If you're reading up on cannabinoids, such as CBD, CBG, or THC, you've most likely come across the word terpenes, or terps, along the way. You may then have found yourself wondering, "What are terpenes, and how do I use them?" What do terpenes do, and why do people use them with cannabinoids? What benefits do certain terpenes have for our bodies?
Terpenes are aromatic molecules that work in synergy with cannabinoids, allowing them to induce different effects within the body. Myrcene, for example, has been shown to increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, allowing for cannabinoids to move more freely between the blood stream and the brain. Terpenes are not cannabinoids, but rather work in tandem with them.
Terpenes have also been shown to have a wide variety of medical benefits on their own, ranging anywhere from relieving pain to fighting against cancer cells. Terpenes are found naturally in thousands of different plants, and are found in high concentrations in most essential oils.
Below is a list of the most commonly found and talked about terpene isolates, where they're found in nature, what they smell and taste like, and what benefits each terpene has been reported to have.
Bisabolol, also called alpha-bisabolol (α-bisabolol), is a minor terpene that appears in relatively small quantities in raw hemp samples. In isolation, alpha bisabolol delivers a light, fresh aroma punctuated by sweet floral notes that sometimes feature citrus and spice.
Alpha Bisabolol is found in:
- candeia trees
Alpha bisabolol has shown promise in the support of skin health and has served as a popular ingredient in cosmetics for hundreds of years. The reported medicinal benefits of alpha bisabolol include:
- promoting skin health
- pain relief
This wide ranging set of roles makes this terpene of interest to a variety of patient communities and lifestyle consumers.
Strains that feature alpha bisabolol include:
Alpha phellandrene, also known as α-phellandrene and α-PA, is a minor terpene and, as its name implies, one of a pair of siblings involving beta-phellandrene (similar to the alpha-pinene/beta-pinene coupling). When isolated, this terpene delivers a minty and often citrus-like aroma that is sometimes described as spicy, woody, and peppery.
Alpha phellandrene is produced by a wide range of plant species other than hemp and cannabis, including
- several species of eucalyptus
- ginger grass
When employed as a flavor agent in cosmetics and topicals, this terpene offers the advantage of ready absorption by the skin.
Alpha phellandrene is commonly used in commercial fragrances. Like many other terpenes and cannabinoids produced by hemp and cannabis, alpha phellandrene has been found to provide multiple wellness benefits, including
- pain relief
Strains that feature alpha phellandrene include:
Alpha-pinene, also denoted as α-pinene and often called simply pinene, is not merely abundant within the plant kingdom, but is the most common terpene on earth. Alpha pinene is the isomer to beta-pinene, a minor terpene that is typically produced in significantly lower quantities by cannabis plants (described below).
The aroma of alpha pinene is fragrant and raw, with an earthy, fresh, and musky body that features a distinct undertone of pine. This major terpene is produced by hundreds of plant species in nature (more than 400, actually).
Sources of alpha pinene include:
Alpha pinene provides a variety of potential medicinal benefits, including reductions in systemic inflammation (of benefit to hundreds of disease states) and bronchodilation (the opening of bronchial pathways).
Alpha pinene has also been shown to possess antibacterial and antiviral properties. Anecdotal reports indicate that alpha pinene may have the ability to increase energy levels and improve mental focus.
Notable strains that feature alpha pinene include:
- Durbin Poison
- GG#4 (Gorilla Glue #4)
- White Widow
- Northern Lights
- Fruity Pebbles
- Tahoe OG
- GSC (Girl Scout Cookies)
Alpha-terpineol, also denoted as α-terpineol, is the most common of five closely related isomers, or sibling terpenes, within the terpineol family (the other members being beta-, gamma-, delta-, and 4-terpineol). It conveys a decidedly lilac aroma featuring heavy tones of pine.
This compound is produced by cannabis and more than 150 other plant species, including eucalyptus, freesia, lemon peel oil, lime blossoms, marjoram, narcissus, oregano, pine, and rosemary. It is found commonly in cultivars of cannabis that also produce relatively rich amounts of pinene.
Alpha-terpineol has shown distinct antianxiety efficacy and may contribute to the sedative-like “couchlock” effect of some potent cannabis strains. The medicinal efficacy of this terpene is among the most diverse produced by the cannabis plant and includes antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antitumor benefits.
