You’ve heard of wines and perfumes boasting of certain “notes”—like notes of peppercorn or licorice in a bottle of Bordeaux, or a lively women’s fragrance offering notes of sandalwood and vanilla? Those notes are to wine and perfume what terpenes are to weed. Distinct, underlying scent properties. Sounds simple enough, right? Not necessarily.
How terpenes work in the body.
Despite their affiliation with cannabis, it is important to emphasize that terpenes are not only affiliated with cannabis. Every plant, fruit, and vegetable has terpenes. They are not a part of the cannabinoid family, so they should not be lumped in with other controversial elements like THC and CBD. Terpenes are perfectly harmless to the body when ingested in non-cannabis products, however, when used with weed, they can facilitate with the production of some serious sensory effects, including inhibiting serotonin uptake and enhancing norepinephrine activity (similar to serving as antidepressants), increasing dopamine (governing emotions and pleasure experiences), and augmenting gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA (the neurotransmitter associated with sedation and relaxation). Despite limited scientific research, terpenes have been shown to actively affect brain receptors and neurotransmitters and the way that they work. But not necessarily on their own…
What exactly are terpenes?
Terpenes (pronounced tur-peens), or terpenoids, are the aromatic metabolites found within the oils of all plants. In fact, there are approximately 20,000 terpenes in existence and at least 100 that are produced by the cannabis plant. While they are borderless, the production of terpenes in plants has evolved significantly over time; it is just one of the ways in which plants have managed to survive and thrive in the outside world. Secreting aromas can ward off pests, but also attract helpful wildlife and insects to aid with pollination. And this method of self-preservation is very important for cultivating marijuana.
So how does this affect your method of weed selection? Let’s go deeper. Here are 14 common weed terpenes in use today—and why you should know all about them:
Pinene (Alpha-pinene or Beta-pinene) is the most common terpene in nature; in addition to that of its namesake (pine), it can also be found in sage and rosemary. Due to its ubiquitous presence in outdoor plant life, Pinene comes with a host of medical and holistic benefits, including its efficiency in killing various forms of fungus and significantly improve cognitive abilities (memory retention and facial recognition).
Recent studies have demonstrated that pinene is useful in the treatment of various bacterial infections and bronchial viruses, such as asthma and bronchitis. It also modulates the human body’s response to inflammation, making it helpful for those suffering from gout and arthritis.
What does pinene smell like?
As its name suggests, pinene has a clean, robust scent that is reminiscent of pine trees but also carries with it tones of basil, parsley, and even orange citrus.
Strains most commonly associated with pinene:
Blue Dream and Dutch Treat (see legend)
Other strains containing pinene:
Jack Herer, Strawberry Cough, Island Sweet Skunk, and Romulan
Myrcene is the most common terpene in cannabis—composed of up to 50% of the plant’s total terpenes; it can also be found in hops, thyme, lemongrass, mangoes, cardamom, and basil.
Due to its highly fragrant compounds, myrcene is a key ingredient in the aromatherapy and perfumery industry, typically as an intermediate for the preparation of fragrance and flavour chemicals like menthol, citronella—even geraniol and linalool.
The therapeutic benefits to myrcene are plentiful: studies have shown it to be an effective anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxer, and sedative. It also comes with anti-bacterial properties, making it an ideal component of most topical analgesics.
What does myrcene smell like?
One of the scents most frequently associated with the myrcene terpene is a spicy nutmeg or clove; when used in beer, the aroma of myrcene closely resembles that of balsam or pepper, making it one of the most easily recognized terpenes among tokers and non-tokers alike.
Strains most commonly associated with myrcene:
White Widow and Sour Diesel
You are most likely familiar with this terpene due to its unmistakable citrus aroma. Limonene is commonly found in the rinds of citrus fruits and, as such, is used in medicine, cosmetics, perfumes, food additives, and household cleaning products. In it’s purest form, limonene has proven successful as a mood elevator and stress reliever—which explains its popularity as an essential oil in aromatherapy.
Additionally, limonene has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties making it a great detoxifier and cleaning agent (for everything from skin to hardwood). Like humulene, limonene has also shown promise in combating tumours, depriving cancer cells of the oxygen required to multiply.
What does limonene smell like?
As its name suggests, limonene smells like lemons, as well as limes, oranges, and grapefruits.
