A No Nonsense Guide: What are Terpenes

Updated: 3 days ago



Cannabis is a complex plant. It has hundreds of naturally occurring compounds that produce a myriad of effects. Many of us may be familiar with the big names like THC and CBD, both cannabinoids, but what about the other compounds? How do they affect the overall experience and medicinal applications?


Because THC and CBD often take centre stage, it's very common for new and even experienced consumers to know very little about terpenes. With more than 55,000 terpenes present in nature (150 terpenes have been identified in cannabis and hemp plants), it’s no wonder that it’s confusing.


In this article we'll cover:

What Are Terpenes?

Effects Attributed to Terpenes in Cannabis

Terpenes and the Entourage Effect


What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are present in many plants, including cannabis and hemp. These aromatic compounds are responsible for the unique scent of a plant and are the main component in essential oils.


However, that's not all they do. Many terpenes have been found to hold medicinal benefit (some have more than one). When combined with THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, terpenes could allow medical cannabis plants to function more completely.


The next time you receive your medical marijuana flower prescription, examine it before you prepare it for consumption.


You'll notice millions of tiny crystals that cover each flower. These are called trichomes. Their role is to provide protection to the plant from invasive insects and environmental stresses.


These beautiful trichomes contain terpenes. As ScienceDirect explains it, "The resin is produced and accumulates in glandular trichomes that densely cover the surfaces of female (pistillate) inflorescences and, to a lesser degree, the foliage of male and female plants."


It's estimated there are around 800 cannabis strains cultivated globally, each with its own unique cannabinoid and terpene profile.


While THC provides the psychoactive effect and numerous studies conclude that CBD may help relieve pain and inflammation, we can’t ignore the role of terpenes. Each terpene produced within your flower of choice may influence the effects of that product, both in terms of experience and therapeutic potential.


Effects Attributed to Terpenes in Cannabis

Given the number of terpenes present in cannabis, it's impossible to list all of them and their potential healing properties. Below is a list of some of the most commonly-sought after ones.

  • Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is one of the most prevalent terpenes in nature, found in common household spices like pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and cloves. A frequently found terpene in many marijuana strains, studies suggest that caryophyllene reduces anxiety, pain and inflammation.

  • Myrcene

For patients who've struggled with insomnia, studies have concluded that THC-dominant strains with myrcene will finally help you get a good night's sleep. Myrcene, from the Latin Myrcia Sphaerocarpa, has a sedative effect according to research summarised in Nature. That's the effect of this terpene, and it's one that's helped many enjoy uninterrupted, deep sleep.

  • Pinene

True to its name, pinene is what provides pine trees and pine cones their distinct aroma. It is a very commonly sought after essential oil found in cinnamon, melaleuca (tea tree oil), and many citrus plants.


The National Institutes of Health conducted a study on pinene and concluded that it might help patients struggling with convulsions (including epilepsy), gastrointestinal disorders, arthritic pain, and asthma.


  • Linalool

Found in lavender and many citrus plants, linalool, like myrcene, has a powerful sedative effect that helps you regulate and improve your sleep patterns. It may also have anti-anxiety and mood-boosting qualities, at least in studies working with mice.

  • Limonene

Also present in abundance in citrus fruits, limonene, like pinene, is known for being a bronchodilator. In clinical studies, limonene was found to help those suffering from chronic bronchitis.


Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

While THC and CBD play a critical role in plant medicine, without terpenes these cannabinoids can only tell a portion of your healing journey.


Have you heard of the entourage effect? This theory, first popularised by Ethan B. Russo, a cannabis research pioneer, helps to explain why different strains and cannabis products have incredibly nuanced effects — some feel uplifting, some feel sleepy, while others are more social.


This theory describes how the sum of the cannabinoids and terpenes contained in a single strain are greater than their individual effects. A single cannabinoid offers more to patients when combined with other cannabinoids and a bouquet of terpenes.

Think of the entourage effect as musicians playing together in a band. Cannabinoids and terpenes come together to provide the beat, the tone, the rhythm, and the story. In every song, there's a beginning, a middle, and an end. Think of the entourage effect as the crescendo, that moment in the song when everything comes together to deliver the hook.

Cannabis’ Chemical Synergies, published in Nature, explores the entourage theory, suggesting that certain terpenes like myrcene could improve THC’s most positive properties, including for pain and sleep. Other terpenes, like limonene, may work in concert with CBD to reduce anxiety.


As the article summarises, “When used in concert, terpenoids, THC and CBD therefore provide an opportunity to fine-tune medications more effectively to fit the individual needs of patients.”


What are Terpenes? Part of a Comprehensive Approach

Given the number of terpenes that are found in cannabis and other plants, it can be confusing how to pick the best strain to address your ailments.


This is why it’s so valuable to work with experienced prescribers who understand the nuances each strain, product type, and chemical profile could produce.


Our Patient Care Team at alternaleaf is well versed in the complex universe of cannabis, cannabinoids, and terpenes.


We work one-on-one with you to better understand your health concerns, medical history, and therapeutic goals, to find the most effective treatment plan. Paired with ongoing Patient Care, we support you on your journey to better health.