Top 10 Terpenes Found in Cannabis Plants
Learn about the most common types of terpenes, the unique properties of each, and which legal cannabis products contain these plant compounds.
While most people associate the cannabis industry with marijuana, there's much more to the plant than meets the eye. Popular cannabinoids like CBD and THC garner a lot of the spotlight when it comes to cannabis, but terpenes are another natural component of the Cannabis sativa plant that have unique medicinal properties relevant to health. Below, you can learn all about terpenes, which ones are the most common, and their biological relevance for health. We'll even share some hemp-derived CBD products known to include a variety of terpenes.
What are terpenes?
Over 500 plant bioactives have been discovered in cannabis. Terpenes are a major part of that discovery. Cannabis terpenes are non-psychoactive compounds that are found not only in the cannabis plant's variety of strains, but in many different types of plants across nature. You may not have known it at the time, but you've almost certainly encountered terpenes at some point in your life. Terpenes are naturally occurring phytochemical compounds found within the essential oils of cannabis and other plants we consume like tea, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, citrus fruits, and even carrots, to name a few.
Terpenes are aromatics that help to determine the smell that each plant will give off. This serves as both a defense mechanism from hungry plant-eating animals and an enticement for pollinating insects. In some cases, terpenes can even provide the plant with protection from germs caused by bacteria or fungus. In other words, terpenes are intrinsic phytochemicals that are critical for plant survival.
Because terpenes provide the fragrant scents we've come to know and love from some of our favorite plants, manufacturers have utilized these compounds as fragrance and flavor components in the production of an assortment of household, beauty, food, and biotech products. For example, think of cleaning supplies and perfumes that invoke the smell of pine trees, lavender, lemon, and orange. Terpenes.
Different terpenes also influence the plant's appearance, along with what we taste and how we feel when we consume it. Each strain of cannabis will have more than one compound present, and the combination of those varying parts makes up the plant's terpene profile. To date, a whopping 150 different terpenes and 100 different cannabinoids have been identified in the cannabis plant. This has relevance not only for medical cannabis (marijuana), but also for another variety of Cannabis sativa: industrial hemp and its related products (e.g., CBD oils).
Learning how terpenes work makes it easier to predict the potential physiological effects of a specific cannabis strain or hemp-derived CBD product. While terpenes have been used in Eastern medicine for millennia, the West just started taking notice in the last few decades. Because of this recency, the bulk of published research on terpenes has been conducted in animal and cell models, with just a handful of human studies completed.
Cannabinoids vs terpenes
In the same way that THC and CBD share a similar chemical structure, one could say the same for certain subsets of terpenes. With over 80,000 terpenes identified, it's a big family. But at their most basic form, terpenes are composed of a five-carbon organic building block, an "isoprene", and depending on the terpene, there will be varying amounts of isoprene units. These isoprene blocks are absent in cannabinoids.
Despite chemical structure differences, both cannabinoids and terpenes originate in the same resin glands, known as trichomes, of the cannabis plant. Research indicates that when working in tandem, cannabinoids and terpenes produce enhanced biological activity, more than either could produce solo. This synergistic relationship is known as the "entourage effect," and it is directly pertinent to cannabis products since their terpene content can influence how cannabinoids impact the body.
Which cannabis products contain the most terpenes?
When it comes to marijuana, you'll find an array of terpenes within each strain. However, in hemp derived CBD oils, edibles, and topicals, terpenes may not be present in every formula. It just depends. That's why we've highlighted some high quality CBD products on the market known to contain a range of cannabinoids and terpenes, so you can tap into that synergy (aka entourage effect).
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a commission.
For a strong, full spectrum CBD oil, you can't go wrong with Spruce. It offers two different strengths of CBD oil: one 750mg bottle, and a Max Potency tincture that contains 2,400mg of CBD oil for those seeking an extra strength product.
Why buy: Each product is thoroughly lab tested, and the terpene content for every batch can be found on the company's lab test results page if you are curious to know exactly which terpenes are present within a specific CBD tincture.
If you'd like a little more variety when choosing the right CBD oil for you, CBDistillery offers plenty of strength variations, as well as full and broad spectrum products. Both formulas contain various terpenes and cannabinoids, and are available in a 500, 1,000, 2,500, or 5,000mg potency.
Why buy: Every CBDistillery product includes a QR code on the packaging, which can be scanned to access the full batch third party test results for your specific item, and see exactly which terpenes it contains.
For anyone who doesn't love the earthy taste of natural CBD oil, then FAB is a great brand to consider. Its full spectrum CBD oils come in four different strengths, and five flavor options (mint, berry, citrus, vanilla, and natural) to match any palate preferences you may have.
Why buy: These tasty flavors do not take away from the other beneficial compounds within the product, including the terpene composition, which can be found within the third party lab test reports for each product.
There are thousands of terpenes found in plants across the globe, with scientists labeling more than 100 different types within cannabis alone. Despite those numbers, there are a handful that are more common than others. Let's take a closer look at some of the more prevalent terpenes, what you might smell and taste with each, and their medicinal properties.
