BY MARIE LODI
Photo by Dan Meyers/Unsplash
As a newbie, all of the terms that surround the cannabis world can be confusing. You might know the basics like indica, sativa, and hybrids and you can differentiate between the three (indicas tend to be more mellow, sativas are more energetic, and hybrids are a nice balance of the two.) And you probably have a basic understanding of the major cannabinoids like THC and CBD. But are you familiar with the term terpene? Did you know that your cannabis experience could be affected by these chemical compounds? Terpenes don’t get you high (that’s THC’s job) but they do affect how you feel when high.
More experienced weed lovers throw the word terpenes around when they debate the merits of different strains. It’s confusing if you’re a beginner — the word sounds like some scary chemical compound that requires a chemistry degree to comprehend, but it’s actually pretty easy.
It’s an important concept to understand if you want to know why one indica strain makes you feel as if you’re glued to the couch while another indica strain gives you just the right amount of relaxation.
What exactly are terpenes?
Terpenes are chemical compounds commonly found in plants (and even some insects), and they’re the reason behind those distinctive fragrances — if you’ve ever smelled an essential oil, you’ve come across a terpene. They provide protection against herbivores and attract pollinators. A plant can have multiple terpenes and in the case of cannabis, it has over 120 different ones. You’ll find them in the little crystalline hairs adorning the bud. Those hairs are called trichomes and they produce both terpenes and cannabinoids. If you’ve ever heard the word “dank” used to describe weed, it means that the bud is especially fresh and pungent because it’s full of terpenes.
What are their effects?
When you bite into a strawberry, its flavor is affected by its scent — the more fragrant the berry is, the more delicious you’ll perceive it to be. The same idea applies to when you consume cannabis: Terpenes give bud its distinctive smell and taste. But it goes beyond stimulating your senses as the chemical compounds also have a slew of mental and physical effects, from fighting pain to relieving stress. If a certain strain makes you extremely relaxed, it likely contains a terpene that has a calming effect (and might also be present in your favorite pillow spray or a nighttime face cream).
Terpenes also play a huge part in the Entourage Effect, which is the theory that the effects of cannabis are enhanced by the synchronistic combination of the plant cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. This is why full-spectrum cannabis products can be seen as more beneficial. With full-spectrum, you get all 3 compounds.
How do I find out which terpenes are in my cannabis products?
If you prefer to smoke flower, inhale concentrate, or use a vape, you’ll find each product page on MedMen’s site will have a terpene breakdown. But if you’re an edibles person, then you won’t see it broken down by terpene. The reason? The former is strain specific, meaning the entire product is made up of one strain. Edibles tend to be a mix and are more species specific (indica, sativa, or hybrid) so you can’t pinpoint the exact breakdown.
Why should you know this? Well, it’s a good way to track what you like and don’t like. Say you’re a fan of sativas but you find that one makes you paranoid while another gives you a pleasant buzz. Look at the THC concentration and the terpene breakdown. It’ll give you a reference point for what works best for your body.
Five common cannabis terpenes
Over 120 types of terpenes have been identified in cannabis plants, but you’ll find that a handful of them are more common in cannabis strains than the rest. Here are some you might come across.
This is the most common cannabis terpene. It’s also found in mangoes, lemongrass, basil, and thyme. There has been research that myrcene has sedative effects, as well as muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory properties.
You probably figured this out from the name: yes it is lemon-scented, found in citrus plants (including lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and limes), and frequently present in cannabis strains that are uplifting and energizing. (That lemon household cleaner you use also probably contains limonene too but that’s another story). Limonene is also believed to be anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and has shown to fight both inflammation and cancer.
Lavender is known for being relaxing, which is why it's used in a variety of products aimed at sleep or helping you chill out. The terpene that’s found in lavender (and in some cannabis strains) that’s responsible for that calming, stress-reducing effect is called linalool. Linalool may also strengthen the immune system, fight pain, and reduce inflammation. Plus it’s fun to say.
Can you smell the forest through the trees? That’s more than likely due to the terpene pinene, which is comprised of two types, alpha-pinene (the one that smells like pine needles) and beta-pinene (which can smell like dill). Pinene is found in conifer trees, rosemary, basil, and dill, and is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help improve airflow to the lungs, making it a possible aid to those with asthma.
Yes, this one is a mouthful to say. With a spicy, peppery scent, the terpene caryophyllene is found in black pepper, hops, cinnamon, and cloves. Various studies have shown it to have antioxidant properties, possibly help with depression, and be a promising pain reliever.