Terpenes Definition - Everything You Need To Know About Plant Terpenes


When most people hear the word “terpene,” it is as foreign as any word in a language they don’t speak. What exactly are terpenes, what can you find them in, and what is it that they do? Allow us to explain!

Terpene Definition

Terpenes are fragrant oils that can be found in cannabis and are responsible for giving cannabis its aromatic diversity. Terpene oils are secreted in the flower’s sticky resin glands, the exact same ones that produce THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Terpenes are by no means unique to cannabis plants; terpene strains can be found in many other herbs, fruits, and plants as well. For example, terpenes are also what give the blueberry its signature smell and lavender plants their sweet floral aroma.


Like cannabinoids, terpenes bind to receptors in the brain and create various effects in the body. Cannabis plant terpenes include myrcene, pinene, limonene, linalool, beta-caryophyllene, camphene, terpinolene, and phellandrene. Below, we will go over different terpenes that can be found in different strains of cannabis and cannabinoids, including plants terpenes can be found in, as well as the benefits terpenoids can provide.


Myrcene, the most common terpene produced by cannabis, is a monoterpene. The chemical compounds in myrcene create a herbal aroma described as musky and earthy – similar to cloves. A high myrcene level in cannabis and cannabinoids (usually above 0.5%) results in the well-known “couch-lock” effect of classic Indica strains. Myrcene can actually be found in a variety of different plants, including the oil of hops, eucalyptus, lemongrass, citrus fruits, bay leaves, and wild thyme.

Myrcene has some very special medicinal properties, including lowering the resistance across the blood to brain barrier, allowing chemicals to cross the barrier easier and more quickly. For cannabinoids (like THC), myrcene's chemical compounds allow the effects of the cannabinoid to take effect faster. More uniquely still, myrcene has been shown to increase the maximum saturation level of the CB1 receptor, creating a greater possible psychoactive effect after using cannabis.

Myrcene is a potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antimutagenic. The terpene blocks the action of cytochrome, aflatoxin B, and other pro-mutagenic carcinogens. The sedative and relaxing effects of the terpene also make it ideal for the treatment of insomnia and pain.

Since myrcene is usually found in the essential oils of citrus fruit, it has been said that eating a fresh, fully ripe mango half an hour to an hour before the consumption of cannabis will result in a faster onset of psycho-activity, along with greater intensity. Make sure that you pick a mango that is ripe; otherwise, the myrcene level will not be high enough to make a difference in the intensity level of the cannabis!


Another terpene, pinene, is a bicyclic monoterpenoid and has distinctive aromas of pine and fir. There are two structural isomers of pinene that can be found in nature: α-pinene and β-pinene. Both forms are primary compounds of pine resin. α-pinene is the most commonly found terpenoid in nature. Pinene is found in many other conifers, as well as in non-coniferous plants, but it is found mostly in balsamic resin, pine woods, and some citrus fruits. The two isomers of pinene make up the primary component of wood turpentine. Pinene is one of the principal monoterpenes that is significant physiologically in both plants and animals. It reacts with a lot of other chemical compounds, creating a variety of other terpenes (like limonene) as well as other chemical compounds.

Pinene is often used in medicine as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, bronchodilator, and local antiseptic. α-pinene is a natural compound taken from pine needle oil that displays anti-cancer properties and has also been used as an anti-cancer agent in Traditional Chinese Medicine for many years. It is also believed that the effects of cannabis and THC may be dampened if mixed with pinene.


As we stated above, limonene is one of the two major compounds formed from pinene and is a monocyclic monoterpenoid. As the name suggests, varieties of cannabis high in limonene give off a strong citrusy aroma similar to oranges, lemons, and limes. Strains that are high in limonene help to create a general uplift in both mood and attitude. This citrusy terpene is the major constituent in citrus fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper, and peppermint, as well as in several pine needle oils.

Limonene is highly absorbed when inhaled and quickly spreads through the bloodstream. This terpene assists in the absorption of other terpenes through the skin and other body tissue. It also suppresses the growth of many species of fungi and bacteria, making it an ideal antifungal agent for ailments like toenail fungus. Limonene may also be beneficial in protecting against various cancers, and limonene is currently undergoing clinical trials in the treatment of breast cancer. Limonene strains have even been found to help promote weight loss.

In nature, plants actually use limonene as a natural insecticide to ward off predators. Until recently, limonene was originally used in food and perfumes. Now, it has become better known as the main active ingredient in citrus cleaner. This terpene also has very low toxicity and adverse effects are very rarely associated with it.


Our next terpene, linalool, is a non-cyclic monoterpenoid. It can be described as having floral and lavender undertones. Cannabis plant varieties that are high in linalool help to promote calming and relaxing effects.

Linalool has been used for centuries as a sleep aid. It dampens the anxious emotions that are brought on by pure THC, making it helpful in the treatment of both psychosis and anxiety. There are studies that also suggest that linalool compounds boost the immune system, significantly reduces lung inflammation, and restores cognitive and emotional function (meaning the terpene is useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease).

The Ma, J., Xu, et al. study found that linalool may significantly reduce lung inflammation caused by cigarette smoke, which may also be helpful in reducing the harm caused by inhaling cannabis smoke.

Linalool boosts the immune system as it directly activates immune cells through specific receptors and pathways. The Sabogal-Guáqueta et al study suggests linalool may reverse the histopathological (the microscopic examination of biological tissues to observe the appearance of diseased cells and tissues in very fine detail) hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease and could restore cognitive and emotional functions via an anti-inflammatory effect.

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved its use as a pesticide, flavor agent, and scent. It is used in a wide variety of bath and body products and is commonly listed under chemical ingredients for these products as beta linalool, linalyl alcohol, linaloyl oxide, p-linalool, and alloocimenol. Linalool terpene vapors have been shown to be an effective insecticide against fruit flies, fleas, and cockroaches.