Strains most commonly associated with limonene:
Sour Diesel and Super Lemon Haze (see legend)
Other strains featuring limonene:
Durban Poison, Jack Herer and Jack the Ripper
Linalool is another popular and fragrant terpene found in many different varieties of flowers and spices like coriander/cilantro and lavender. Like many other terpenes, linalool is commonly known for its therapeutic benefits, specifically as an anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, an anti-depressant. Given lavender’s longstanding association with calming and relaxation, linalool is a great terpene for those looking for an alternative to over-the-counter sleep aids.
What does linalool smell like?
In addition to cannabis, linalool can be found in plants like lavender, laurel, coriander, birch, and rosewood, while also featuring heavily in citrus—all of which have corresponding scents.
Strains most commonly associated with linalool:
O.G. Shark (see legend)
Other strains featuring linalool:
Amnesia Haze, Special Kush, Lavender, and L.A. Confidential
Humulene features an extensive profile of health benefits. It can be used to treat various bacterial and fungal infections, like certain strains of Staphylococcus, a bacterium responsible for strep throat. Humulene can even be used as a topical remedy for fighting certain fungal skin infections.
Some studies have shown that humulene can help reduce the spread of insect-borne diseases, specifically several varieties of mosquito larvae which, upon hatching, carry the potential for transmitting diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus. Used topically, it can also be an effective repellent for mosquitos and other flying insects. Additional experiments have shown that humulene may even reduce the replication process of tumour growth in the human body by restricting oxygen that cancer cells require in order to grow and spread.
What does humulene smell like?
Humulene has a subtle, woody and earthy aroma; it is found in hops, cloves, coriander/cilantro, and basil—all of which are natural ingredients in holistic anti-inflammatory diets. Humulene features so abundantly in the hops plant, that it is primarily responsible for the flavour and aroma of most varieties of beer. If you have ever taken a whiff of a freshly poured pint of lager, ale or stout, you are smelling humulene in one of its most easily recognizable forms.
Plant strains most commonly associated with humulene:
Levels of humulene can be found in just about every strain of cannabis, though its presence is highly concentrated in varieties such as White Widow, Super Lemon Haze, Headband, Sour Diesel and Skywalker OG (see legend)
Other strains featuring humulene:
Bubba Kush, Girl Scout Cookies and Pink Kush
Caryophyllene is another common terpene that is found in cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, caryophyllene is a frequent ingredient in salves, topical analgesics and other therapeutic treatments for various disorders and diseases. Alternatively, caryophyllene is also useful as a treatment for chronic, long-term pain.
Like many other terpenes, caryophyllene is being studied for use in the fight against cancer—it has shown promise as a bolster when taken with various chemotherapy drugs, while also stimulating apoptosis (cell death), suppressing the growth and spread of cancerous tumours.
Caryophyllene also relieves anxiety, depression and has proved successful in reducing alcohol cravings.
What does caryophyllene smell like?
The caryophyllene terpene has a distinct spicy scent similar to that of peppercorn.
Strains most commonly associated with caryophyllene:
Super Silver Haze and Skywalker OG (see legend)
For hundreds of years, bisabolol has featured heavily in cosmetics due to its perceived skin healing ability and soothing, scent-enhancing properties.
Multiple research tests have shown definitively that bisabolol is an effective tool for reducing pain and inflammation. Another promising study showed that bisabolol could even be used as an antimicrobial agent. The study confirmed that tea tree oil (a product associated with many other terpenes) was the more promising antimicrobial topical solution of the two, but when combined with bisabolol, its effects were strengthened. As such, researchers believe that bisabolol provides a unique pairing ability that, when combined, can strengthen the medicinal value of other terpenes.
What does bisabolol smell like?
The bisabolol terpene is ideal for users looking for a strain with a sweet, floral aroma.
Strains most commonly associated with bisabolol:
Headband and OG Shark (see legend)
Other strains featuring bisabolol:
Harle-Tsu, Pink Kush, ACDC
Eucalyptol, also known as cineole, is one of the most popular and easily recognizable smells and tastes of all the plant terpenes. It is found in wormwood, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, and camphor laurel, as well as cannabis sativa. Eucalyptol is present in just about everything: mouthwash, food flavourings, cough suppressants, baby powder, insect repellant, and even menthol cigarettes.
