The Cannabis sativa plant is endlessly complex. Just when you think you’ve learned the last thing about it, some new facet of this unique plant’s botany captures your interest.
We are now aware of dozens of different cannabinoids — unique compounds specific to cannabis. Also present in hemp and cannabis, however, are equally intriguing substances called terpenes.
Terpenes don’t behave like cannabinoids, and they certainly don’t smell like them either. Also found in many other plants aside from cannabis, terpenes have potent aromatic and culinary properties that make them excellent additions to both cannabis and non-cannabis products.
In this guide, we’ll explore five different terpenes that are each reasonably common among the endless myriad of cannabis strains developed by breeders to date. We’ll take a look at the individual properties of each terpene and explore how these profoundly useful botanical substances might alter your hemp or cannabis experience.
It’s natural to start our exploration with caryophyllene, the most abundant terpene in cannabis. Characterized by its potent peppery aroma and taste, caryophyllene has remarkable antioxidant properties that make it a prime target of pain relief research.
— What does caryophyllene smell and taste like? —
Caryophyllene has a peppery, bitter taste that at first seems ill-fitting in sweet, dank cannabis. Give it a little thought, however, and you’ll realize caryophyllene was there all along.
— What does caryophyllene do? —
Caryophyllene is the only terpene known to act as a cannabinoid. It interacts with your CB2 receptors, which are primarily located in the peripheral nervous system and modulate inflammation throughout the body.
In layman’s terms, caryophyllene is one of the best pain-relieving terpenes. Cannabis sativa makes things easy for people looking for pain relief — caryophyllene is present in high concentrations in almost every hemp and cannabis strain.
— Where is caryophyllene found? —
- Black pepper
- All cannabis strains (to some extent)
— How does caryophyllene change the hemp or cannabis experience? —
Since caryophyllene is the star of the show in pretty much every cannabis strain, it’s hard to say how this terpene changes the effects of cannabinoids. We can assume, however, that cannabis would be far less pain-relieving if caryophyllene suddenly stopped sitting on the terpene throne.
Myrcene is caryophyllene’s main rival for the title of “most abundant cannabinoid.” Also present in pretty much every cannabis or hemp strain, myrcene smells like mangoes, and it’s the main reason smirking bros have remarked, “Dank!” upon opening bags of weed since the dawn of time.
— What does myrcene smell and taste like? —
Myrcene tastes a lot like mangoes. It’s sort of sour and musky — to the extent that it almost tastes and smells rotten. In the end, however, myrcene imparts a bouquet reminiscent of a homemade fermented drink on the cannabis strains it’s concentrated in the most.
— What does myrcene do? —
Myrcene has been researched for everything from its muscle relaxant properties to its potential ability to protect your DNA. Essentially, though, myrcene acts as an antioxidant in the body — same as most terpenes.
— Where is myrcene found? —
- Highly concentrated in most kush strains
— How does myrcene change the hemp or cannabis experience? —
Myrcene appears to have sedative properties, so cannabis with high concentrations of this terpene might make you sleepier. The myth that higher concentrations of myrcene are what makes a strain indica is just that, however — a myth.
Pinene is of great interest to cannabis scientists due to its apparent antimicrobial properties. That’s hardly the end of the pinene story, though.
— What does pinene smell and taste like? —
You guessed it — pinene tastes and smells like pine needles. Not the tangible, plant-material part, however, but rather the purified essence of the pine needle.
— What does pinene do? —
We won’t call you a genius if you’ve guessed pinene has antioxidant properties. Pinene is unlike most terpenes, however, due to its impressive ability to kill bacteria, fungus, and other microbes.
— Where is pinene found? —
- Pine needles and sap
- Highly concentrated in the strains Critical Mass and Big Smooth
— How does pinene change the hemp or cannabis experience? —
Of particular interest is pinene’s theorized potential activity as a bronchodilator. If proven true by future research, this would mean that pinene opens your airways, potentially allowing better cannabinoid absorption.
It’s the terpene that puts the citrus in citrus fruit. It’s also very common in cannabis.
— What does limonene smell and taste like? —
Limonene tastes and smells like the essence of any citrus peel you’ve ever pulled back with your thumb. It’s also present in citrus fruit, but peels contain the highest concentrations of this remarkably pungent, sour terpene.
— What does limonene do? —
Limonene appears to be one of the most psychoactive of the terpenes. In high concentrations, it has been demonstrated to offer mood-boosting or even euphoric effects.
— Where is limonene found? —
- Citrus fruit
- Very highly concentrated in strains in the Girl Scout Cookies family
— How does limonene change the hemp or cannabis experience? —
Hemp or cannabis strains with high concentrations of limonene are more likely to impart a mood boost. Limonene also appears to improve the absorption of cannabinoids and other terpenes.
The source of the unusual odor of hops, humulene is a common cannabis terpene with more to it than its brewed-up aroma.
— What does humulene smell and taste like? —
Humulene tastes and smells a lot like any type of fermented beverage made with hops. It has a strong woody aroma that would be overwhelming if it weren’t paired with other terpenes.
— What does humulene do? —
It’s no surprise that humulene has been researched for its potential anti-inflammatory properties. What’s more interesting is humulene’s potential ability to suppress your appetite, a trait that could either enhance or conflict with the effects of hemp and cannabis.
— Where is humulene found? —
- Black pepper
- GSC strains are high in humulene as well as Gorilla Glue derivatives
— How does humulene change the hemp or cannabis experience? —
It’s possible that humulene might block the appetite-stimulating properties of THC. This cannabinoid also seems to reduce appetite when ingested certain forms, however, so it remains unclear how the interaction between THC and humulene plays out in the real world.
How do terpenes affect you? — FAQ
Let’s finish up with answers to common cannabis terpene questions:
How do terpenes affect the body?
Generally, terpenes exert mild antioxidant effects throughout the body. Each terpene has a unique chemical structure, however, and no two terpenes exert exactly the same effects.
In fact, it appears to be the interactions between different terpenes that imbue cannabis strains with their distinct effects. There’s a lot we still need to learn about these fascinating botanical compounds, but all terpenes appear to be similar in that they have no or very mild side effects.
How do terpenes affect your high?
Since the dawning days of stoner lore, cannabis has been split into two camps — indica and sativa. Everyone who has ever smoked weed knows that indica gets you relaxed and sleepy while sativa peps you up — and can make you a little loopy.
We’re starting to realize that it’s terpenes causing these distinct indica and sativa effects. Even so, individual terpenes appear to be much less expressive of particular traits than multiple terpenes ingested together in the original configuration they take in cannabis flower.
There is no “indica” or “sativa” terpene. It’s the interactions between terpenes with individually unremarkable effects that deliver the compellingly unique cannabis experiences that vary so significantly from strain to strain.
Do terpenes get you higher?
In most cases, the answer is yes. Many terpenes are believed to synergistically interact with THC and other cannabinoids, enhancing or augmenting their effects.
In a hemp product that’s not designed to get you high, however, terpenes will not cause intoxication. Terpenes are not inherently intoxicating; it’s just that they activate sides of cannabinoids you wouldn’t see otherwise.
Can terpenes be harmful?
Yes they can be. Unlike cannabinoids, terpenes are very volatile. When isolated, they can be highly flammable.
Terpenes can also be harmful to the human body when ingested in concentrated form in high quantities. Kept in concentrations under 20%, however, terpenes in cannabis are generally harmless and add impressive benefits.