What are Terpenes? Discover the Mysterious Benefits

What is a Terpene?

Terpenes are essential oils found in many different types of plants and even some insects.  They exist in the cannabis plant alongside cannabinoids like CBD and THC.  Terpenes are aromatic, organic hydrocarbons that are what give various cannabis strains their unique smell and varying effects.

Terpenes can also be classified as different types, such as monoterpenes, diterpenes, and sesquiterpenes.  The naming is based on the repeated 5-carbon molecule units called isoprenes.  Monoterpenes (mono meaning one), is a name that means it has 1 repeating unit, and so on.  These isoprene structures are the major chemical identifier for terpenes.

Terpenes are found naturally in plants and serve many purposes.  The aroma or taste can repel insects, repel animal grazers, prevent fungus, help plants with environmental stresses and can even be used by bees to mark their hives and flowers.  They are a natural compound refined over the evolutionary cycles of species for specific purposes.  Terpenes also act as chemical building blocks for more complex compounds such as cannabinoids.

Terpenes have been used for their healing properties by humans for centuries.  For example, aromatherapy uses the aromas and pharmacological benefits of terpenes as the foundation to its holistic healing method. The healing properties are gaining mainstream momentum. Just one example is The National Institute of Health recently launching major studies to investigate minor cannabinoids and terpenes for potential pain-relieving properties.

You can view a summary video of this article in the video below:

Summary Video about Cannabis Terpenes

Terpenes in the Cannabis Plant

There are more than 200 different terpenes found in the cannabis plant, but there are 11 primary terpenes found in the most abundance.  There are about another 20 secondary terpenes, and then the rest are in very small quantities.  The huge number of terpenes in cannabis have given it a real evolutionary advantage.

Limonene terpene is one of the most common terpenes.

Even more than contributing a unique aroma and flavor, terpenes are responsible for some of the different effects and unique medical benefits of the different cannabis strains.  We say “mysterious benefits” because although there are many studies demonstrating the effects, many more are underway, and we will be learning much more over time. It also can get quite overwhelming trying to learn about all the different terpenes and strains of cannabis, so we have provided a quick guide below on the top 5 most common terpenes and their effects.

To make things even more exciting, there is the “entourage effect” caused by the combination of many terpenes, cannabinoids and other compounds.

The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect refers to the synergistic impact of combining the cannabis plant’s therapeutic components.  That means that by extracting the more than 400 compounds from the cannabis plant together, the combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual component effects.  It’s the old concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Entourage: The HBO Series

The cannabis plant contains high concentrations of CBD, THC (in some strains that we label marijuana) and lower concentrations of other cannabinoids and terpenes.  “Full-Spectrum” products take all the compounds of the plant during processing to capture this entourage effect.  Many users claim that having all the terpenes combined with the full set of cannabinoids produces a more effective result.             

The entourage effect is causing some challenges in the ongoing animal studies.  If trying to determine CBD impacts, for example, the scientists must make sure to use pure compounds like CBD isolate, and not something with other elements in the plant extract.  If not, they risk the results being contaminated by the entourage effect, which is hard to quantify right now.

Remember that the entourage effect can occur between any of the elements of the cannabis plant, not just between a terpene and a cannabinoid, but even between different terpenes or different cannabinoids.  That leads us to a brief discussion of some of the CBD products on the market designed to capture the entourage effect or alternatively, specific terpene benefits.

A Guide to CBD Product Variation

CBD Full-Spectrum Oils – Full-spectrum oils and other full-spectrum products are the ones positioned to take full advantage of the entourage effect.  They include all the cannabis plant compounds, including the full set of cannabinoids and terpenes.

CBD Isolate Oils – CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD (cannabidiol), being 99.9% pure CBD.  During processing, they extract CBD alone from all the other compounds and cannabinoids of the cannabis plant. This does not have any entourage effects from other cannabinoids or terpenes.

CBD Broad-Spectrum Oils – Broad-spectrum is like full spectrum CBD Oils, where you have the entire cannabinoid profile.  The difference is it has gone through an extra step to remove 100% of the THC, making it not just below 0.3% THC, but 0%.  You retain the entourage effect but with no THC at all.  This is typically the most expensive sublingual oil because of the extra steps required.