Due to its pleasant aroma, eucalyptol is frequently used in meditation and aromatherapy. It is considered a useful treatment for pain relief, while also improving cognitive functions, like focus, memory, and concentration
What does eucalyptol smell like?
Eucalyptol has a pleasant, effervescent minty smell (think Vicks VapoRub) that closely resembles the eucalyptus leaf. In fact, eucalyptol shares a very similar scent profile to camphor, another terpene with medicinal agents.
Strains most commonly associated with eucalyptol:
Super Silver Haze and Headband (see legend)
Nerolidol is a fragrant and naturally occurring terpene found in many plants, flowers, and essential oils, like ginger, jasmine, lavender, lemongrass, tea tree, as well as cannabis sativa. In terms of therapeutic benefits, nerolidol is known for multiple biological activities, including antioxidants, anti-fungal and antimicrobial—making it an all-around effective treatment for a variety of incidental and chronic ailments. Due to its presence in many varieties of flora, nerolidol also possesses sedating and calming effects.
What does nerolidol smell like?
Owing to its earthy scent, nerolidol is frequently used as a flavouring agent and other olfactory practices like cosmetics and fragrances. Marked aromas include a woodsy, bark-like smell indicative of a rainforest.
Strains most commonly associated with nerolidol:
Skywalker OG (see legend)
Other strains featuring nerolidol:
Island Jack Herer and Sweet Skunk
Recreational users take note: if you have ever experienced excessive dry mouth as a result of ingesting cannabis, chances are that strain contained a lot of delta 3 carene, which is known to remove excess liquids from the body. Medicinal users, on the other hand, can expect many great benefits from this misunderstood cannabis terpene.
Delta 3 carene is perhaps one of the most effective elements in therapeutic and healing efforts. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, delta 3 carene is a great remedy for those suffering from joint pain, fractured or broken bones, osteoporosis, arthritis, and even fibromyalgia. It has been shown to stimulate cognitive functions and increase memory retention, while also acting as a natural antihistamine for allergy sufferers. Many have speculated that delta 3 carene, out of all terpenes, contains elements that carry great potential for finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
What does delta 3 carene smell like?
This aromatic terpene can be found in a number of plants like rosemary, basil, bell peppers, cedar, and pine. Its scent profile is often sweet and similar to the smell of a cypress tree.
Strains most commonly associated with delta 3 carene:
Super Lemon Haze and Super Silver Haze (see legend)
Other strains featuring delta 3 carene:
Ultra Haze and Skunk #1
Camphene is known for its powerful pain relieving and anti-oxidative properties. It is also known for is its propensity to explode. So if you’re consuming a strain of cannabis with a high level of camphene terpene, be aware of its combustibility, as well as the carcinogenic smoke released when overheated. Ironically, new research suggests that when maintained at reasonable temperatures, camphene can be used to treat inflammatory lung diseases. For example, using a vape can help defer the negative attributes of its combustibility and enhance its positive attributes.
Just about every terpene affects the body’s appetite, but unlike most camphene actually works towards suppression, not stimulation. In recent studies, there has been a significant amount of anecdotal evidence of camphene’s unique anorectic properties, proving it to be a beneficial part of an effective weight loss routine.
Camphene can be commonly found in essential oils that are extracted from various, such as turpentine, cypress oil, camphor oil, and citronella.
What does camphene smell like?
Camphene typically smells woodsy and earthy but is most often aligned with the smell of fir needles.
Strains most commonly associated with camphene:
Ghost OG (see legend)
Other strains featuring camphene:
Strawberry Banana, Mendocino Purps
Borneol is found not only in cannabis—in fact, it is one of the most restorative and regenerative plant terpenes in existence. For centuries, this powerful agent has been used to treat ailments stretching across the board. It is a central component in traditional Chinese medicine and dates back as early as the 1600s. Found primarily in wormwood, sage, ginger, and mugwort, borneol has been used to treat inflammation, relieve pain (as a supplement or topical analgesic), reduce stress and anxiety and alleviate heart disease.
What does borneol smell like?
Borneol has a scent profile that is both powerful and effective. It has a sweet, minty / menthol smell that is best associated with the more pleasant additives in insect repellent. Fresh and invigorating for humans—off-putting to most bugs.
