Terpenes in Cannabis

An overview of the terpenes in cannabis.


Cannabis has been used for millennia as a medicine and recreational intoxicant. While medicinal cannabis is best known for its pharmacologically active cannabinoids, cannabis resin also contains a variety of terpenes, which are responsible for the scent of cannabis flowers and the flavour qualities of cannabis products. Cannabis plants produce and accumulate a terpene-rich resin in glandular trichomes on the surface of the female inflorescence. The different monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes of cannabis resin define some of the unique organoleptic properties and may also influence medicinal qualities of different cannabis strains and varieties.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are hydrocarbon molecules that are found in all plants. The term comes from turpentine (the resin found in pine trees) that is responsible for the classic pine scent. Terpenes are synthesized from a 5-carbon base (many have 10, 15, or more carbons), making them a very diverse and large class of biologically active molecules. It is the terpenes that are responsible for the strong smell in many plants. Plants with strong scents (like citrus, rosemary, eucalyptus, and lavender) have high levels of specific terpenes that give them their fragrance, flavour and potentially even medicinal properties. Terpenes can also affect how we feel when they are applied to the skin, inhaled or consumed.


Where do terpenes come from?

Animals, plants, fungi and microbes produce terpenes to carry out many necessary biological functions, including the synthesis of vitamins, hormones and pheromones.

What do cannabis terpenes do?


Plants use terpenes primarily to attract pollinators and deter herbivores. Terpenes and cannabinoids work together to defend against bacteria and fungi threatening the plant. Cannabis terpenes are the aromatic oils that provide cannabis varieties with distinctive flavours (like citrus, berry, mint and pine). They also are useful in protecting the plant from UV radiation, acting as a chemical protectant similar to melanin in humans.


Where are cannabis terpenes produced?

Terpenes are primarily found in the resin secreted by the glandular trichomes of female inflorescences (the same glands that produce the cannabinoids). The development of cannabis terpenes and cannabinoids can be affected by many factors (e.g. climate, weather, maturation, fertilizers, soil type and time of day).

What do these terpenes do in cannabis medicine?

Terpenes are thought to play a role in the effects of various cannabis strains. Some terpenes might promote relaxation and stress relief, while others might affect focus and acuity. While the scent is what makes terpenes famous, they also play a part in how we feel when we consume cannabis. Terpenes can add great depth to the potential effects of different cannabis strains. Terpenes work in synergy with other botanical compounds and they interact with our native hormones to give us these feelings. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to help with illness and cure specific ailments. Differences between the pharmaceutical properties of different cannabis strains have been attributed to interactions (or an ‘entourage effect’) involving cannabinoids and terpenes working in harmony with the endocannabinoid system to help bring homeostasis to the body. Terpenes may contribute anxiolytic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and sedative effects.


Terpene Boiling Point Aroma Effects Also found in: Medical effects
Ocimene 66oC Sweet, herbal, woody Mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes Anti-viral, antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, decongestant
Humulene 106oC Woody, earthy Suppresses appetite Hops, basil, cloves coriander Anti-Inflammatory, anti-bacterial, pain
Caryophyllene 130oC Pepper, spicy, woody, cloves No detectable physical effects Pepper, cloves, hops, oregano, cinnamon Anti-oxidant, pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, insomnia, Anti-depression, anti-anxiety,
Pinene 155oC Sharp, sweet, pine Memory retention, alertness Pine needles, sage, rosemary, basil Pain, Inflammation, asthma, anti-anxiety, anti-cancer
Myrcene 167oC Musk, cloves, herbal, citrus Sedating, relaxing, calming Mango, thyme, lemongrass, hops Antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, pain, inflammation, insomnia
Limonene 176oC Citrus Elevated mood, stress relief Citrus rinds, juniper, peppermint, rosemary Anti-depression, anti-anxiety, gastric reflux, anti-fungal, anti-Inflammatory, pain, cancer
Terpinoline 185oC Piney, floral Uplifting Nutmeg, cumin, apple Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, Anti-oxidant, anti-cancer
Linalool 198oC Floral, citrus, spice Sedating, calming, mood enhancing Citrus, laurel, birch, lavender Insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, inflammation, pain, convulsions


The most common terpenes found in Cannabis



Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis. It is also present in tropical fruits such as mango, citrus, hops, parsley, basil, lemongrass and thyme. It has a fruity, woody and citrus-like scent. If a cannabis plant contains more than 0.5% myrcene, it is an Indica strain, while anything less than 0.5% myrcene is regarded as a Sativa strain.

Flavour Profile: Fruit, Geranium, Balsamic.

Medical Research: Myrcene is regarded as one of the most fascinating and highly sought after terpenes due to its potent anti-inflammatory, sedativeanalgesic (pain-relieving) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties. It also has strong anti-oxidant properties.

Entourage Effects of myrcene (when combined with cannabinoids):

Analgesic – CBD, THC

Sedative – THC, CBN

Anti-oxidant – CBD, CBG





Limonene is the second most common terpene found in cannabis. It has an intense citrus scent, which is also found in the rind of the lemon and orange, and in juniper and peppermint. Limonene is found in perfume and other products due to its pleasant smell and low toxicity.

Flavour Profile: Citrus

Medical Research: A number of research studies have demonstrated that Limonene has anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also considered a possible treatment for cancer (including prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer).

Entourage Effects of limonene (when combined with cannabinoids):

Anti-cancer – CBG, CBN

Anti-depressant – CBG, CBD






Linalool (technically classed as a terpene alcohol) has a floral, sweet, woody and blueberry scent. Linalool is a unique terpene that has been used for thousands of years to treat anxiety and has proven sedative properties. Linalool is found in birch, lavender and rosewood, can be used as a relaxant and is currently being researched for its influence on reducing certain types of cancer.

Flavour Profile: Rose, Floral, Lavender

Medical Research: A very special terpene that shows promise in treating pain signals, reducing tumours and promoting sleep. It has been used for centuries to treat anxiety, and continues to be researched extensively for various ailments. A wide variety of studies have shown benefits around cancer, pain relief, as an anticonvulsant and as a sedative.

Entourage Effects of Linalool (when combined with cannabinoids):

Anti-anxiety – CBG, CBD

Sedative – CBN, THC

Anti-convulsant – CBD, THCV



Pinene is found in many plants including cannabis, pine trees and rosemary. It has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties and is known to affect our memory positively.

Flavour Profile: Piney, Sharp, Sweet

Medical Research: Pinene can assist patients suffering from Crohn’s Disease, arthritis, other inflammation-related conditions and cancer. It can improve airflow and respiratory functions while helping reduce memory loss.

Entourage Effects of Pinene (when combined with cannabinoids):

Anti-inflammatory – CBD, CBG

Anti-cancer – CBD, THC

Memory enhancer – CBD, CBN


b-caryophyllene can activate receptors inside our body, including the CB2 receptors, which makes this a particularly noteworthy terpene. Found in basil, black pepper and cloves, it has a spicy, peppery and woody scent.

Flavour Profile: Peppery, Spicy, Woody

Medical Research: Pre-clinical research has indicated that this terpene can be therapeutic in many diseases ranging from alcoholism to reducing pain and helping with inflammation. b-caryophyllene has anti-oxidant properties and also binds to the same receptors as other cannabinoids.

Entourage Effects of b-caryophyllene  (when combined with cannabinoids):

Analgesic – CBD, CBG

Anti-inflammatory – CBD


 Author Dr Craig Davis