What Are Terpenes and What Is Their Effect?

The distinctive flavors and smells are one of the most striking
qualities of marijuana, and it varies between strains. The flavors and
smells are produced by terpenes, which are small molecules with
repeating units of the organic compound isoprene. Terpenes are
manufactured inside specialized hairs, called trichomes, located on the
surface of the leaves and stems of the plant, and they account for 5-10
percent of the total essential oils produced by trichomes; in fact,
terpenes are found in all plants to varying degrees.

More than 100 different terpenes have been identified in marijuana, and
these terpene profiles can vary from strain to strain. Terpene profiling
— the process of determining the types and quantities of terpenes
present in a plant — is thought to be one of the most accurate ways to
distinguish between marijuana strains. Various factors influence the
ratio of terpenes present in marijuana, including strain, environment,
cultivation and degree of plant degradation.

The Role of Terpenes

Terpenes are functionally diverse, and many are integral to marijuana’s
growth and survival. They attract pollinators, repel harmful insects,
deter herbivores, protect against bacteria and fungi, and act as
precursors for more complex molecules, such as cannabinoids. Many
terpenes interact with other types of terpenes, and some assist or
inhibit the formation of different compounds within the marijuana plant.

Primary Terpenes

Terpenes can be classified as primary or secondary, depending on their
role: Primary terpenes are essential for plant growth and development,
while secondary terpenes are involved in plant defenses. Following are
some of the primary terpenes found in marijuana:

  • Pinene gives marijuana its earthy, pine-like flavor and spicy,
    herbal notes. This terpene crosses the blood-brain barrier and
    promotes memory retention and alertness by inhibiting the breakdown
    of acetylcholinesterase, which is a chemical found in the brain. It
    also acts as both a bronchodilator and an anti-inflammatory.
  • Caryophyllene has a peppery flavor and a spicy, earthy aroma
    with citrus notes. It is the only terpene known to act on the
    which regulates a variety of physiological processes, including

    Activation of the CB2 receptors by caryophyllene is instrumental in
    enhancing marijuana’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
  • Humulene gives marijuana its robust, woody flavor and spicy,
    herbal notes. This terpene possesses anti-inflammatory

    and acts as an appetite
  • Linalool has a floral flavor reminiscent of lavender, with the
    addition of spicy overtones. It exhibits powerful analgesic and
    properties and is partly responsible for the sedative effects of
    certain marijuana strains. It also has strong antibacterial,
    anti-cancer and antifungal effects.
  • Myrcene is the most common terpene found in marijuana, and it is
    also present in bay, thyme, hops and lemongrass. This musky terpene
    is a potent analgesic, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory, and its
    concentration determines whether a strain has an energizing or
    sedative effect. Strains containing more than 0.5 percent of myrcene
    have a
    effect, while strains containing less than 0.5 percent myrcene
    produce an
    energizing effect.
  • Terpinolene has a woody flavor and is responsible for many of
    the floral notes characteristic of Jack Herer varieties
    of marijuana. It has been shown to exhibit
    sedative properties.
  • Limonene is most often found in sativa strains of marijuana and
    has a citrus flavor reminiscent of oranges. It has antioxidant,
    anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and it is known to
    activate enzymes that stimulate the liver and increase bile flow,
    which in turn aids digestion. Studies show that limonene can also
    help treat

Secondary Terpenes

Following are some of the secondary terpenes found in marijuana:

  • Sabinene has a woody flavor with spicy, peppery notes. It has
    been shown to aid digestion, relieve
    and soothe skin conditions.
  • Phellandrene is known for its peppermint flavor, with slight
    citrus notes. It possesses
  • Borneol has a minty aroma and is found in high concentrations in
    herbs such as rosemary and mint. It has both anti-inflammatory and
    analgesic effects.
  • Isoborneol has a sweet and musty flavor; also found in mugwort,
    isoborneol exhibits antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial
    properties, and it inhibits the herpes simplex type 1 virus, which
    causes cold sores.
  • Phytol results from the breakdown of a green pigment
    called chlorophyll. It has a floral, balsamic flavor and
    demonstrates sedative and
    effects through inhibiting the activity of an enzyme that degrades
    GABA, which is a chemical found in the brain.

The Entourage Effect

The medicinal effects of terpenes are due in part to their interactions
with cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol
(THC). Research
conducted by Ethan Russo, MD and published in the British Journal of
Pharmacology in August 2011, reveals that terpenes mediate the
physiological and psychoactive effects of cannabinoids: a phenomenon
termed the entourage
This may help to explain why the effects of synthetic cannabinoids —
chemicals made to mimic the effects of naturally occurring cannabinoids
— differ from those of smoking or ingesting the whole marijuana plant
and why different strains of the marijuana plant differ in their

The primary and secondary terpenes in marijuana exhibit a variety of
aromas, flavors and medicinal benefits. Understanding the differences
between the different types of terpenes make choosing a suitable strain
of marijuana easier.

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