As its name suggests, this terpene found in cannabis touts a big, bold aroma consistent with citrus fruits like lemon and orange. But it is also thought to pack a punch to our systems, in a good way. Among the most significant biological activities uncovered in animal and cell studies, limonene has a variety of anticancer properties and is being investigated in clinical trials as a possible chemopreventive agent in women with breast cancer. In addition to this promising research, limonene has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory characteristics too.
With a natural musk that conjures up images of earthiness, this terpene is commonly found in cannabis, lemongrass, hops, basil, and mango. Animal research on myrcene shows potential for sleep support via sedative and relaxant properties demonstrated in mice. Preliminary studies also show myrcene's anti-inflammatory and anticancer traits.
For you forest bathing aficionados, another terpene with a name indicative of its origin, pinene is derived from pine needles (and found in cannabis) and features an earthy taste and scent. More importantly, there is research from animal and cell studies that reveals pinene's anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, anticancer, and neuroprotective traits. Future research in humans will be important to understand pinene's potential impact on cancer and neurodegenerative processes.
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Found in frankincense and cannabis, linalool dates back to antiquity. This terpene is also the compound responsible for giving lavender its sweet and rich scent, but you can find linalool in other plants like coriander and tomatoes as well. Frequently used in aromatherapy settings because of its purported calming effects, one study in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome demonstrated that inhaled linalool reduced blood pressure and pulse rate, while increasing antioxidant activity. Linalool also acts as a potent anti-inflammatory agent, capable of inhibiting production of inflammatory cytokines. Other linalool properties discussed in early research include anticancer, anti-hyperlipidemic, antimicrobial, analgesic, and neuroprotective.
If you've ever used black pepper, you're familiar with the spicy and robust scent of beta-caryophyllene. This terpene is also found in cannabis, cloves, hops, and rosemary. This terpene has anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects seen in mouse studies, and its neuroprotective potential is a current area of research interest. Other experimental studies reveal an array of additional pharmacological activities for beta-caryophyllene, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory, to name a few, along with an anti-arthritic effect seen in rat studies.
Eucalyptus-based soaps, beauty bars, and cleaning supplies are popular in households across America, and a terpene called eucalyptol is responsible for these products' appealing minty scent. Eucalyptol is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which researchers believe have promising therapeutic potential. Further, experimental studies reveal its anticancer properties. Eucalyptol is not only found in eucalyptus, but also cannabis, rosemary, sage, sweet basil, bay leaves, tea tree, and cardamom.
Another of the most calming scents around (and one used in a variety of personal care products and teas), chamomile, features a terpene called bisabolol. Not only is this light and sweet floral aroma appealing to the senses, but this terpene also found in cannabis has a variety of potential benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory properties to anti-cancer effects, seen in cell studies. Furthermore, bisabolol's antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic abilities were recently shown to have clinical efficacy in patients following oral surgery, with a bisabolol mouthwash achieving an improvement in "oral hygiene and wound healing, as well as in the reduction of postoperative pain."
Cannabis strains with an abundance of ocimene are likely to be sweeter and richer than some others. It's also possible for citrusy hints and earthy undertones to come through with this terpene, which is also found in hops, kumquats, mangoes, basil, bergamot, lavender, orchids, and pepper. More studies are needed to understand ocimene's medicinal properties, but this terpene may potentially contribute to antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities.
This terpene can be found in cannabis, ginger, jasmine, lavender, tea tree, orchid, and lemongrass, and has a distinct woodsy and occasional citrus scent. Because of its antimicrobial, anti-parasitic, and antioxidant benefits, researchers believe that nerolidol could be a promising candidate for use in agriculture and medicine. A variety of anticancer effects for nerolidol have also been observed at the cellular level.
This terpene is actually the oxidized form of beta-caryophyllene, so it makes sense that it would share in its strong scent. In addition to cannabis, you're likely to find caryophyllene oxide and its spicy aroma in black pepper, oregano, cloves, lemon balm, basil, and rosemary. Interesting trivia: drug-sniffing dogs are trained to detect this terpene for cannabis identification purposes. Experimental research shows that caryophyllene oxide has pain-relieving and anticancer properties.
Though it grabs headlines for the boldness it brings to beers described as "hoppy" in flavor, you can also find humulene in cannabis, sage, and ginseng. This terpene with a woodsy or piney aroma has shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, several experimental studies support its anticancer characteristics, as well as antibacterial and antiviral activity.
Do terpenes get you high?
One of the hot button issues surrounding marijuana stems from the fact that it can induce a "high," which has led some people to wonder if high concentrations of terpenes are responsible for that sensation. While there are abundant terpenes in the cannabis plant, these compounds do not get users high. The psychotropic effects from using marijuana are due to THC, a singular cannabinoid that is totally different from terpenes in structure and function. And remember that CBD products, derived from industrial hemp, are required by US law to have less than 0.3% THC (trace levels), so the "high" conversation becomes irrelevant in that context.
Josh Hall has been professional writer and storyteller for more than 15 years. His work on natural health and cannabis has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.