Terpenes are best known for the piney, citrusy or floral notes they give to different strains of cannabis. But what, exactly, do they do to your body? That depends on the specific terpenes present: each of the 100+ terpenes known to exist in different amounts and breeds of cannabis are associated with their own specific effects on the body. That is what allows some people to predict the effect a strain will have on them simply by smelling.
What is a terpene?
Terpenes are secreted by the trichomes of a mature marijuana plant. As the plant dries out before making its way to your local dispensary, terpenes oxidize to become terpenoids which is what is actually in the final products you buy and consume. Terpenoids are present in many organic materials other than cannabis, including everyday food and beverages, and as such are known to be safe and non-narcotic.
What do terpenoids do?
It is difficult to make a generalization about what terpenoids do, other than giving cannabis strains their signature scent. Each is different, and there are too many for practical casual consumers to learn them all. Growers try to target specific combinations of terpenes in their products to give users options as to how their cannabis makes them feel, beyond the effects of THC and CBD. Even the most discerning nose will not be able to identify every possible combination of terpenoids, but a few more common terpenes are popular for their physical and mental health benefits.
Which are the most common terpenes?
Some of the most prevalent terpenoids with unique and beneficial properties are myrcene, pinene, limonene, linalool, and humulene:
Mercene is the most common terpene in cannabis. It gives marijuana its most ubiquitous distinctive scent. It has anti-inflammatory and sedative effects making it common in indica strains, used to promote relaxation and sleep. Anti-inflammation is a key reason that cannabis with a high myrcene content is used for medical and pain management purposes.
Pinene is what gives Christmas trees their scent, and has been shown to counteract the short term memory loss associated with THC use and can promote alertness.
Limonene, with a beautiful citrusy scent, counteracts stress and is also useful for its antifungal and anti-bacterial properties, which may help prevent and fight cancer in the body.
Linalool, found in many flowers and foods, has a floral lavender scent. This terpene, as well as caryophyllene, are sought after for their anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects.
Humulene is unique for having a characteristic not often associated with marijuana use: appetite suppression. It’s woody, almost bitter smell is also found in beer which often contains a high proportion of humulene.
Terpenes are everywhere, in everything we eat, drink, and smell. They do not have to be consumed through cannabis to feel their benefits: even just smelling their scent can have psychological effects! But our growers put a lot of effort into concocting nature’s perfect cocktail of terpenes to produce particular effects for consumers who want to choose their cannabis experience off a menu. The relationship between terpenes and an individual’s experience of a strain is not an exact science, but advancements in horticulture and testing allow you, the consumer, to more knowledgeably select which cannabis-based products are right for you and your body’s needs.