Terpenes: What They Are and Why They Are Important

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Written by | September 26th, 2021

Terpenes: What They Are and Why They Are Important

There is no doubt that cannabis has a very distinct taste and smell. Most people can identify it as soon as they smell it – but if they have never ingested a CBD drink or edible, they might wonder about the flavor it can impart. When it comes to describing cannabis’ smell and taste, a few of the words we often hear are earthy, skunky, herbaceous, citrusy or piney. It’s important to note that each strain has its own unique sensory qualities, much like a Pippin apple tastes and smells different than a Fuji. What gives cannabis and other plants these qualities that humans react to when they smell or taste them? Terpenes! 


In the cannabis plant, terpenes are fragrant oils that are produced and secreted from the same glands that produce cannabinoids, which are called trichomes. Terpenes are the molecules that give the plant its odor and flavor and increase the cannabinoids’ efficacy. As is true with other plants, the qualities that terpenes bring to cannabis are impacted by soil composition, climate, and myriad other factors. Terpenes can help the plant repel insects and other predators, as well as attracting pollinators like bees. They also have antioxidant effects. Scientists have identified over 200 terpenes in the cannabis plant, and each strain has its own unique blend of terpenes.  

Terpenes also have therapeutic qualities; they can play a role in a plant’s medicinal effects because of the way they interact with cannabinoids and help them enter the bloodstream. Scientists have found that when terpenes and cannabinoids work synergistically, their effectiveness in treating pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and infection is enhanced. Interestingly, terpenes are the basis of aromatherapy, a healing treatment that utilizes a plant’s essential oils to promote physical and emotional well-being. 


terpenes chart
Source: Leafly


Beta-caryophyllene can be found in black pepper, oregano, cloves and cinnamon and can be described as peppery. It is the only terpene that can act as a cannabinoid and interact directly with our endocannabinoid system; it is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. 


Limonene can be found in citrus fruit rinds, rosemary and peppermint. Research has shown Limonene’s potential for relieving stress, fighting fungus and bacteria, and relieving heartburn.  


Linalool can be found in lavender and birch bark and can be described as floral. It is reported to promote calm and relaxation – which is why so many personal care products contain lavender. It’s also known for its antimicrobial properties and its ability to help the immune system fight stress. 


Myrcene, one of the most common of the cannabis terpenes, can be found in hops, mango, and lemongrass and can be described as floral or herbal.  It is reported to impart calming qualities and relax muscles. One of its most important qualities is that increases a cell membrane’s permeability, which allows for a larger uptake of cannabinoids and therefore stronger effects. 


Pinene, another very common terpene in the plant world, can be found in basil, dill, rosemary, and pine needles. The scent and flavor can be described as foresty or piney. Because it is a bronchodilator, it can improve airflow to the lungs. It is also reported to provide relief for pain and inflammation and aid in memory retention.  


Terpinolene can be found in apples, lilac, tea tree, nutmeg and cumin and can be described as fruity. It is reported to have uplifting effects and can help fight off mosquitos. Terpinolene is a common ingredient in cleaning products because of its fresh scent and antibacterial qualities. 


Humulene is not only present in the cannabis plant, but it is also found in cannabis’ botanic cousin, hops. Humulene is best described as woody, spicy, and earthy. Extensive scientific and medical research on Humulene has shown that it may be effective in treating cancer, especially when combined with other terpenes and cannabinoids. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. 


Ocimene is found in orchids, mint, basil, parsley, bay, and tarragon and smells citrusy, earthy, herbal, and woody. In terms of therapeutic benefits, Ocimene is used to treat congestion, viruses, and inflammation; it is also used to improve cognition because of its stimulating effects.  


The biggest differences between terpenes and cannabinoids are in the plants where they can be found and their functions. 

  • Both terpenes and cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.  
  • Unlike cannabinoids, terpenes are not unique to cannabis; they are present in many different plants and can be found in flowers, leaves, and bark.  
  • Where terpenes create the plant’s scent and flavor, cannabinoids interact with receptors in the brain and body that regulate our body’s systems and functions. This is called the Endocannabinoid System.

Working in partnership, terpenes and cannabinoids create each cannabis strain’s unique flavor profile and subsequent physiological effects; this relationship is known as the Entourage Effect.  


The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) which is present in all humans and animals is responsible for building and sustaining health. Its primary role is to maintain and balance all of the other bodily systems such as the central nervous system, reproductive system, and immune system.  The ECS is made up of receptors throughout the body and in the brain, which help maintain balance in reaction to change. The ECS is crucial when it comes to regulating a broad range of physiological processes that affect us, such as our mood, energy level, and immunity, as well as how we experience stress, pain, and more.  

 Research studies have linked the ECS to the following processes: Appetite/digestion, metabolism, chronic pain, inflammation, mood, learning/memory, motor control, and skin/nerve function, to name a few. After being thrown into imbalance by physical, environmental or emotional stressors, the combination of cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and terpenes can bring the body back into balance. 

Cannabis researchers S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam introduced the term “Entourage Effect” to explain the process of biological synergy between cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. It represents the idea that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” meaning that the effects created when the three work together are stronger than each would achieve alone. A paper by Ethan Russo titled “Taming THC” in the British Journal of Pharmacology reported evidence that taking cannabinoids and terpenes together may be beneficial for treating conditions like pain, anxiety, inflammation, epilepsy, infection, and cancer. What this means, in layman’s terms, is that the combination of cannabinoids like CBD with terpenes can bring a body back into balance through its work with the ECS. 

If you are exploring the idea of creating a CBD beverage or edible or perhaps reformulating a recipe you already have in the works, it’s important to consider the differences between extractions, particularly CBD Isolate and Broad Spectrum 

  • Isolates are CBD in their purest form; they are 99% CBD and impart very little in the way of flavor or odor.  
  • Broad Spectrum retains a large complement of plant material without the THC, which allows for the Entourage Effect to occur. Hemp, which contains less than .3% THC, forms the basis for most Broad Spectrum extracts. Broad Spectrum can also be created by either adding terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids to CBD isolate or by removing THC from Full Spectrum extract via distillation.  

If you want to create a product that is free from any plant smell or flavor, Isolate is your best bet. If you want to give your customers the benefit of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids working together and imparting flavor and smells that can complement the other flavors, then Broad Spectrum or full spectrum is a great choice.  

The team here at SōRSE is well-versed in working with cannabinoids and terpenes alike and is always willing to help you create the perfect sensory profile for your product. Book an exploratory call today!