Terpenes, or isoprenoids, are volatile, fragrant molecules that dissipate easily and provide cannabis with its unique aroma and flavor properties. These molecules consist of small repetitive units of the compound isoprene.

People are generally less familiar with terpenes than cannabis; however, terpenes are vital to the psychoactive and physiological effects of cannabis. Like cannabinoids, terpenes bind to receptors in the brain and stimulate effects like relieving pain, aiding sleep, and reducing inflammation. They also affect the chemical production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Terpenes are responsible for the highs that make a sativa a sativa and an indica an indica! It is very similar to aromatherapy.

Why do terpenes exist in Cannabis?

They are a plants defense mechanism against pesky herbivore animals. They also attract pollinators and beneficial bugs to them to help eat the bad bugs. Cannabis breeders have been creating cultivars that are continuously increasing in terpene content, and as it turns out, weed that smells good also make you feel really good too.

Do different terpenes have different effects?

They sure do, and we have compiled a list of the most popular terpenes that exist in cannabis. Some are way more prevalent than others, and some terpenes, like myrcene, are present in most cannabis cultivars.

Does temperature affect terpenes?

Definitely, and a study from Portland State University in 2017 showed that when heating terpenes to extreme temperatures while dabbing created toxicant formations of compounds such as benzene. Stick to the lowest setting on your pens or dab rig, and here lies the reason why “friends don’t let friends do hot dabs.” Pass it on.

How do I know what terpenes are in my cannabis?

Thankfully, this year in 2019, California cultivators will begin testing for terpenes and will put them on their label, if the cultivator chooses. We believe that over the next few years with this level of testing, the consumer will start to experiment and find the right terpenes for them. Everyone’s biology is different and the same cultivar may not be right for everyone. But as a rule of thumb, before all this fancy testing was available, the common thought was, “your nose knows”. If you like the smell of a particular strain, chances are high that so will your body and spirit. Humans and cannabis are cool like that.

Now to the fun nitty gritty. Here is a short list of the (best) most prevalent terpenes in cannabis.


Earthy clove-like aroma and in high concentrations brings on a sedating effect. Myrcene synergizes terpenes in many ways. It is known to enhance transdermal absorption and is the most abundant terpene in cannabis. Used for pain and insomnia and is an anti-inflammatory. Though, there is not enough hard data, myrcene is thought to aid other cannabinoids to break the blood brain barrier permeating cells easier for medical efficiency and effect. It is argued that this terpene dictates whether a strain is indica or sativa. This is another terpene that will be heavily studied and sought after going forward. Vaporize temp 332°F.

Beta-Caryophyllene (Pepper)

Most common in Cookies and GG #4, this terpene binds to the (CB2) receptor and can stimulate an anti-inflammatory reaction. Caryophyllene smells peppery, and spicy or woody and when dispensed with cannabinoids, it diminishes chronic pain. It has promising anti-arthritis effects. Since it is such a prominent terpene in cannabis, drug detection dogs are trained to smell for it. Because this terpene binds with the CB2 receptors, lowering inflammation, it is poised to be the hottest thing since CBD going forward. Vaporize temp 266°F.

Linalool (Lavender)

Is the main compound that gives lavender its smell. It is thought to help aid in sleep and reduce anxiety caused from too much THC. A promising study from 2016 on mice with Alzheimer’s disease showed this terpene to reverse many of the impairments associated with the disease. Further, it reduced the number of brain plaques and cellular tangles that define the disease and contribute to brain degeneration. Vaporize temp 388 °F.

Limonene (Lemon)

Limonene is the most prominent terpene in lemons. This terpene is special in that it activates receptors that increase the effects of THC and CBD. Whoa. Limonene is the primary terpene in cannabis that helps give a “sativa” effect. It is highly absorbed and promotes a positive mood and attitude. Limonene enhances terpenes absorption through the epidermis. Vaporize temp 349 °F.


Humulene is found in hop and cannabis “sativa” strains. Believed to be anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anorectic (suppresses appetite). Vaporize temp 222 °F.

Alpha-pinene (Pine)

Found in pine and may also buffer the brain from short term memory loss associated with THC. Also thought to be an anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-tumor activity. For centuries α-Pinene has been used as a bronchodilator for treating asthma. Reminds me of the freshness of a pine forest. Vaporize temp 311 °F.


A sweet, fruity terpene, associated with skunk varieties. Found in parsley, pepper, and basil. Not too stimulating or sedating but found in mostly sativa cultivars. Ocimene is also released by the plant in response to insect predators which attract predatory bugs to eat the pest. Vaporize temp 122°F.


Tastes of citrus and is a very stimulating clear headed high; best known in cultivars Jack Herer and Trainwreck. Known for being anti-oxidant, immune-modulating and anti-biologically (anti-tumor, antibacterial, anti-fungal). It has also been used, for hundreds of years, in the treatment of insomnia. Terpinolene is found in oregano, marjoram, cumin, lilac, some citrus rind and conifers. Vaporize temp 365°F.

Now that you’re familiar with terpenes it is time to experiment. Look out for the terpenes in your next cannabis. Can you tell the differences in smell? What types of highs are they giving you? Enjoy experimenting!

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