If you’ve been reading news and literature about cannabis, then you’ve probably been seeing a lot about terpenes. They’ve come into the spotlight as cannabis becomes legalized in more parts of the country and new cannabis strains hit the medicinal and recreational markets. There are hundreds of compounds in the cannabis plant, with THC and CBD being the most well-known.
But terpenes are what give cannabis its unique fragrances, flavors and effects.
Cannabis terpenes are made in trichomes, those sticky, clear crystals you see on the cannabis flower. Those aromatic terpenes have the evolutionary purpose of repelling insects and other potential predators with the strong odors they produce. The production of terpenes is affected by everything from strain, climate, and weather to soil type and any fertilizers being used.
1. Terpenes are found in much of the plant world
Terpenes are not unique to cannabis and are very common in the plant world. For example, the terpene pinene is found in pine needles, orange peels, dill, and basil. Another common terpene is limonene, which is found most commonly in lemons and other citrus fruits. Further, terpenes in other plants can also provide therapeutic benefits.
2. Terpenes give cannabis strains their unique aroma
Have you ever noticed how certain cannabis strain aromas resemble pine, citrus, berries, and other flavors? Terpenes are the compounds that give cannabis the distinct aromas that are often associated with different strains. There are over 100 different cannabis terpenes, and the many combinations of those present in all the different cannabis strains give rise to fragrances and tastes that can be fruity, spicy, sour, earthy, bitter or sweet.
3. Terpenes affect the type of high you get
Whether it’s an energy-fueled creative high or a sit-on-the-couch-and-do-nothing stoned feeling, THC has received most of the credit. But not all cannabis strains make you feel the same, even strains with comparable THC levels. The strains’ terpenes make this possible, because they work in conjunction with THC and other cannabinoids to “steer” the feelings and effects coming from cannabis. In fact, some terpenes can smooth out the effect of THC, which is known for inducing anxiety and paranoia in some users. Using a car as an analogy of how these compounds produce a cannabis strains’ high, THC is the engine while terpenes represent the steering.
The various terpenes are associated with providing different effects. Some terpenes like pinene can improve a user’s focus, while others can help relieve nausea. The type of terpenes in cannabis are key determinants of the user’s experience.
4. The Entourage Effect: terpenes and THC work great together
Scientists are paying increased attention to a phenomenon called the entourage effect in cannabis. The entourage effect is how all the different compounds work together to produce a specific feeling or therapeutic effect in the user. Because of the entourage effect, cannabis is greater than the sum of all the compounds in the plant.
A good example of the entourage effect is THC and CBD. THC can get a cannabis user incredibly high, but it can also produce crippling anxiety. But when you have a cannabis strain that’s equal parts THC and CBD, the anxiety disappears, leaving the user with a very pleasant calm feeling.
Terpenes also play a large role in the entourage effect by working with the other compounds to magnify the therapeutic benefits of the plant.
5. Terpenes pack a powerful therapeutic punch
Medicinal cannabis is effective because it can bring relief to many physical and mental ailments. The therapeutic effect that different cannabis strains have is because of terpenes. Depending on the terpene, cannabis can have effects ranging from anti-inflammatory and pain relief to reducing nausea and increasing appetite. These effects make cannabis a much healthier alternative to more traditional drugs, which can have harsh side-effects and, in the case of opioids, be incredibly addictive.
Pay Attention To Your Terpenes
When buying cannabis, it’s easy to focus only on the THC and CBD levels in the flower. But as important as those two compounds are, they only tell you part of the story about what a specific cannabis strain will do. Terpenes are what make each strain truly unique and will have the largest effect on the type of high you get and the strain’s therapeutic benefits.