Introduction To Terpenes

When we discuss cannabis, quality, and potency, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) tends to receive all the spotlight and adulation. 

In fairness, THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis–it’s the rockstar compound. Thus, it’ll always be associated with the effects of the plant and be a lightning rod for attention. 

CBD (cannabidiol) also continues to gain steam in the mainstream as a primary component of the cannabis plant due to its healing properties. 

That said, cannabis is the sum of many crucial parts contributing to its overall quality. 

Yes, CBD and THC are both integral to cannabis. However, an unsung–yet no less critical–part of the sum is terpenes, the subject of this article. Read on to learn more. 

What Are Terpenes?

Found in many plants–most prominently the cannabis plant–terpenes are aromatic compounds generating the characteristic scents also found in pine, lavender, orange peel, etc. 

Terpenes protect plants from infectious germs and animal grazing in nature. 

People will mistakenly use the term “terpenoids” interchangeably with terpenes. Instead, terpenes are the natural form of terpenoids when in a live plant. Terpenes oxidize and become terpenoids when a plant (like cannabis) is dried and cured [1].

The Connection Between Terpenes And Cannabis

At least 150 types of terpenes can be found in cannabis [2].

Cannabis terpene profiles have a synergistic relationship with other related compounds like THC and CBD. Like cannabinoids, cannabis terpene profiles provide therapeutic effects (e.g., anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and analgesic).

Terpenes are primarily responsible for the aromas and flavors in given strains of cannabis.

The Most Common Terpenes Found in Cannabis

Below is a list and brief description of the primary terpenes found in cannabis strains:

  • Limonene.
    • Limonene offers a lemony scent and is believed to provide uplifting effects. It also reduces anxiety and stress [3]. Studies indicate limonene can help with immune system regulation, possibly even preventing some cancers from spreading [4].
  • Myrcene.
    • Myrcene has a grape-like scent and is known for providing a mild sedative effect [5]. It also catalyzes other cannabinoids, terpenes, and compounds.
  • Pinene.
    • Pinene (Alpha and Beta) are prominent in pine trees and provide cannabis with a resinous aroma. Pinene-rich cannabis also might aid asthma response because it potentially decreases airway inflammation [6].
  • Linalool.
    • Linalool has a lavender floral scent. These aromas are linked to relaxing effects and an improved mood. 

Other common terpenes in cannabis strains include terpinolene, caryophyllene, humulene, nerolidol, borneol, camphene, etc.

Terpenes and Their Effects

Generally speaking, terpenes are mood regulators with anti-inflammatory characteristics. Below, we’ll get more specific about their effects on the body [7]:

Respiratory System

Smoking terpenes with THC and CBD sends molecules from the sinus cavity to the lungs. 

These molecules eventually reach alveoli–tiny air sacs where compounds like terpenes reach the bloodstream. The blood travels to the heart, spreading to the brain and the rest of the body. Upon passing the blood-brain barrier, the molecules interact with neurotransmitters–chemical messengers in the brain.

Olfactory System

Terpenes can alter our mood and perception. Some say they’re psychoactive without getting you high. 

The terpene smell in a given cannabis strain sends molecules through your nose and into your sinus cavity. These molecules dissolve in a mucus layer, stimulating small hair-like structures–called cilia–in the sinus cavity.

An electrical signal gets sent to the olfactory nerves, traveling to the brain, which processes information.

Examining The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect revolves around the idea that the cannabis plant’s full spectrum of components functions at its peak when interacting together. Specifically, it’s the interaction of all cannabis plant compounds, such as THC, CBD, CBN, terpenes, and other compounds.

Terpenes are integral to the entourage effect, providing a superior cannabis consumption experience.

Vital to note is how the quality of cannabis isn’t solely to do with THC levels. High-quality terpenes can transform a specific strain from mediocre or middling to premium or exceptional.

Terpenes in Everyday Life

Here are some everyday foods and beverages that contain terpenes [8]:

  • Myrcene is prominent in mangoes. 
  • Terpinolene and alpha-farnesene are found in apples.
  • Citrus fruits are rich in limonene.
  • Spices have lots of beat-caryophyllene.
  • Broccoli has plenty of Beta-Caryophyllene. 
  • Beer and fruit juices often feature terpenes.

Given the rich smells in terpenes, it’s unsurprising that they have a dominant presence in essential oils and are featured prominently in aromatherapy.

Sourcing Terpenes

Natural sources of terpenes include thyme, cannabis, Spanish sage, tea, and citrus fruits (e.g., mandarin, lemon, orange). 

Nonpolar organic solvents (e.g., hexane) can extract terpenes. Another tool for terpene extraction is silica as a stationary phase in chromatography [9].

However, additional solvents aren’t necessary to complete the terpene extraction process. 

Extraction can rely on cooling and heating natural oils in plant matter, so petroleum, ethanol, pentane, and even hexane aren’t actually needed. More to the point, high-quality terpenes don’t have additional fillers or solvents. 

On the above note, molecular distillation is the most natural process of sourcing terpenes. It refines the original botanicals into an essential oil. Then, it’s heated, vaporizing specific compounds until the vapor rises, entering a cooling condenser to be re-liquified [10]

Terpenes And The New Jersey Cannabis Scene

Any cannabis concentrate meant for vaporized formulation or inhalation must not have terpenes that comprise over 10% of a product, per New Jersey regulations [11]

Safe Terpene Usage

You never want to apply terpenes directly to your skin or put them right into your body. They should be diluted down before usage. Some sources suggest even down to 5% to be non-toxic [12]

Unsafe terpene usage can lead to seizures, comas, and other adverse consequences. 

Ensure you’re purchasing products with terpenes from reliable sources.


Terpenes contribute to the entourage, full-spectrum effect of the cannabis plant, yielding superior experiences when consuming related products. However, they don’t only exist in cannabis–terpenes are found in plants, foods, essential oils, and beverages, offering many therapeutic benefits. 

Ensure you source and consume terpenes responsibly, which is easy to do when you purchase terpene-rich products from reliable establishments like Phasal Dispensary. Contact us today for more information. 



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