Aside from the known effects indicas, sativas and hybrids give, there are other factors that set marijuana strains apart. Many of those factors are based on these little known organic compounds that make individual strains so special – terpenes. One of the most important elements in cannabis differentiation, terpene oils are found in various other plants, beauty products and even some insects. Read on to find out exactly what terpenes do and the ways they affect the senses.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are oils responsible for the distinct scent and taste in cannabis. Naturally occurring in the same part of the cannabis plant as THC, CBD and other cannabinoids, terp oils developed over time as an adaptation process to attract pollinating insects and protect against predation. A cannabis plant’s terpenes are affected by a variety of factors, including climate and weather, soil type, fertilizers, other chemicals used, and a plant’s maturation, even boiling down to what time of day it is.
Terpenes interact similarly and synergistically with other cannabinoids in the endocannabinoid system. THC, the main “high-producing” marijuana compound, creates psychoactive effects by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Certain terpenes can also tether to these receptor sites, changing their chemical output and aiding their penetration of the blood-brain barrier.
By doing this, terpene oils alter the brain’s neurotransmitters, like affecting serotonin and dopamine levels. It’s this reason why certain strains have greater effects on mood than others. Some have even been found to have non-psychoactive medicinal properties as well.
Many growers and dispensaries are having their cannabis plants terpene tested by analysis labs so consumers can gain more knowledge on strain flavor profiles. There are over 120 known terpene types that can be present in any one strain. Here are 10 of the most common terpene oils found.
There are two different forms of this terpene, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. With an aroma of pine, this terpene is known for its effects on memory-retention and alertness. This terp oil is great as a topical antiseptic, bronchodilator and expectorant, also present in pine needles, parsley, dill, basil and rosemary. High levels of pinene are in sativa and hybrid strains like Jack Herer, Trainwreck, Bubba Kush, Chemdawg and Super Silver Haze.
This citrusy terpene is best known as a stress reliever and mood elevator. Limonene is also present in peppermint, juniper, rosemary and the rinds of fruit. Medically, limonene fights depression, heartburn and is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. The best strains for limonene are Super Lemon Haze, OG Kush, Lemon Skunk and Jack the Ripper.
Myrcene is more of an indica terpene, giving the “couch lock” effect of relaxation and sedation. Its has earthy, herbal, musky and clove aromatic tones with hints of tropical fruit and citrus scents. Myrcene is naturally present in wild thyme, ylang ylang and hops. An anti-carcinogenic antioxidant, myrcene is good for tense muscles, inflammation, pain relief and depression. High myrcene strains include White Widow, El Nino, Skunk #1, Pure Kush and Himalayan Gold.
Caryophyllene brings woody, peppery and spicy clove scents to its buds. It can increase the user’s heart rate but is mainly good for fighting autoimmune disorders, arthritis, ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders. Caryophyllene is in black pepper, cotton and cloves and is mostly present in the Hash Plant strain.
Another relaxing terpene, linalool has sweet floral notes reminiscent of fruity candy. Linalool gives sedative effects, providing anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant, anti-depressant and acne fighting relief. This terpene is found in lavender flower, but is highly present in the Lavender strain as well as G13, Amnesia Haze and LA Confidential.
Borneol is a special terpene that’s been used topically and orally in traditional Chinese Medicine for many years. It also acts as an insect repellant, carrying an aroma of menthol, camphor and balsam. Borneol’s list of medicinal properties is long. It’s a stronger local anesthetic than lidocaine, can act as an analgesic when eaten, has anti-fungal, anti-coagulant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fibrosis properties. Borneol is also a drug potentiator for its abilities in helping other drugs cross the blood brain barrier more quickly.
Also found in basil, bell pepper, cedar and pine, Delta-3-Carene has a woody scent that comes with citrusy flavor hues. Delta-3-Carene is a secondary or minor terpene, though it has impressive healing properties. It’s a strong anti-inflammatory, making it ideal for treating fibromyalgia, arthritis, bursitis and other ailments caused by systemic inflammation. This terpene stimulates memory, which is why its carrier strains are a good natural route for patients with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive memory diseases.
One notable downside to Delta-3-Carene is that it gives users cottonmouth and incredibly red eyes, which are known giveaways of recent cannabis use. It’s highly concentrated in strain Skunk #1.
Eucalyptol (aka Cineole)
This terpene gets its common name from the eucalyptus plant, since it comprises nearly 80% of the essential oils obtained from the eucalyptus tree, also present in tea tree, bay leaves and mugwort. Ingesting cineole orally or with topical application helps get its cancer fighting, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and pain fighting properties into the system. Diluting this terpene is important when using essential oils, as it is one of the only terpenes to have caused death by overdose. Some strains, like Super Silver Haze, carry very trace amounts of eucalyptol, making consuming it through cannabis safer.
Like delta-3-carene and borneol, humulene fights many of the same systemic inflammatory diseases, as well as its regular use in Chinese medicine. This sativa-based terpene has an earthy, herbal aroma with a taste similar to hoppy beer. Humulene suppresses appetite and decrease the chance of edemas forming from histamine injections. High humulene strains include Girl Scout Cookies, White Widow, Headband and Sour Diesel.
This is a primary or major terpene found in over 150 plants including marijuana. It often occurs in strains and plants with large amounts of pinene present, making it somewhat hard to detect due to pinene’s strong odor. On its own, terpineol gives off floral scents like lilac and apple blossoms, making it popular in the production of lotions and soaps. Its sedative factors make it a trademark for indica strains, often giving off the “couch lock” effect. Terpineol has many medicinal benefits, like treating malaria, fighting acne and acting as an antibiotic and antioxidant. Terpineol is strongest in killing off tumors and cancer cells, particularly helpful to patients with small lung carcinoma. OG Kush, Girl Scout Cookies and Jack Herer all have high terpineol levels.