What are Cannabis Terpenes?

These are the defining characteristics of your favorite strains.

Marijuana Terpenes Definition and Varieties

One of the most distinctive traits of cannabis is its smell, followed by its flavor. Lemon, orange, spicy pepper and musky earth are just some of the flavors and aromas found in the wide variety of cannabis flowers. Through countless variations, these sensory enhancements create a distinct profile for each strain of cannabis which can increase one’s enjoyment when the time is taken to appreciate it.

Terpenes, which are the main component of resin, or sticky plant residue, are what gives cannabis strains their particular aroma and flavor. When dried and cured, terpenes are also known as terpenoids.

Terpenes have not been studied as much as their counterpart, THC, but they are starting to get some attention due to the variety of traits that are being discovered. Terpenes interact with cannabinoids to create different effects in the body and each terpene creates a unique profile with different sensory aspects as well as medical aspects. Terpenes are used by the plant as a defense against bacteria, fungus, insects and other elements of nature; they use scent and taste to deter destructive conditions.

About two hundred terpenes have been discovered in cannabis, and more than 20,000 have been discovered in the plant kingdom. There are a few specific terpenes that are more aromatic and distinguishable than the rest and have the most recognizable profiles. Understanding the subtleties in terpenes can increase the enjoyment of trying different cannabis strains.

A report by Dr. Ethan Russo, Taming THC, observes elements other than the already abundantly studied THC component of cannabis, instead focusing attention on the lesser known parts of cannabis, including terpenes.

Here are some of the most abundant varieties:

Alpha-pinene has a pine scent, is a great anti-inflammatory and aids in memory retention. It is also good for alertness and can help improve airflow to the lungs.

Myrcene evokes hints of its cousin species hops—a core ingredient of beer acting as both aroma and bittering agent—with its musky, earthy aroma. Myrcene prevents inflammation and studies have shown that it helps against cancerous tumor growth. It is also a great sedative and muscle relaxant.

Limonene smells and tastes of lemon, is antibacterial, fights breast cancer cells and is good for immune disease treatment. It also contains antifungal and antibacterial properties and elevates one’s mood.

Linalool resembles traits of lavender, which has been proven to be beneficial for treating anxiety. It also works as an anesthetic, and can be used as a sleeping aid.

Beta-caryophyllene has a spicy pepper aroma and fights against arthritis, ulcers and autoimmune disorders. It is also anti-inflammatory and may help in the treatment of addiction.

Terpenes in concert with cannabinoids create many of the positive effects that come from cannabis consumption and suppress some of THC’s anxiety inducing effects. Finding the right combination of terpenes and cannabinoids ensures a more effective and enjoyable experience for the user.

Written on December 05, 2015 by

Amber Finnegan

Amber Finnegan is a political and lifestyle blogger and photographer. She has a BA in History from San Francisco State University and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. She is a staunch believer in legalization of cannabis and encourages socially responsible living. Follow her on Twitter @i8veggies.