Strains that feature alpha terpineol include:
Beta caryophyllene, also called BCP or caryophyllene, in isolation delivers a decidedly spicy and pungent aroma, is a major constituent of black pepper, and is produced by many plant species, including:
- black caraway
Beta caryophyllene stands alone in that it is the only of the more than 200 terpenes found in the cannabis genome that has been categorized as both a terpene and also as a cannabinoid by researchers.
Strains that feature beta caryophyllene include:
Beta Ocimene, a monoterpene, is an uncommon terpene that's often found in lower concentrations of terpene profiles, though it can be found in larger amounts in strains like Dutch Treat, Green Crack, and Clementine. Known for it's sweet, herbal, and floral aromas, Ocimene is a commonly used terpene in the flavor and fragrance industry.
Found in several botanical sources, such as parsley, mangos, kumquats, and holy rope, researchers believe that Beta Ocimene plays a crucial role in the defense mechanisms of these plants, warding off insects and other pests. Ocimene is also believed to introduce an energizing and uplifting effect to the terpene profiles it's found in.
Strains that feature beta ocimene include:
Beta pinene, also called β-pinene, is the isomer twin to alpha pinene. It is a minor terpene and is typically found in relatively small quantities in cannabis loose-leaf flower and concentrate products. Beta-pinene delivers an aroma that is earthy, woody, and green and that features heavy undertones of fresh spice.
Beta pinene is produced by:
- many other plant species
Beta-pinene has been shown to be a potential aid in bronchial conditions such as asthma and bronchitis due to its ability to act as a natural bronchodilator, similar to its sibling alpha pinene.
Beta pinene also displays anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties. Research shows that it also may possess neurogenerative qualities of value to those suffering cognitive decline conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Strains that feature beta pinene include:
Camphene is a common terpene that, in isolation, produces a pungent fragrance that is woodsy and damp and often features strong notes of pine. Similar to the aroma of myrcene, it is found in several plant species other than cannabis, including bergamot, camphor, citronella, cypress, ginger, neroli, nutmeg, rosemary, and valerian.
Camphene exhibits a range of wellness benefits, including antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory efficacies. Research has also revealed cardiovascular value, pain relief, and a potential role in the treatment of cholesterol.
Camphene has also demonstrated anticancer properties, specifically for breast cancer, including a role in triggering apoptosis within the cancer cells. Like many other terpenes, camphene is used as a food additive and as an aroma agent (it is often combined with pinene).
Strains that contain camphene include:
The terpene citral manifests as two distinct isomers, geranial (Citral A) and neral (Citral B). To add confusion to the issue, literature references to citral frequently employ the name “geranial,” but sometimes instead use “lemonal.” Citral is a monoterpenes produced by cannabis, lemon, lemon balm, lemongrass, lime, and orange, among several other plant species.
As its name suggests, citral conveys an aroma that is heavily citrus in nature, making it similar to its chemical cousin and fellow terpene, limonene. As readers might expect, the two terpene isomers, geranial and neral, convey aroma and flavor profiles dominated by citrus tones and, more specifically, lemon. In terms of both aroma and flavor, the one-word takeaway for this pair of terpene isomers is, without question, “lemon.”
It should be noted that neral delivers a less intense, but sweeter, version of lemon. Both terpenes are employed as aroma and flavor agents by the cosmetics and food industries. Like other terpenes, geranial and neral exhibit a variety of medicinal benefits, most notable of which is their anticancer efficacy for a number of types of the deadly disease.
Strains that contain citral include:
Citronellol, sometimes called dihydrogeraniol, is a minor (secondary) terpene of cannabis. It conveys an attractive and popular floral aroma that mixes with delicate undertones of citrus and rose.
Citronellol is produced by approximately 70 plant species, including basil, cannabis, chamomile, citronella, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, neroli, and rose. It is related to the popular terpene geraniol, both of which are produced by geranium. It is unique in that it enhances other fragrances, specifically rose. In commercial applications, citronellol is used as an aroma ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products. It has been employed as a mosquito repellant for millennia.
Strains that contain citronellol include:
Also known as r-limonene, orange peel oil, citrene, or simply just limonene, d-limonene (the more common isomer to l-limonene) conveys an aroma that is “like lemon, making it widely used as a flavor and fragrance additive in common foods, such as fruit juices, candies, chewing gums, soft drinks, and ice creams.”
