What Are Terpenes?

The name “terpene” comes from turpentine, a terpene-based solvent distilled from pinesap. Essential oils composed primarily of terpenes, have a long history of topical and internal medicinal use. Cannabinoids like THC are chemically classified as terpenoids, meaning they are derived from terpenes themselves. This explains the common practice among cannabis users of judging the quality of dried cannabis or hash based largely on the intensity of the smell. 

Terpenes are volatile compounds produced by many plants, as well as some insects. Plants that produce terpenes often produce smells and flavours we find pleasing and are known as aromatic herbs. These aromatic plants have been used by cultures around the world, not only for perfumery and cooking, but also as medicine. The distinctive flavor and smell of each aromatic plant is caused by its unique blend of terpenes. 120 distinct terpenes are produced by the genus cannabis, and the relative concentrations of the individual terpenes vary from strain to strain. Other than the taste and smell differences between varieties, studies have shown that in addition to the psychoactive properties present in cannabis resin, secondary components including terpenes are either psychoactive themselves, or are able to tweak or amplify the effect of the cannabinoids when ingested in combination.

Interesting Terpenes

Alpha Pinene is a major component of cannabis resin and most plant varieties but especially pine, conifers and sage.

Borneol is a major component of cannabis resin that can also be found in cinnamon and wormwood.

Carryophyllene is a major component of cannabis resin that dogs are able to detect (used in dog law enforcement training) and that can also be found in hops, basil, oregano, black pepper and cloves.

Cineole/eucalyptol content is quite variable across varieties of cannabis but is often a major component of the essential oil. It is also found in rosemary and eucalyptus.

Limonene is found in cannabis resin as well as tropical fruit rinds, juniper and peppermint.

Delta-3-Carene is a component of cannabis, rosemary, pine, and cedar resin.

Linalool is a major component of cannabis as well as lavender oils, birch, rosewood, laurel and citrus.

Myrcene is present in cannabis resin and also found in mango, hops, lemon grass, East Indian bay tree, thyme and verbena.

Humulene is found in essential oils of cannabis and aromatic plants such as Salvia officinalis (common sage, culinary sage), Japanese spicebush, coriander, ginseng species, and the ginger family.

Valencene is found in essential oils of most citrus fruit and citrus-derived odorants as well as cannabis. It can be obtained inexpensively from Valencia oranges.