What are terpenes? Not to be confused with a terrapin, as I did when I first moved to MD, terpenes are aromatic compounds found in trichomes on the surface of the cannabis plant that control not only smell, but the effect for many consumers, too. The more we learn about the cannabis plant, the more it has become apparent that the traditional ways of classifying plants by indica/hybrid/sativa to predict effect have become outdated. Those classifications are more reflective of plant size, leaf shape, and growing patterns. Combined with the increase of hybrid crosses and creative strain names, it has become apparent that selecting a strain based on terpene profile rather than strain name is more effective in achieving the desired effect. For instance, Spritzer and Cherry Chem are technically hybrid strains with very different effects, evident through their terpene profiles. So, how do we read these profiles? Let’s look:
First, let’s run through the main terpenes, starting with the big 3: Myrcene, Limonene, and Beta-Caryophyllene. These terps are the most common to find in larger percentages than others. Myrcene, the people’s princess of terpenes, is also found in mangos and lemongrass and provides that sweet, earthy smell. This sought-after terpene can be incredibly effective in relieving body pain and inflammation through the deep body high it can provide. Additionally, strains high in myrcene can have sedating effects and be helpful for users with insomnia.
Next up is Limonene; as the name suggests, it is found in citrus fruits and provides a bright, citrusy aroma. Limonene is the “good mood” terpene, uplifting and mood-improving and can boost energy. Strains high in Limonene can be helpful to users with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, or anyone looking for a product that they can use during the day without being couch-locked.
Last of the three is beta-caryophyllene, the most unique terpene because of its ability to bind to our CB2 receptors. We all have an endocannabinoid system, including CB1 and CB2 receptors, that controls much of our internal regulation. CB1 receptors are generally found in the brain and central nervous system, regulating things like mood and appetite. In contrast, CB2 rceptors are found in the immune system and surrounding organs, regulating things like inflammation and immune responses. CB1 receptors interact with THC to enable psychoactive effects, while CB2 receptors interact mainly outside of the brain and nervous system, enabling anti-inflammatory and other effects of THC and CBD. All that to say, beta-caryophyllene’s unique molecular structure allows it to bind directly to the CB2 receptors – the only terpene that can do so – making it incredibly helpful with inflammation and pain. This terpene, also found in black pepper and cloves, provides a peppery and spicy smell and taste and can be immensely helpful for users with arthritis or chronic pain.
While the 3 above are most common, there are a few other important players in the terpene universe. First up, there’s alpha/beta- Pinene, also found in pine trees, rosemary, and provides a piney, clean aroma and taste. Pinene has many potential benefits but one of the most significant is its neuroprotective effects against memory loss, fitting as strains high in Pinene are often helpful for focus and clarity. Next is Linalool, commonly found in lavender and rose, providing a pleasant floral smell. Linalool can be great for anxiety and can provide a relaxing effect. Often grouped with Myrcene as “night-time” terpenes, I differentiate the two as Myrcene is your go-to when you want to be flat for the rest of the night and Linalool is your go-to when you want to relax but still be able to get off the couch. The final terpene to cover is Humulene, which is also found in hops and gives an herbaceous smell. Humulene has a unique effect from other terpenes in that it can be a remarkably effective appetite suppressant. We’ve all fallen victim to the munchies, and for frequent cannabis users who want to be able to medicate without eating a whole bag of Halloween candy nightly, looking for strains with Humulene could be beneficial.
Sometimes it can be difficult to put the terpene info into practice, so let’s look at a terpene profile together as you would in a dispensary (if the budtender doesn’t show you, just ask!) but first let’s go over the numbers because different terpenes show up in different amounts. The Big 3 all show up in higher percentages, Myrcene can get to over 2% in flower and Limonene and beta-Caryophyllene often hit 1% or more. Most people consider a strain to have significant Myrcene, Limonene, or beta-Caryophyllene when it has at least 0.6% because their effects aren’t felt as strongly at lower percentages. However, there are other terpenes that we often don’t see at higher percentages yet are still effective. For instance, Humulene generally is still felt at 0.3% likewise with Pinene and Linalool.
So, let’s look at this eighth of Cherry Limeade Cake:
My initial thoughts upon looking at this profile are that it would be a good daytime strain, uplifting but balanced, suitable for someone looking for energy but can get anxious from sativas. The Limonene is high, so that makes me think daytime, uplifting, and happy but 0.55% of b-Caryophyllene and 0.38% of Linalool provide some balance and body relaxation without bringing you down too much. Some users can experience anxiety or paranoia with high amounts of energizing terpenes like Limonene and Pinene, but finding a profile where they’re paired with relaxing terpenes like Linalool and b-Caryophyllene can even it out to where it’s still an enjoyable daytime strain without feeling too on edge. A combined 0.55% of a+b-Pinene is significant, so I recommend this to someone looking to focus or be productive, but probably not before bed. There is some Humulene and Myrcene, but not to an extent where it would be incredibly impactful.
It is worth noting that cannabis affects everyone differently; a strain or terpene profile that makes me sleep might make you want to run a marathon at midnight. I highly recommend anyone interested in learning about terpenes and their effect to keep a journal detailing the strain name, grower, most prevalent terpenes and their percentages, and the effect. This can show over time how different profiles have an effect you so you can look for products that are tailored to your needs.
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Johnson, Jon, and Eloise Theisen. “What Are Terpenes?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 6 Mar. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-are-terpenes#types.
Lee, Gil-Yong, et al. “Amelioration of Scopolamine-Induced Learning and Memory Impairment by α-Pinene in C57BL/6 Mice.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5687139/.
Nick Jikomes, PhD. “Endocannabinoid System: Simple & Comprehensive Guide.” Leafly, 4 Apr. 2023, www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/what-is-the-endocannabinoid-system.
Rae, Dr. Adie. “Caryophyllene.” Weedmaps, 20 June 2022, weedmaps.com/learn/the-plant/caryophyllene.
Rae, Dr. Adie. “Limonene.” Weedmaps, 20 June 2022, weedmaps.com/learn/the-plant/limonene.