, black pepper, basil and nutmeg spicy (its seeds are the world’s largest source of nutmeg).

Final words

There you go, the properties of terpenes in cannabis. I hope this guide gives you an overview of terpenes in general. If you have any questions, comment or send us a message.

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