A recent study noted that d-limonene is one of the most common fragrances used in the formulation of cosmetics and can be found in many types of beauty products.
Strains that feature limonene include:
Fenchol, also called 2-fenchanol and fenchyl alcohol, is a minor terpene and an isomer of borneol that is produced by aster flowers, basil, cannabis, eucalyptus leaves, nutmeg, and wild celery (among other plant species).
Within the cannabis genome, fenchol, a somewhat rare terpene, delivers an earthy, piney aroma that may include undertones of lemon and camphor. Fenchol is a primary aroma element of basil and is principally responsible for the herb’s distinctive aroma.
Fenchol is a monoterpene, meaning that it is considerably smaller and less complex than other types of terpenes. The potential medicinal efficacy of this molecule includes support for pain reduction, antibacterial and antimicrobial effects, and antioxidant properties.
Strains that contain fenchol include:
Geraniol is one of the most popular terpenes due to its attractive rose-like scent. First isolated in 1871, it is one of three molecular components responsible for the scent of roses. Outside of cannabis, geraniol is produced by geranium (revealed by their common name root), lemon, and roses.
Geraniol is also employed as a natural pest/insect control agent and sometimes preferred due to its relatively low toxicity. In addition, geraniol has been shown to be a “penetration enhancer for transdermal drug delivery.” This provides additional support for a potential synergistic role played by terpenes and cannabinoids in an “entourage effect.”
Strains that contain geraniol include:
Geranyl Acetate, sometimes referred to as simply Geranyl, is a monoterpene that is ubiquitous in many different essential oils. Known for its powerful floral aroma, geranyl is commonly used by the flavor and fragrance industry in products such as perfumes, soaps, and of course terpene blends.
Strains that contain geranyl acetate include:
Humulene, also known as alpha humulene (α-humulene) and alpha caryophyllene (α-caryophyllene), is an isomer of the terpene beta caryophyllene (BCP) that, in isolation, emits a similar aroma. Alpha humulene is produced by cannabis, coriander, ginseng, hops, marsh elders, oranges, pine, sunflower, and tobacco.
Humlene, a common and popular terpene, delivers a hoppy and earthy aroma that features notes of wood and spice. The medicinal support benefits of humulene include antibacterial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and appetite suppressing (anorectic) qualities.
Strains that feature humulene include:
Linalool, a major (primary) terpene in the cannabis genome, produces a floral aroma involving complex tones of spice and wood. The pleasingly warm fragrance resulting from this terpene has been described as a spicy lavender.
Linalool is made by basil, bay leaf, birch bark, a range of fungi, ho leaf (Chinese rosewood), and lavender (the most commonly cited source). In total, more than 200 plant species in nature produce linalool.
Strains that feature linalool include:
Myrcene is the most common terpene produced by the cannabis plant. When isolated, it presents an earthy and musky aroma that is sometimes described as dank and moist. Like many terpenes, myrcene is employed as a food flavor agent and in cosmetics for fragrance.
Myrcene is produced by many plant species beyond cannabis, including:
- wild thyme
- several others
Myrcene, also referred to as beta myrcene, is reported to reduce anxiety and, in sufficient doses, to act as a sedative (the cannabinoid cannabinol, or CBN, serves as a better sedative, however).
In cannabis and hemp plants, the earthy scent produced by myrcene typically is commingled with humulene and beta caryophyllene (most consumers never smell a terpene in isolation unless they are using a testing kit featuring individual samples).
Strains that feature myrcene include:
Nerolidol is a sesquiterpene found in the essential oils of various different botanical sources. Known for its woody aroma, this complex terpene is typically found in low concentrations of cannabis terpene profiles.
The most notable strains that contain nerolidol include:
Terpinolene, sometimes denoted as TPO, is a major terpene characterized by a floral aroma that is reminiscent of sweet pine that exhibits a citrus-like flavor. It is produced by a range of plant species other than cannabis and hemp, including allspice, cumin, juniper, parsnip, rosemary, sage, and tea tree.
The food industry employs terpinolene as a flavor agent. It is sometimes used to manufacture plastics and also as a repellent against insects such as mosquitos. The medicinal properties of terpinolene have been found to include anticancer and antioxidant benefits.
The most notable strains that contain terpinolene include: