What Are Terpenes, and What Can They Do?

Terpenes are highly aromatic compounds that are responsible for the fragrance of most plants, fruits, and herbs. Manufacturers extract isolated terpenes to create the scents of perfumes, body products, and foods. Terpenes also form the basis of many essential oils, which helps explain some of the beneficial effects of an aromatherapy treatment.

Terpenes are abundant in cannabis, where they produce distinctive smells like citrus, musk, pine, and floral. They’re secreted in the same glands as cannabinoids like THC and CBD. Over 150 terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant with different strains having their own unique terpene profile.

The Importance of Smell

Conversations on the potency of a cannabis strain are often dominated by mentioning its THC and CBD ratios. But, when it comes to assessing the quality, properties, and potential medical benefits of a strain, many “cannasseurs” are led instead by their sense of smell. Cannabis enthusiasts believe that you’re much more likely to enjoy a strain when you already enjoy its smell.

If you talk to many growers, they’ll agree that cultivating specific terpene blends in cannabis is a skilled art form.

What Exactly Do Terpenes Do?

Terpenes in cannabis first developed both as a defense mechanism to repel grazing animals and a lure to attract pollinators. Some terpenes also protect the plant, keeping it away from infectious germs or helping it to repair itself. Many factors influence how a plant develops terpenes, such as the climate, the age of the plant, the soil type, and the time of day.

Scientists have been researching the possible benefits of terpenes in humans, although research is relatively limited so far. As restrictions around the use of cannabis loosen in the U.S., studying its benefits has become easier over time.

Rather than specifically in cannabis, there’s a stronger body of medical evidence on the effects of the isolated terpenes themselves. Many studies have demonstrated positive benefits in the body for both physical and mental health. Some terpenes promote stress-relief and relaxation — qualities we more commonly associate with cannabis. Other terpenes encourage focus and alertness.

How Do Terpenes Fit in With the Indica vs Sativa Conversation?

Terpenes help us give language to the different properties of cannabis. And they may be more useful for determining the effects of a particular cannabis strain than we previously thought.

Using the terms indica, sativa, or hybrid is useful when figuring out whether a strain is more relaxing or uplifting. Yet, measuring terpenes is important too, and can sometimes extend our knowledge of cannabis beyond existing terminology.

How Are Terpenes Different From Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids, the most common being THC and CBD, activate receptors in your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). From there, they pass through to different parts of your body to produce various effects.

Terpenes are a significant part of the chemical structure of cannabis. But, the body absorbs and uses them in different ways than cannabinoids. Caryophyllene is the only terpene known to activate our ECS, meaning it can act as a cannabinoid too (although that doesn’t mean it is the only one).

No matter how similar or not terpenes and cannabinoids are, the research we have to date clearly shows that THC and CBD ratios aren’t the only factors to consider when choosing a strain. The combination of terpenes and their interaction with cannabinoids will affect how you feel when using cannabis.

What Are the Main Terpenes Found in Cannabis?

Some terpenes are more common or plentiful in cannabis than others. Cannabis strains can be bred to emphasize specific terpenes and produce different effects. In most commercial strains, however, the most abundant terpene in their chemical makeup is myrcene.

Here are the six most common terpenes you’ll find in cannabis:


  • Aroma: Herbal, musky, and earthy; reminiscent of cardamom and cloves
  • Potential benefits: Myrcene can be a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and may be useful for treating pain. It can be sedating, relaxing, and calming — valuable properties for easing insomnia.
  • Myrcene-dominant strains: Myrcene is present in many relaxing strains, such as Pakistani Chitral Kush, King Dosi, and GMO Cookies. The flowers from different cannabis strains usually contain the same amount of myrcene.
  • Also found in: Thyme, lemongrass, mango, and hops


  • Aroma: Citrusy; a common and strong scent most people can recognize
  • Potential benefits: Limonene can be useful for stress relief and improving mood. This gives it promising potential for use in treating anxiety and depression. It can also help with inflammation and pain and may protect the body from a range of disorders.
  • Limonene-dominant strains: Limonene is found in high concentrations in Strawberry Banana, White Fire OG, and Do-Si-Dos.
  • Also found in: Orange and lemon fruit rinds, rosemary, peppermint, juniper


  • Aroma: Piney; the most common terpene in the natural world, it gives many plants their fresh scent
  • Potential benefits: Pinene acts as a bronchodilator, allowing more air into the lungs and helping asthmatics. It can counteract some of the undesirable effects of THC some users experience, especially by helping with alertness and memory retention.
  • Pinene-dominant strains: Pinene is commonly found in Big Smooth, Cookie Toast, and Strawberry Cough.
  • Also found in: Pine needles, basil, rosemary, and parsley


  • Aroma: Peppery and spicy; somewhere between woodsy and cloves
  • Potential benefits: Another anti-inflammatory terpene, caryophyllene may reduce chronic pain levels. It can also be useful for relieving stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Caryophyllene-dominant strains: Get some Girl Scout Cookies, Gelato #33, or Lava Breath for your caryophyllene fix.
  • Also found in: Black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and hops


  • Aroma: An interesting mixture of herbal, piney, and floral
  • Potential benefits: Renowned for being uplifting and encouraging activity, terpinolene may even have anti-cancer potential. It can also serve as an anti-fungal and antibacterial treatment, for example, if used in a cannabis-infused topical.
  • Terpinolene-dominant strains: About one in ten strains is terpinolene-dominant, including Ghost Train Haze, Jack Herer, and Margalope.
  • Also found in: Tea tree, lilacs, conifers, and apples


  • Aroma: Floral
  • Potential benefits: Linalool is featured predominantly in essential oils and aromatherapy. It gives lavender its rich, heady smell and calming effects. Linalool may help many conditions including anxiety, depression, insomnia, inflammatory pain, and neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Linalool-dominant strains: The highest linalool concentration is found in Zkittlez, Kosher Kush, and Mac 1 strains.
  • Also found in: Lavender and birch bark

How Can VidaCann Help?

With 20 outlets across Florida, VidaCann is the best dispensary in the state. Learn more about the strains we use in our products, including their dominant terpenes here. You can also place an order for a new or favorite product from our online shop, delivered straight to your door.

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