With cannabis culture becoming more mainstream as states legalize the plant it’s no wonder that we’re learning more about it than ever. This is especially true when it comes to understanding how it works and why we react to it the way we do. Understanding how it works in our bodies we’re finally able to explain why it is such a versatile holistic medicine.
It’s important though that we don’t only focus on one aspect of the plant. Remember that cannabinoids don’t do all the work alone, other compounds like terpenes, also play a big role in your cannabis experience.
By now you’ve probably heard of the main compounds in cannabis called cannabinoids – the most prominent two being THC and CBD. You’ve probably been told that while these cannabinoids work well on their own, they work best in tandem with other cannabinoids, including lesser known ones like CBN and CBG, CBDA, CBC and more.
Today however, we’re looking at something entirely different – something that can be found in so many plants aside from cannabis. Working side-by-side with cannabinoids, terpenes provide many of the flavors, scents and effects that you expect from cannabis use.
What Exactly Are Terpenes?
The actual scientific definition of terpenes is “a large class of hydrocarbon compounds constructed from five-carbon isoprene units that are combined to produce a great variety of skeletons.”
However, when you’re talking about cannabis – or a variety of other plants including various flowers, trees and citrus fruits – it can be more simply defined as an organic compound that creates aroma and flavor. Basically, terpenes are the reason for the pungent skunky aroma of a Cheese strain, or the citrusy flavor experienced by Lemon Kush.
There are dozens of smells that are used to describe cannabis ranging from citrus and pine to woody, diesel, coffee, herbal, fruity and berry. Terpenes are responsible for all of these. However, most strains will have a unique combination of terpenes that create its individual scent.
Terpenes don’t only affect the smell your cannabis gives off when you open a bag or grind up a bud. Many terpenes also have the potential to affect the experience you have after consumption. For example, a terpene called myrcene is known for its relaxing effects and is found in strains like Blue Dream and Granddaddy Purple, known for their relaxing buzz.
Certain terpenes are more likely to promote relaxation like myrcene – while others are more likely to promote focus or a positive, uplifting feeling. These feelings when connected with cannabis use is often attributed to THC and CBD content – but terpenes play an important role in separating indica and sativa strains.
The entourage effect is when all the compounds in cannabis – cannabinoids and terpenes – can work together. Since terpene profiles are just as important in understanding the effects of cannabis as cannabinoids are, you don’t want to miss out on those benefits. This is why cannabis flower and full spectrum cannabis oils are often preferred over concentrates that often isolate one or a few cannabinoids.
Which Terpenes are Common in Cannabis?
There are at least 20,000 known terpenes in existence – and probably thousands more that we haven’t isolated yet. Of those, more than 100 are commonly found in the cannabis plant. Most strains of cannabis will have multiple terpenes, making up a profile that not only creates each strain’s unique aroma and flavor, but also changes the effects of consumption.
This terpene is also found in mangoes and is the most common terpene found in cannabis. It is so prevalent that some strains have up to 65 percent of their terpene profile made up of just myrcene. This is also the terpene that is likely to determine whether you’re dealing with an indica strain as plants with 0.5 percent myrcene or higher are said to be exclusively indica. Strains with an abundance of this terpene include White Widow, Granddaddy Purple, and Cherry Pie.
The second most abundant terpene found in cannabis, limonene is also found in various citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, limes and more. It is responsible for the citrusy smell found in both the fruits and many strains of cannabis. This terpene is known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties as well as the “lemon fresh” smell and its ability to reduce stress and enhance your mood. Most strains that are high in limonene are sativa’s or hybrids, like Sour Diesel, White Fire OG, OG Kush and of course Super Lemon Haze.
This terpene is likely to help you beat the munchies as it is known for decreasing your appetite and is found in herbs like cloves, basil and hops. It is also known for having anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It is known for creating a woody or herbal aroma and is found in strains like Liberty Haze, Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Diesel and Sherbert.
It might not sound familiar, but if you’ve ever used a lavender essential oil for any of its many relaxing effects, then you already know Linalool. This is a terpene that is known for stress-relieving, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects – making a strain high in linalool perfect for those suffering from anxiety and/or depression. It will also help reduce some of the anxious feelings that may come from a strain that was otherwise relatively high in THC. Strains with high amounts of linalool include Special Kush, Amnesia Haze and Kosher Kush.
This is a pretty unique terpene. Of course, as the name suggests it is the one responsible to any strain that smells extremely piney. It is the same terpene that gives pine needles their notable smell. It comes in two different types – alpha, which is responsible for the strong pine aroma; and beta, which is a similar but less intense smell found in spices like rosemary, dill and parsley. It is found in strains like Critical Mass, Strawberry Cough and Blue Dream.
This is the terpene responsible for any strain that has a spicy, woody or peppery scent – it is also commonly found in black pepper and cinnamon among other spices. Research suggests caryophyllene is great for the treatment of anxiety and depression. But what truly makes this terpene unique though, is the fact that it also acts as a cannabinoid, activating our endocannabinoid system to provide anti-inflammatory effects. This terpene is found in strains like Original Glue, Skywalker and Super Silver Haze.
These are by far not the only terpenes found in the cannabis plant. Remember, there are over a hundred that have been identified, and that’s just so far. Chances are there are hundreds more that could be found in lesser known and studied strains from around the world. However, the terpenes we mentioned here are some of the most well-known and plentiful across all strains of cannabis. They are also responsible for many of the common effects of marijuana as we know it.
Does Consumption Method Change the Effects of Terpenes?
One thing you might wonder is how to get the most out of your cannabis – including the terpenes. Unfortunately, even though smoking is still the most popular way to consume cannabis, combustion destroys many of the terpenes. If you’re aiming to get the fullest effects of your cannabis, then vaping is the way to go. Edibles might offer more of an entourage effect – but vaping will give you the most versatility.
Both cannabinoids and terpenes have their own individual temperatures at which they release their medicinal effects. Some are higher while some are lower, so if your aim is to get a certain effect out of a strain, vaping is the only way to get exactly what you need. For people who need or desire a certain effect for medicinal purposes – whether that is pain relief or calming sensations to fight anxiety, understanding terpenes is key to getting the best treatment possible.
By getting a portable vaporizer that allows you to vaporize dry herb matter like cannabis flower you will be able to get the most out of your medicine. Before purchasing, make sure that the vaporizer has temperature settings that will allow you to vape your cannabis flower at varying heats to release the effects of specific cannabinoids and terpenes.
No matter how you choose to consume your cannabis, understanding that terpenes will change the way you experience a strain will go a long way. Many brands of cannabis are now having labs test and label strains for their terpene profiles as well as their THC and CBD contents. With a better understanding of the common terpenes we listed here, you will better be able to pick and choose the strain that should benefit you most based on your individual needs.
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