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What Are Terpenes?

July 20, 2022
By Alexa Ooley

Terpenes, also known as terpenoids are the largest and most diverse group of naturally occurring compounds… They are mostly found in plants and form the major constituent of essential oils from plants.” – National Library of Medicine

Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in literally everything that grows. Terpenes are what you smell when you smell a flower, walk through a wooded forest, or cut into citrus. Lemons for example, have high amounts of the terpene Limonene, which can be used for its exhilarating flavor, its pungent scent, or for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties. 

Terpenes are a plants natural line of defense against pests and predators. Their sharp and pungent scent deters deers from eating their flowers and keeps certain bugs from landing on their sticky leaves. In fact, back when we lived on the hemp farm, all of our veggies would be demolished by wildlife- and so were some of our baby hemp seedlings. But the moment the plants starting producing flowers (and terpenes) the deers stopped snacking.

Terpenes have been studies for many, many years and can probably be found in your home right now! For instance, my new bouquet of lilies has a ton of natural terpenes in it, as well as my shampoo and my favorite IPA beer.

What Do Terpenes Do?

Terpenes have been used in the medicinal world for hundreds of years. From fighting infections to soothing depression, terpenes have a wide variety of uses and benefits. Here is a short list complete with links to the research:

What Do Terpenes Do For Your High?

Terpenes influence your high by adding additional effects. In other words, terpenes are what dictate whether a strain is sativa, indica or hybrid. For years the industry has held onto the belief that the effects were solely dependent on genetics, but over time we have been able to draw a correlation between terpene profiles and effects. For example, your favorite sativa strains are probably rich in stimulating terpenes like limonene and terpinolene while your favorite indicas have relaxing terpenes like linalool and myrcene. 

While many cannabis consumers understand the importance of having a diverse and potent cannabinoid profile, many lifelong users completely dismiss the importance of terpenes. But a study done in 2018 researched the effects of isolated CBD compared to the effects of terpene rich extract found that refractory epilepsy patients experienced less seizures when their treatment included terpenes.

Terpenes take the cannabis experience to the next level. They can make a high more pronounced, stimulating, or relaxing. Many lifelong cannabis users have their favorite & least favorite terpenes based of their flavors and effects. For example, I love spicy terpenes like Myrcene and Beta Caryophyllene for their anxiolytic effects while terpinolene is my least favorite because it causes anxiety for me. I’ve learned how to smell cannabis and recognize the terpene profiles that will sit well with me vs the ones that will make me uncomfortable. It is a learning process but resources like this terpene diary make it fun and easy to learn!

Some of our Favorite Terpenes

Alpha Pinene

earthy + piney | energizing

Naturally occuring in:

  •  Conifer trees
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

Beta Caryophyllene

woody + cloves | relaxing

Naturally occuring in:

  •  Black pepper
  • Hops
  • Cloves
  • Basil


sweet + floral | focus

Naturally occuring in:

  • Geranium
  • Lemon
  • Citronella


bitter + woody| calming

Naturally occuring in:

  • Hops
  • Sage
  • Ginger
  • Spearmint


floral + spicy| blissful

Naturally occuring in:

  • Mint
  • Lavender
  • Citrus


earthy + citrus | peaceful

Naturally occuring in:

  • Hops
  • Thyme
  • Lemongrass
  • Mangoes

Wrapping Up

Terpenes are truly a miraculous part of the plant medicine world. Think of them as refined + amplified essential oils. When used mindfully and strategically, terpenes can strongly influence your cannabis experience. I highly encourage all cannabis consumers to explore and educate themselves on terpenes even beyond this blog! If you are not mindfully choosing your terpenes- you cannot be not fully in control of your wellness routine. Advocate for your wellness by asking your budtender//brands to provide terpene tests and learn which scents and flavors make you feel your desired effects. It’s a learning process but before you know it, the nose will know!