Strains most commonly associated with borneol:
Dutch Treat (see legend)
Other strains featuring borneol:
Amnesia Haze, Golden Haze, K13 Haze
Despite its presence in many different strains of cannabis, the terpinolene terpene is so closely related to pinene, that its effects (especially its scent) can be difficult to detect. Despite this, terpinolene is uncommon in that, unlike other terpenes, it has very little anti-inflammatory or pain relieving properties. It is, however, proving popular in cancer research—studies show that terpinolene has shown success in slowing the spread of the disease in mice. It is commonly found in fragrant items like cumin, tea tree oil, and apples.
What does terpinolene smell like?
The most commonly recognized smell associated with the terpineol terpene is lilac. It is rich in sedating properties and is a popular element in aromatherapy, hence its popularity in uses like perfumery, detergents, and cosmetics.
Strains most commonly associated with terpinolene:
Cannabis strains with high levels of terpinolene often contain similarly high levels of pinene, such as OG Kush and Dutch Treat.
Studies have shown that the combined effects of geraniol and camphene were helpful in the treatment of inflammatory ailments like lung diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and various forms of fibrosis. It has even been effective as an insect repellent.
What does geraniol smell like?
As you may have guessed, geraniol has a pleasant, flowery scent similar to roses or geraniums.
Strains most commonly associated with geraniol:
The geraniol terpene shares many similar scents and isomer-related traits with that of linalool. As such, the two are commonly found in many of the same cannabis strains such as Headband and OG Shark.
Other strains featuring geraniol:
Amnesia Haze, Great White Shark, Afghani, Island Sweet Skunk, and Master Kush
There you have it! The most common weed terpenes broken down, de-stemmed, rolled and ready for your consumption. As you can imagine, there is still much to process regarding research on the effects of weed terpenes and their individual and combined effect on the human body. In the meantime, kick back, relax and let your nose lead you down your chosen path. Whether you are looking for relief—mental or physical—or a satisfying olfactory sensation, you can use this guide to effectively choose the right strain, and the ideal terpene, for your experience.
As you can see, terpenes come from all walks—some are sweet, some are smoky. Certain compounds come with high potency, others feature subtler aromatic properties. And, of course, there are the other components of cannabis—THC, CBD, and cannabinoids—that bring their own individual effects, both physical and hallucinogenic. While science continues to examine the benefits of each of these complex mechanisms on their own, users can continue to relish in the fact that they all work so well together. So very well.
Nowadays, the cannabis industry is churning out great discoveries with greater frequency. Research is ongoing, and soon there will be much more to experience, including how terpenes function individually—and together—in different strains. There have been numerous studies, some dating back to as early as the 1980s, that show that terpenes in a single cannabis strain work together in order to facilitate cannabinoids passing through the bloodstream, lowering what is commonly referred to as the blood-to-brain barrier. This transition can be dictated by temperature ranges and the combustibility of the terpene or specific strain.
The Entourage Effect
This method of teamwork is known as “the entourage effect”. The entourage effect, first termed in 1998, is used to describe the combined experience of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in cannabis. While the most common of these interactions occur between THC (the ingredient that provides a hallucinogenic high) and CBD (the ingredient that reduces anxiety and provides a satisfying calm with highly stressed users), there are other complexities that make each cannabis strain experience different from others.
Using their own individual medicinal properties, terpenes work together to heighten or lessen the overpowering effects of the other cannabinoids. Greater synergy between the elements in that strain, the stronger the user’s experience. Effective, synergistic transmission and interaction between all of the above parties (terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids), create the entourage effect.
We already know about terpenes. So, let’s break down the other team members working together towards the entourage effect:
Despite the somewhat misleading name, flavonoids are the plant chemicals known as phytonutrients which provide colours to almost all fruits and vegetables. And like any other plant, there are flavonoids in cannabis. In the way that terpenes account for the scent and taste of most cannabis strains, the flavonoids contribute to their respective colours. It is the flavonoids that give cannabis plants blue-grey stems or vibrant green leaves. While scientists have been able to gain much insight into the various types and functions of terpenes found in cannabis, there has not been as much conducted on flavonoids. As legalization and relaxed bylaws continue to emerge across the globe, research regarding flavonoids in marijuana is looking brighter every day.
The female cannabis plant is known for producing trichomes, which are sac-like glands that protrude from the plant’s leaves and flowers. Within these trichomes are the all-important cannabinoids and flavonoids (more on those later)—and terpenes. In order to get the most flavourful and distinctive yield during crop cultivation, harvesters must ensure that the plants are handled with care and that the trichomes remain attached.