Linalool has been isolated in several hundred different plant types. The Lamiaceae plant and herb family, which includes mints and other scented herbs, are common sources. The Lauraceae plant family, which includes laurels, cinnamon, and rosewood, is also a readily available source. The Rutaceae plant family, which contains citrus plants, is another viable source. Birch trees and several different plant species that are found in tropical and boreal climate zones also produce linalool. Although technically not plants, some fungi produce linalool, as well. Linalool is a critical precursor in the formation of Vitamin E. 

If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve terpenoids from a plant, you can check this video below that shows how preserving terpenes from herbs can be a delicate process.

Beta-caryonphyllene Terpenes

Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in many plants such as Thai basils, cloves, cinnamon leaves, and black pepper, as well as in small amounts in lavender. The aroma of this terpene can be described as peppery and woody. Of all the terpenes, caryophyllene is the only terpene that is known to cooperate with the endocannabinoid system (CB2). Studies show β–caryophyllene holds promise in cancer treatment plans. Research shows that β–caryophyllene selectively binds to the CB2 receptor and that it is a functional CB2 agonist. It was also identified as a functional non-psychoactive CB2 receptor ligand in foodstuff and as a macrocyclic anti-inflammatory cannabinoid in cannabis.

The Fine/Rosenfeld pain study demonstrates that when administered orally, combiningdifferent phytocannabinoids , specifically cannabidiol (CBD) and β-caryophyllene, seem to be promising candidates for the treatment of chronic pain due to their high safety and low adverse effects profiles. The Horváth et al study suggests that β-caryophyllene, through a CB2 receptor-dependent pathway, may be an excellent therapeutic agent to prevent nephrotoxicity (a poisonous effect on the kidneys) that is caused by anti-cancer chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin.

The Jeena, Liju, et al. study looked at the chemical compounds of essential oil taken from black pepper, of which caryophyllene is a main constituent, and studied its pharmacological properties. Black pepper oil was found to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antinociceptive properties. Due to this, high-caryophyllene strains may be useful in treating a number of medical issues such as arthritis and neuropathy pain. Beta-caryophyllene strains are actually used commonly in chewing gum when combined with other spicy mixtures or citrus flavorings.


Another common terpene, camphene, is a plant-derived monoterpene that emits pungent odors similar to damp woodlands and fir needles. Camphene may play a critical role in cardiovascular disease.

The Vallianou et al. study found that camphene helps to reduce plasma cholesterol and triglycerides in hyperlipidemic rats. As it is very important to control hyperlipidemia in heart disease, the results of this study explains how camphene might also be used as an alternative to pharmaceutical lipid-lowering agents that have been proven to cause intestinal problems, liver damage, and even muscle inflammation.

Camphene is a minor component of many essential oils such as turpentine, camphor oil, citronella oil, and ginger oil. This terpene is used as a food additive for flavoring, and also used in the preparation of fragrances. Cannabis strains high in this terpene tend to have a sweet flavor that is reminiscent of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.


Terpinolene is a common component of sage and rosemary and is found in the oil derived from the Monterey cypress. It is primarily used in the United States in soaps and perfumes, and it is also a great insect repellent. Terpinolene carries a piney aroma with slight herbal and floral nuances. It tends to have a sweet flavor that is reminiscent of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.

Terpinolene can act as a central nervous system depressant used to encourage drowsiness or sleep or to even low psychological excitement or anxiety. Terpinolene has also been found to inhibit the cell proliferation involved in a variety of human cancers.

Three Closely Related Terpenoids

Similarly named but quite different terpenes, α-Terpineol, terpinen-4-ol, and 4-terpineol are three closely related monoterpenoids. The aroma of terpineol can be akin to lilacs and flower blossoms. Terpineol is often found in cannabis varieties that have high pinene levels, which tend to mask the fragrant aromas of terpineol. Terpineol, specifically α-terpineol, has calming and relaxing effects, and it also exhibits antibiotic and antioxidant antimalarial properties.


The last terpene on our list, phellandrene, can be described as pepperminty with a slight scent of citrus. Phellandrene is believed to have special medicinal values and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat digestive disorders. It is one of the main compounds in turmeric leaf oil, which is used to prevent and treat systemic fungal infections.

Phellandrene was first discovered in eucalyptus oil. We are now aware of many essential oils that contain phellandrene. It is, however, a somewhat uncertain terpene as it can only be detected in the oils of some species, especially in eucalyptus plant, at particular times of the year. This terpene can also be found in a number of herbs and spices, including cinnamon, garlic, dill, ginger, and parsley. A number of plants produce β-phellandrene as a constituent of their essential oils, including lavender and grand fir. Phellandrene is also almost entirely responsible for the recognizable odors of some essential oils, like the oil of pepper, dill oil, and the oil of ginger, as they are composed almost entirely of phellandrene. Phellandrene, particularly α-phellandrene, is absorbed through the skin, making it attractive for use in perfumes. It is also used as a flavoring for food products.

Do Cannabis Terpenes Affect People?

Yes, terpenes affect people. As discussed in this article, terpenes have different benefits, so it's important to know what each plant terpene does before using them. When choosing a strain of cannabis to use based on its terpene content, make sure that you keep in mind that different cannabis harvests may demonstrate dramatically different terpenoid and chemical profiles due to differences in the growing and curing techniques. Lab-tested products are the only definitive way of knowing a strain’s terpene potency – but without it, you will have to depend on your nose to guide the way. And of course, naturally, it is important to select the appropriate strain of cannabis that suits the method of consumption, whether it's a dry herb vaporizer, a joint, or even infused in edibles like space brownies.


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