“Terpenes” labeled products – There are many variations of “terpenes” products.  Some examples include high terpene extracts that contain almost no (or no) cannabinoids, terpene extracts where CBD has been re-infused, or full-spectrum products where all terpenes are present and may include THC as well, in areas where that is legal.  If you are new to using terpenes, it’s always good to ask your retailer for assistance.

Terpene-specific products may be named and taken directly from a specific, natural cannabis plant strain. Other products have terpenes that have been combined through lab processes to create a desired therapeutic benefit such as sleep, anxiety-relief, pain relief, or other common uses.


A vape juice example is the broad-spectrum terpenes vape juice line by CBDFX.  The variations are named for the specific cannabis strain that has a concentration of specific terpenes, such as OG Kush. 

An example of intentional terpene combinations infused with CBD are the Green Roads line.  Several specific combinations of terpenes have been put together to create a flavor and effect profile, and then infused with CBD.  The Green Roads line as five unique combinations..  Those combinations can create specific groups of effects and are combined with CBD to get some entourage effect as well.

Once you become armed with all of this terpene knowledge, you can review the lab reports for any product. More often than ever, those reports contain information not just about CBD, THC and other cannabinoid levels, but also for specific terpene quantities


Caryophyllene is the terpene found in pepper, pictures with cannabis buds.
Caryophyllene terpenes are found in pepper.

There have been over 100 terpenes identified in the cannabis plant.  There are 11 “primary” terpenes based on their concentration levels. The various types are found in a variety of other plants and promote different effects. The concentrations and combinations have occurred naturally in most plants, but now specific cannabis strains are developed to have designed characteristics.


In the table below, the 5 most common terpenes are described. The list is in order of the most calming to the most energizing ones.

Note how many other types of plants the same terpenes can be found and that the aromas are the dead giveaway of the terpene. There is also significant overlap in the useful purposes, or potential benefits of each.


TerpeneAromaEffect, Useful ForAlso Found InAdditional Information
Cardamom, cloves, musky, earthy, herbalCalming, relaxing. Antioxidant; treatment of insomnia, pain, and inflammationThyme,hops, lemon grass, citrus and mango.The most common terpene in cannabis. The levels dictate whether the strain has a sativa or indica effect. Strains containing over 0.5% of myrcene are more calming, while strains containing less than 0.5% myrcene have an energizing effect.
Pine, TurpentinePain, inflammation anxiety, and supports clear breathing (is a bronchodilator) , alertness, memory retentionPine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, dillPinene is the most common naturally occurring terpene. This is what gives cannabis that familiar odor. It can potentially help with the treatment of asthma,  pain, inflammation, ulcersanxiety, and cancer.
Pepper, spicy, woody, clovesPain (analgesic effect), inflammation, anxiety, depression and ulcers.Black pepper, cloves, cinnamon,Caryophyllene is the only terpene with scientific evidence that it interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system through the CB2 receptors to provide anti-inflammatory effects.
CitrusAnxiety and stress relief, depression, inflammation, pain and cancerRinds of citrus fruits, juniper,rosemary, peppermintThe dominant terpene in strains with a pronounced sativa effect. Aids in the absorption of other terpenes through the skin and mucous membranes.
Floral, herbal, pineUplifting effectsLilacs, nutmeg, cuminOnly about 1 in 10 strains of cannabis are terpinolene dominant. Terpinolene has shown antioxidant and anticancer effects in rat brain cells. 

Continuing Exploration into Terpenes

Intrigued?  The number of combinations of terpenes found in nature are almost endless.  We will provide more detail on additional terpenes and some common combinations found in terpene products in future articles and guides. 

Terpenes can make a huge difference in the therapeutic benefits of any CBD or cannabis product.  Ensuring you are getting the entourage effect or even specific terpene-set effects may be a game-changer for you.  Start paying attention to the product specifics, review the 3rd party lab test results, and make sure you have the product that’s right for you.

Shop with us to try some of your favorite products or try some new ones with specific terpene effects!

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