Most people have heard of CBD and THC—two of the most famous compounds found in the cannabis plant.
But many people don’t realize there are a vast array of other chemicals at play, all coming together to create the final plant product we all know and recognize – and all bringing along their own benefits.
And that, of course, includes terpenes.
Where Are Terpenes?
Along with cannabinoids and flavonoids, terpenes are one of the three major components found in the leaves, stems and flowers of the cannabis plant. They’re a class of chemical compounds, called phytoneutriants, that cause specific reactions with the human body when ingested.
While cannabinoids interact directly with the endocannabinoid system and flavonoids bring a lot of color – and plenty of antioxidants – to the situation, terpenes’ primary contribution to the cannabis plant is smell.
The phytonutrients can essentially be thought of as miniature molecules of essential oils, bringing aromas like pine, citrus, berry, mint, and, of course, that patented “weedy” smell, to the party.
And, when combined with the other proactive particles found in the cannabis plant, terpenes may help contribute to what many scientists believe is something called the “entourage effect.”
While still technically only a theory, a number of experts have raised the idea that when terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids all get together, the resulting effects are more potent than when using just a CBD isolate.
What Do Terpenes Do?
Scientists are increasingly discovering that smell is a highly underrated sense.
The ability to pick up molecules in the air through our noses can leave us privy to all sorts of information – and, indeed, this was, for the most part, why and how terpenes evolved in plants
In the wild, an appealing aroma will attract all the right kinds of pollinators, like bees and bugs and birds, bringing them in close to a plant and helping convince them to stick around, have a snack, and then inadvertently move a plant’s pollen around.
Conversely, a strong odor can be used to help keep predators at bay.
And it’s not just cannabis that benefits from these smelly compounds. Terpenes are actually found in a number of different types of plants, including many varieties of grasses, trees and flowers as well as some fruits and vegetables.
But the cannabis plant alone has more than 100 terpenes – which have evolved thanks to any number of factors, including weather and climate, the age and maturation of the plant, the type of soil the plant grows in, and even any potential fertilizers used.
Different Kinds of Terpenes
As any aromatherapy aficionado will attest, though, smell does have a very real impact on us – and, other than repulsion or attraction, the sense can manifest a number of biological benefits.
Some scents seem to invigorate us and wake us up, while others aid in relaxation. And these reactions go more than smell-deep, with the chemicals continuing to have a bioreaction once they’re inside our bodies – often for the better.
There are any number of terpenes scientists have discovered that impact the way CBD may affect us, but some of the most well-known include:
By far the most common type of this phytoneutriant found in the cannabis plant, Myrcene can make up as much as 65% of a plant’s terpenes.
These terpenes tend to smell on the muskier side, and are often described as “earthy,” although, depending on other factors, myrcene can also smell like a red grape.
As its name may imply, limonene conjures a much more citrusy type of smell. And like many other citrus smells, it can have a similar impact on our moods, making us feel brighter and more invigorated.
Some studies have even shown limonene to help things get as clean as it may make them smell, thanks to some antifungal and antibacterial properties.
A nice person may describe the scent of this terpene as anything from spicy to floral, as it’s also found in a number of other plants including lavender, mint, cinnamon and coriander.
But a less nice person could call it downright “skunky.”
Linalool is the terpene most responsible for the signature smell of marijuana. But it’s also been found to have powerfully relaxing – and even sedating – effects on any humans who smell it.
Also found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, basil and rosemary, it may be no surprise that the scent profile for caryophyllene is often described as “spicy.”
It’s known to promote anti-anxiety and even help in relieving pain. And caryophyllene also has the unique distinction of being the only type of terpene to be able to bind to reactors in the body’s endocannabinoid system the way other cannabinoids do – making it almost like a hybrid model.
Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene
This pair of terpenes is often associated with pine. It’s what they smell like – and the plant, besides cannabis, where they’re most typically found.
But Alpha- and Beta-pinene also come with a whole host of benefits, including working as an anti-inflammatory and also helping improve respiratory functions. The pair of phytoneutriants have even been linked to asthma prevention.
So when it comes to all the wonderful benefits of terpenes, you can just say, the nose knows.