Terpenes are what you smell in cannabis and give cannabis its distinctive scent and flavor profile like berry, citrus, and pine. Like roses or spices, different strains of cannabis have unique odors ranging from sweet to acrid and skunky to floral – the chemical signatures of terpenes. According to HIGH TIMES, over 200 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant and terpenoid profiles can vary considerably from strain to strain.
Terpenes in marijuana have helped the plant survive for centuries as terpenes are pungent enough to attract pollinators, repel insects, discourage herbivores, and prevent fungus. Many people believe that terpenes could be the next frontier in medical marijuana as terpenes are said to modulate the physiological and psychoactive effects of cannabis.
Terpene content is one of the biggest differences between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. The general rule that patients often prefer sativas for daytime use and indicas for nighttime use, suggesting that the sedative effects of cannabis are influenced by terpenes. Patients should take into account the content of major terpenes when evaluating various strains of medical cannabis.
Here are some of the primary terpenes found in cannabis:
Alpha Pinene is the most common terpene in the plant world and is the familiar odor associated with pine trees and turpentine. It easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and acts as both an anti-inflammatory and promotes alertness and memory retention by inhibiting the metabolic breakdown of acetylcholinesterase, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Pinene probably gives true skunk varieties, the ones that stink like the animal, much of their odor.
Caryophyllene is a major terpene found in black pepper, cloves, some cannabis sativa strains, rosemary and hops. It has a sweet, woody and dry clove odor and tastes pepper spicy with camphor and astringent citrus backgrounds. The oil is used industrially to enhances tobacco flavor. Caryophyllene is the only terpene known to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (CB2) and produces anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
Derived from the geranium plant, geraniol has a rosey scent that makes it well suited as a perfume additive. It is an effective mosquito repellent, and shows a potential protective effect against neuropathy.
Humulene contributes to the “hoppy” aroma of cannabis. This terpene acts as an appetite suppressant and exhibits potent anti-inflammatory activity.
Limonene, a major terpene in citrus as well as in cannabis, is found in strains that have a pronounced sativa effect. Is found in the rind of citrus and many other fruits and flowers. Plants use limonene to repulse predators. Limonene has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-cancer activities. It has also been used to treat anxiety and depression and has been used clinically to dissolve gallstones, improve mood and relieve heartburn.
Linalool has a floral scent reminiscent of spring flowers but with spicy overtones. Humans can detect its odor at rates as low as one part per million in the air. It is an effective anxiety and stress reliever that has sedating properties. It has also been used an analgesic and anti-epileptic. Linalool is also being tested for treatment of several types of cancers.
Myrcene, the most prevalent terpene found in most varieties of cannabis, is a sedative, a muscle relaxant, a hypnotic, an analgesic (painkiller) and an anti-inflammatory compound. This musky terpene dictates whether a strain will have an indica or sativa effect. Strains containing over higher amounts of myrcene will result in a “couch lock” experience while strains with lower amounts can produce a more energetic high.
Ocimene is used in perfumes for its pleasant odor. In nature this terpene acts as part of the plants defenses and possesses anti-fungal properties.
Terpinolene has been shown to exhibit antioxidant and anticancer effects in rat brain cells. Studies with mice show that inhaled terpinolene has a sedating effect.
Terpineol has a lilac, citrus or apple blossom/lime odor. Is known for its pleasant smell and is often used in soaps and fragrances. It is known for having relaxing effects. Terpineol is often found in cannabis with high pinene levels. Its odor would be masked by the pungent woodsy aromas of pinene.
Found in Valencia oranges, the aroma contributes to the citrus odor of cannabis.