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What are terpenes in cannabis?

In addition to learning the words and terms used about growing cannabis, you might be interested in the terminology used when talking about the compounds of the cannabis plant. You're probably familiar with terms like CBD, THC, and cannabinoids. But what about Terpenes?

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are natural aromatic oil compounds that secrete into the glands of plants and flowers, giving a plant its unique aroma and profile. They are found in most plants, not just cannabis ones, and are a vital ingredient in many daily use products such as cleaning and cosmetic products.

What do Terpenes do?

Just as the terpenes from a lemon or lavender flower provide a unique aroma, the terpenes found on a cannabis plant do the same thing, often sharing many of the same terpenes as common plants and fruits.

In addition to providing beautiful smelling flowers and distinctive flavours, terpenes adapted and developed over generations for practical uses. Terpenes act to repel predators and attract insects and animals that will assist in the cannabis pollination process. They are also understood to have similar therapeutic effects as cannabinoids, such as relaxing or remaining focused.

How do terpenes develop?

Cannabis terpenes secrete in the same glands that produce cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, but there's a series of plant developmental factors to consider when thinking about terpene development. These include weather and climate conditions, the growing medium and or what type of soil is used.

Plant growth and other developmental factors influence terpene formation, but they are not the only ones. Inherited generational traits also impact the composition and type of terpene profile in any given cannabis plant. A plant might inherit certain terpene traits from its parent plants, but it will vary enough to be considered a unique strain.

Are terpenes why cannabis strains are different?

Each cannabis strain, including its terpene profile, tends to be unique. Over 100 terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant, leading to suggestions from the scientific community that the terpenes and their composition could be why various cannabis strains all have differentiating effects.

Testing for terpenes

An increasing number of cannabis analysis labs are helping gain a better understanding of cannabis strains by testing for terpene content. By doing so, they open up a range of opportunities and possibilities for science and medicine in cannabis research.

Are terpenes challenging what we know?

Studies of terpenes suggest that their effect might change when other compounds such as cannabinoids are present. This 'change' is known as the 'entourage effect’. Although further research into the entourage effect is needed, it is beginning to challenge accepted norms associated with Indica and Sativa.

Common terpenes

Like we've already mentioned, terpenes are very common and present in most plants. And although individual terpene profiles tend to be unique, many plants share common terpenes, meaning the terpenes you might find in the cannabis plant, are the same as you might find in a peppermint plant or a lavender plant.


Myrcene is the most abundant terpene present in the cannabis plant. One study found that Mycrene made up to 65% of the terpene profiles of certain cannabis strains. Myrcene is the reason why your cannabis has that earthy, musky aroma or those notes of fruit you can smell and taste.


Limonene is present in all citrus fruits and is the 2nd most abundant terpene found in cannabis strains, but it is not present in all cannabis strains. The compound famously resembles the smell and taste of lemon and is commonly used in domestic cleaning products


The compound is present in oranges and other citrus fruit, but it is also the dominant terpene present in Super Lemon Haze.


Caryophyllene is present in black pepper, cloves, and spices like oregano. Unsurprisingly it adds spicy/peppery tones when present in cannabis strains. Caryophyllene is unique to other terpenes as it is the only compound that binds to CB2 receptors, making it a key ingredient in anti-inflammatory topicals and creams.

Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene

Large amounts of this compound can be found present in pine trees and are the reason why you've tasted or smelt pine in your cannabis. Other commonly found things it's present in include rosemary, orange peels, basil, and parsley. This particular terpene is known to be an effective treatment for the symptoms of conditions such as arthritis.


Alpha-bisabolol has a floral aroma found with chamomile. This compound is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is for these reasons it is used extensively by the cosmetics industry.


Eucalyptol is the primary terpene present in the eucalyptus tree, but only low levels of this compound are present in cannabis plants.   

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