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The Science and Benefits of Terpenes
Terpenes

Terpenes are compounds that contribute to the flavor and scent of marijuana.

These days, people are paying more attention to what’s inside their marijuana. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC are known for their contribution to the feeling of being “high”.

But it turns out marijuana produces another group of compounds called terpenes. These terpenes are responsible for the different smells in the marijuana plant, and may have an impact on the effects of individual strains.

Terpene profiles may someday be used to categorize different strains, providing users with more knowledge and freedom of choice.

What Are Terpenes?

Aromatherapy Oil
(Photo: Shutterstock)

While you may not know what terpenes are, you’ve certainly smelt them. Terpenes are the aromatic oils that cause many of the different scents and flavors in marijuana.

They’re responsible for smells ranging from earthy to fruity, citrusy to pine, and everything in between.

Role in Plants

Terpenes are not just found in marijuana. They are actually very common in plants and essential oils.

They give characteristic scents and flavors to plants like basil, sage, hops, sandalwood, lavender, and cloves. Terpenes are responsible for most of the scents in perfumes, candles, and incense too.

While terpenes are found in many plants, cannabis produces a staggering variety of them. So far, over 200 different terpenes have been identified in cannabis.

They also serve important functions. Terpenes protect the cannabis plant against bacteria, fungi, parasites, and herbivores.

Terpene Profiles

Terpenes are produced in high concentrations in the flowers and leaves of the marijuana plant. Each strain of cannabis has a unique terpene profile, producing its own distinct set of terpenes.

Terpenes are a genetic trait, making them an excellent tool for identifying and distinguishing strains, clones, and hybrids.

Scientists believe that environmental factors don’t influence terpene production. On the other hand, THC content is significantly impacted by environmental conditions. The same strain grown in different conditions can have very different THC levels.

This is part of why terpene profiles are so useful as a way to identify strains. No matter what the growing conditions are, users can still have a reliable way to know exactly what strain they’re getting.

What Are The Benefits of Terpenes?

Blond woman relaxing
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Terpenes are known to interact with THC and CBD, the main active compounds in marijuana. But research is showing that terpenes actually have effects of their own.

The wide-ranging effects of terpenes include reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and aiding with sleep.

Medical and recreational users alike can enjoy the diverse effects of terpenes. In the future, terpenes could become a key factor in matching users with their ideal strain.

Since there are over 200 different terpenes in cannabis alone, they are still poorly understood and much about them remain to be uncovered.

But scientists have studied some of the most common and abundant terpenes found in cannabis.

Myrcene

Beta-Myrcene
Beta-Myrcene (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Tastes and Flavors: Spicy, woody, hints of citrus and fruit
Effects and Benefits: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, sleep aid, muscle relaxant, sedative
Combustion Temperature: 334 F / 168 C
Strains: Myrcene is the most common terpene and is believed to contribute to the sedative “couch-lock” effect of indica strains.

Pinene

Alpha-Pinene
Alpha-Pinene (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Tastes and Flavors: Woody, earthy, pine
Effects and Benefits: Pain relief, antibacterial, reduces inflammation, memory enhancer, and bronchodilator (increases airflow to the lungs)
Combustion Temperature: 311 F / 155 C
Strains: Pinene is commonly found in sativa strains, like Jack Herer and Bubba Kush.

Limonene

Limonene
Limonene (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Tastes and Flavors: Citrus, lemon, orange
Effects and Benefits: Reduces anxiety, alleviate depression, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, promotes relaxation, elevates mood
Combustion Temperature: 349 F / 176 C

Terpinolene

Terpinolene
Terpinolene (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Tastes and Flavors: Woody, sweet, pine, citrus
Effects and Benefits: Sedative, anti-bacterial, antioxidant, relaxation
Combustion Temperature: 365 F / 185 C
Strains: Can be found in most sativas, like Pineapple Jack or Lemon Sour Diesel

Caryophyllene

Beta Caryophyllene
Beta Caryophyllene (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Tastes and Flavors: Peppery, spicy, woody, cloves
Effects and Benefits: Pain relief, antibacterial, reduces anxiety and depression, anti-inflammatory
Combustion Temperature: 320 F / 160 C

Linalool

Linalool
Linalool (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Tastes and Flavors: Floral, woody, spicy
Effects and Benefits: Anti-inflammatory, pain relief, sedative, relaxing
Combustion Temperature: 388 F / 198 C

The Synergistic Effect

Cannabis buds
(Photo: Doug Shutter/Shutterstock)

While terpenes are potent enough to cause their own range of effects, they also act in concert with other compounds found in cannabis.

THC and CBD are the main active compounds in the cannabis plant. They work by binding to cannabinoid receptors in our brains and bodies.

Terpenes can actually alter how and when cannabinoids bind to their receptors. This is known as the synergistic effect or the entourage effect.

Terpenes can make it easier for THC to move through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, leading to a more intense high. They can also affect the production and use of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

See Also

Sometimes, terpenes will bind to cannabinoid receptors themselves, helping to reduce the negative side effects of THC — such as paranoia and anxiety — while emphasizing the therapeutic benefits.

The synergistic effect is one of the most important effects of terpenes. Studies in mice have shown that THC extracts containing terpenes produce effects 330% greater than THC alone.

Without terpenes, the character of the marijuana high is massively diminished. So perhaps pure THC extracts aren’t always the best choice when it comes to getting high.

How To Enjoy Terpenes

Dab
(Photo: Shutterstock)

While terpenes certainly seem to have therapeutic benefits, many users are interested in their contribution to the flavors and aromas of cannabis.

With complex floral and fruity notes, hints of citrus and pine, and earthy flavors like cloves, enjoying the full spectrum of terpenes feels like sampling a fine wine.

One of the best ways to enjoy terpenes is by vaporizing dried cannabis. Another option is live resin, a special form of BHO designed to preserve the flavors of terpenes.

Vaporizing

Unfortunately, terpenes are very volatile, which means the direct heat of combustion (smoking) can damage them. So, if your goal is to taste the full range of flavors terpenes can offer, vaporizing is the best method.

Different terpenes have different vaporization temperatures. So, by adjusting the temperature of your vaporizer, you can experience a different range of effects.

Low Mid High
Temperature 320-330 F 330-370 F 370-430 F
Dominant compounds Pinene, Caryophyllene, THC Myrcene, Limonene All terpenes and cannabinoids
Flavor Piney, peppery Fruity, complex Popcorn-like, closer to smoking

Live Resin

Live resin is another ideal way to enjoy the flavor of terpenes. Live resin is a cannabis concentrate made with a unique method designed to preserve the plant’s terpenes.

Usually, the process of drying cannabis damages and degrades the terpenes. But in live resin, the fresh bud is flash-frozen right after harvest. This results in a concentrate that still contains the terpenes of the original plant.

Unfortunately, not all terpenes are easily extractable, so cannabis flowers are still the best way to experience the full diversity of flavors.

Summary

From adding flavor and scent to providing a wide array of effects, terpenes are an essential part of any marijuana strain. These unique compounds are what gives each strain its special character, defining it from the rest.

Someday, scientists will be able to pinpoint the effects of different terpenes and their interactions with THC. But until research catches up, only a few terpenes are well understood.

For now, you can enjoy their diverse aromas and flavors through a variety of methods like vaporizing and live resin.

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