What are Terpenes?

You may have heard about terpenes being thrown around before, but they actually play a large role in how your body reacts to marijuana. Here’s what to know.

We have another word to add to your marijuana jargon: terpenes.

You may have heard it thrown around before, but they actually play a large role in how your body reacts to marijuana. Here’s what to know.

The Basics

Terpenes are compounds that are found in cannabis—as well as every other plant—and they’re what give them its flavor. You know how you can taste the difference between a tomato and a zucchini? It’s all thanks to your senses of taste and smell. And what you’re sensing are terpenes.

Terpenoids, which are similar to and related to but different from terpenes, are aromatic metabolites that naturally exist in the oils of all plants. And yes, they’re in your weed plants. In the natural world, over 20,000 terpenes exist. The cannabis plant alone produces 100—and that’s a conservative estimation.

The purpose of their existence is more than for flavor and odor; terpenoids and its production has been evolving over time. They attract pollinators, which in turn helps the plants create offspring. Terpenoids also act as a defense to other compounds.

You know those tiny hairs you see on some weed plants? They’re called glandular trichomes, and they exist on female plants. They are home to compounds such as cannabinoids, flavonoids, and—you guessed it—terpenes. You want these trichomes to be unscathed during the harvesting process, since they play an enormous part in helping create unique smells, flavors, and colors for your plants. Terpene production can be affected by a host of factors, like humidity and temperature, so be sure to keep this in mind the next time you handle your plants.

What’s the Diff?

So, a little on the difference between terpenes and terpenoids. Terpenes naturally exist in cannabis plants and can change based on the handling process (i.e. drying and curing) of the plant. Terpenoids, on the other hand, are what happen when you “de-nature” terpenes through oxidation. They’re also used for their aromatic qualities, and research has shown that they can play a big role in the medicinal effects of cannabinoids, which include THC and CBD.

Some types of terpenoids include: limonene (citrus), pinene (pine), myrcene (musky), humulene (earthy), linalool (spicy/floral). All of these carry different medicinal properties in addition to different scents. Needless to say, if you are looking to cook with terpenes, you should look for strains that will enhance the flavors of what you’re cooking. Making a cannabis-infused key lime pie? You should probably stick with something that is strong in limonene.

The Entourage Effect

We’ve discussed something called the “entourage effect” before, but here’s a little refresher: compounds in your marijuana plant work together and can affect the efficacy of one another. Some studies have shown that terpenes can work together to help cannabinoids (which, again, include THC and CBD) more swiftly pass through the bloodstream. This means that you may be more or less affected by whichever strain you use depends on the terpenes.

As much as they can work together, though, they can also counterbalance each other. If they’re working together, you may notice stronger effects; conversely, if they counterbalance, you may not feel much at all.

This is actually how some producers enhance certain effects and mute others, such as preferring a higher CBD dose over THC for anti-depressant qualities, or higher CBD over THC to help nullify anxiety. This helps create a more accessible experience for users, depending on what they want.