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What Are Terpenes?

What are terpenes, and how do they impact the cannabis consumption experience? This chapter answers these questions and provides insight into the wonderful world of terpenes.

Chapter 1 · 5 min read
What Are Terpenes?

What are terpenes? This is a valid question that many cannabis consumers ponder, especially those new to the plant medicine. This introductory chapter explains terpenes and why they’re crucial to cannabis.

Terpenes are organic compounds, specifically hydrocarbons, that are large and diverse. Cannabis consumers are likely familiar with terps because they are rich in the flavors and aromas they add to cannabis varieties. However, terpenes are a widely complex group of compounds that can be found all over our natural world. They occur naturally in many plants, as well as even some insects and fungi.

Some of nature's most commonly understood and well-known terps come from trees. In fact, many experts believe that forest trees like conifers contain the most abundant amounts of terpenes of all plants in our natural world. Conifers are typically evergreen trees that produce cones or leaves that are needle-like. These trees include cedars, redwoods, and pine trees. Menthol is another popular terpene.

What Do Terpenes Do?

The terpene profiles of cannabis cultivars hold the potential for a vast expansion into exploring and expanding its medical benefits. There is a lack of information currently available about the medical benefits of specific terpenes and their effect, as is the case with cannabis in general.

However, we know that these compounds are responsible for giving cannabis its unique smell and taste, and we can find several main terp types in cannabis. Cannabis produces dozens of terpenes, and they are secreted out of the same glands that produce cannabinoids, known as trichomes.

Types of Terpenes Found In Cannabis

Generally speaking, we break down terpenes into two main categories: major terpenes, and minor terpenes. Some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis include myrcene, pinene, caryophyllene, limonene, and linalool. We cover all of these major terpenes in upcoming chapters of our Terpenes Guide.


Minor Terpenes Found In Cannabis

These are just a few examples of the most common terpenes that are found in cannabis. Most cannabis varieties contain more than one terpene, as do many plants in our natural world. Some minor terpenes found in cannabis include Geraniol, Bisabolol, Delta-3 Carene, Borneol, Eucalyptol, and Delta-3 Carene. These minor terpenes are lesser known because they are not as abundant as major terpenes, but this does not mean they are insignificant.

Benefits of Terpenes In Humans

Terpenes will play a huge role in the future of cannabis medicine and research, as we learn more. Terpenes not only can smell and taste delicious, but they may support cannabinoids and other compounds in the way cannabis makes us feel and its medicinal properties.

We currently don’t know how all of the combined essential compounds like terpenes in cannabis impact the effects we feel when consuming it. We also don’t know if terpenes found in the natural world that have proven benefits will translate into those benefits applying to cannabis medicine.

The data is very lacking, and of course, more studies must be done if we are to unlock a better understanding of these benefits. There are a lot of anecdotes in the cannabis industry, much of which some companies use as marketing tactics.

The truth is that due to the lack of funding and Federal illegality of cannabis in the U.S., these anecdotes will remain as such until these studies are finally conducted. For more information on the legalization of cannabis in the U.S., be sure to read our Cannabis Industry Guide.

Catnip, Your Pet’s Favorite Terpene

While there might not be a lot of repeatable empirical data to support the idea that terpenes have noticeable effects and benefits in humans, this does exist in cats. Nepetalactone is the terpene found in catnip that makes your feline friend feel high.

Two-thirds of all cats are noticeably different after smelling some. Nepetalactone molecules in catnip impact the cat’s olfactory receptors, causing a rush of endorphins and making them feel high. The next time you give your cat some catnip and see them acting crazy, you can thank the wonderful world of terpenes.

What We Learned: What Are Terpenes?

As we learned in this chapter, the wonderful natural world of terpenes is as interesting as they are diverse. If you’d like to dig deeper into terpenes, be sure to read on to our next chapters or check out some of the Terpene Spotlight articles on our blog. We believe that terpenes hold the key to better understanding the complexly amazing cannabis plant. Here’s what we learned in this chapter:

  • Terpenes are a large and diverse group of organic compounds, specifically hydrocarbons.
  • Most cannabis consumers know about terpenes, but they exist in many plants and even fungi in our natural world.
  • Experts believe that forest trees like conifers contain the most abundant amounts of terpenes of all plants in our natural world.
  • Terpenes do not get us high, generally speaking.
  • Major terpenes include Caryophyllene, Humulene, Limonene, Linalool, Myrcene, Ocimene, Pinene, and Terpinolene.
  • Terpenes have been shown to provide some potential benefits when extracted and studied from other plants. This does not mean that these benefits translate into cannabis, because the terpene content of these studied plants is different from that of cannabis.
  • Although terpenes are understudied, we know that these compounds are responsible for giving cannabis its unique smell and taste, and we can find several main terps in cannabis.

We recommend you check out some of the rest of our chapters in the Cannabis Basics Guide before digging deeper into building your knowledge of cannabis.

If you've done some of this digging already and are eager to get started learning about specific terpenes, answer the question below, and let's keep learning.

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Chapter Question

Which of the following do experts believe contains the most abundant amounts of plant terpenes in our natural world?

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Terpenes are some of the most complex yet misunderstood compounds on the planet. In cannabis, terpenes are responsible for giving cultivars their unique flavor and taste.




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