As mentioned, there have been over 100 terpene profiles discovered in cannabis. The same can be said for cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are a group of active compounds found in marijuana, each of which contributes different characteristics of the cannabis plant. They are the chemicals which give the plant its medical and recreational properties. And again, the most well-researched and common of all of the 113 different cannabinoids are THC and CBD.
TERPENE WEED STRAINS
As marijuana legalization continues to grow by country, more and more research is being conducted in order to develop a greater understanding of the potential benefits of cannabinoids. And terpenes are key players in helping to push this research forward. By using terpenes to adjust the negative effects of cannabinoids, cultivators are now able to produce super strains of cannabis that are specifically targeted towards giving the user the best possible experience. For example, modifying a THC-heavy strain (which offers an intense hallucinogenic high) with the anti-anxiety properties of a specific terpene (like linalool), or combining the anti-inflammatory elements of a CBD-rich strain, these types of studies are promising not only to recreational users but also to medical patients. Keep in mind that depending on who grew the weed, the terpene profile might shift.
A complex and potent hybrid of the classic strains Blueberry and Haze, Blue Dream offers a superior flavour that is widely considered an all-time favourite. Notes of blueberry and sugar are powerful and reside on the tongue—and in the air, long after the smoke has dissipated. But perhaps most intriguing about this popular crossbreed is the fact that much of its history is unavailable—as though its origins, erased from memory, were merely a dream.
Originating in the Netherlands in the 1990s, this balanced hybrid of cannabis indica and cannabis sativa is one of the most popular, and readily available, strains in the world. The famous White Widow possesses a scent profile that is a cross between earthy and clinical (pine meets ammonia); as an inhalant, however, there is little flavour to be savoured.
Originally cultivated in the Pacific Northwest, it soon became a staple in the Amsterdam coffee shops. It features a highly potent THC component and is ideal for relaxing and quiet introspection, leaving little room for productivity. The aroma has been described as pleasant but not entirely pungent: cedar and pine with a slight citrus sweetness.
An extremely popular strain of murky origin, Sour Diesel has offered a positive high for lively social situations for years. The flavour profile? That’s another story. Sour Diesel has a famously acrid smoke that often causes users to cough; the smoke is sour and skunky, and exhaling brings to mind a tangy diesel burn that lives up to its name.
Super Lemon Haze
A sativa strain known for its ability to energize users (despite the ironic name), this strain is one of the more palatable due to its sweet lemon flavour properties.
A legendary strain with global recognition, the OG Kush has a long and storied origin—most of which cannot be verified, including its name. Many would assume that the OG stands for the colloquial “original gangster” (which would explain a lot given its high potency), but others insist it is “ocean grown”, in reference to its early presence along the California coast. It remains a mystery. Kush buds have an earthy and musty scent accented by notes of citrus, similar to that of a craft beer.
Found primarily in Canada, where it is assumed to have originated, this mysterious and highly sought-after strain offers a respectable balance of flavour and scent (berry, spice, sweet earth and skunk), with very high potency. An assumed blend of legendary strains Diesel and Blueberry, OG Shark is the perfect remedy for those with insomnia or who are looking to relax to the max.
An iconic hybrid of staple strains OG Kush, Master Kush, and Sour Diesel, Headband gets its name from the sensation of pressure that tightens around the toker’s temples. Despite its relation to Sour Diesel, the overall taste sensation of Headband is that of lemon-scented household cleaner—tangy, aromatic and slightly medicinal.
Affectionately billed as the lovechild of OG Kush and Skywalker, this indica-dominant and highly potent strain is definitely not for beginners. Known for its pungent taste and smell, Skywalker OG brings all of the acrid diesel and spicy herbal notes that are synonymous with its pedigree. But that’s okay because this option is ideal for those looking to properly chill out. A super heavy high, instantly. Also great for those with chronic pain or injury.
Super Silver Haze
Another offshoot of the popular Haze family, this breed is a particularly sativa-dominant strain that features a sweet, peachy taste that lingers sweetly and lastingly on the palate. Due to its relatively high potency, which focuses on a more body-centric buzz (no head in the clouds effect here), Super Silver Haze is a great choice for users looking to unwind.