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Terpenes, what are they?

At some point, we’ve all cracked open a bud or stuck our nose into a bag of cannabis and inhaled that beautiful, tell-tale sign of marijuana. Whether it’s just a fun way to pass the night for recreational users, or a way to get immediate relief for medicinal users, we can tell a lot about a certain strain just by sniffing. But being able to pinpoint the smell and knowing what’s actually behind it are two different things. And when you start to understand why marijuana smells the way it does is when you really get into the science of cannabis. It’s when you start learning about terpenes.

 What are terpenes?

Terpenes are classified as organic compounds, and it’s these compounds that give off that beautiful bouquet, no matter what kind of marijuana you smell. There are over one hundred different kinds of terpenes, but they all contribute to some kind of smell. The Cheese strain has terpenes that give off smells of cream cheese, whipped cream, sour cream, and other dairy. Neville’s Haze has terpenes that release smells of black pepper, green pepper, and herbs.


All plants, including cannabis, have terpenes; and even some insects do, too. Terpenes allows the species to ward off predators and to lure pollinators such as bees that will help keep the species growing and spreading it to different areas. The type of smell that terpenes give off will depend on a number of different factors. Of course, the strain will affect the type of terpenes, as they interact with other compounds such as THC and CBD, and in fact are secreted by the same glands that contain these medicinal and psychoactive elements of marijuana. But the climate in which the strain is grown, age, fertilizers used, soil type, and the amount of light the strain received will also all affect the terpenes in any given strain.

But terpenes also have the ability to do so much more than just affect the smell of any given cannabis strain. Just as the THC compounds bind to receptor sites in the brain, terpenes can do this too, and even affect things such as how much THC passes through the brain into the bloodstream. At the same time, they can affect neurotransmitters in the brain and affect production of certain hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, increasing and reducing these levels.

It is these actions that cause terpenes to have an effect on how someone will feel after consuming marijuana. Some will help combat stress, while others will give users energy and still others will help fight insomnia by making the user feel sleepy. This is where the science of terpenes becomes even more interesting and relevant, as just looking at the terpenes of certain strains can greatly help one know what that strain’s effects will be, and how it will help them.

While there is quite the variety of terpenes in cannabis, with over one hundred altogether, there are some that are more common than others.

What are the most common terpenes?

terpenes-flavour-chartOf all the many kinds of terpenes available in cannabis, there are a few that pop up over and over again; and this is mainly due to the fact that there are some terpenes that are simply known for being incredibly helpful to users. In addition, they also smell really great and people are often naturally drawn to them. Below are the five most common terpenes that can be found in many different strains of cannabis.

Alpha-Pinene, Beta-Pinene has a very long name but it is one of the common terpenes found in marijuana along with pine needles and herbs such as rosemary, basil, parsley and dill. Not surprisingly given its name, this terpene releases a very strong pine smell. While alpha-pinene, beta-pinene will neutralize or work against some of the effects of the THC in cannabis it can also help improve things like memory and alertness. This terpene will be most useful for those suffering from asthma or that want to include an antiseptic component to their dosage. Some cannabis strains that include this terpene are Jack Herer, Trainwreck, and Super Silver Haze.

Myrcene is a terpene that has a very earthy smell that can be musky, cloves, herbal, citrusy and tropical, all at the same time. Myrcene can also be found in mangos, lemongrass, and thyme. These terpenes are full of antioxidants and can also work as an anti-carcinogenic. Users will find it useful to aid with sleep, pain, inflammation, depression, and will also help relax the muscles. Skunk #1 and White Widow are two strains that contain Myrcene.

Citrus notes are something many marijuana users look for in their strains, and when they are smelled it could be due to limonene, another common terpene. Limonene smells very citrusy, with almost no other notes that can be detected and it’s found in fruit rinds, especially citrus fruit such as lemons, limes, and oranges. Limonene carries anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogenic properties. It can also help boost moods, dissolve gallstones and can also improve gastrointestinal issues, heartburn and depression. Strains that are known for carrying limonene are OG Kush, Nitro Lemon Haze, and Lemon Skunk.

If you’ve ever gotten your hands on marijuana that smells very peppery and spicy, there’s a good chance it contains the terpene caryophyllene. This terpene smells just like that, with the addition of some woody notes and hints of cloves, too. Not surprisingly this terpene can also be found in black pepper, cloves, and even cotton. If this terpene brings any physical effects such as sleepiness or sharper focus, they’re not very discernible. However, caryophyllene can boost the gastrointestinal tract, helping improve it and make it stronger. It can also help with arthritis, ulcers, and autoimmune disorders. It’s also a valuable anti-inflammatory. Those who want to make the most of caryophyllene will find it in the Hash Plant strain.

The last common terpene we want to touch on is linalool. Another complex terpene, it includes notes of floral, citrus with hints of sweetness reminiscent of candy. If you find it smells a bit like lavender that may be due to the fact that lavender also contains linalool. And like lavender, it’s especially effective at bringing anxiety relief with sedative properties. It can also work to combat convulsions, depressions, and can even help with acne. Amnesia Haze, G13 Haze, and LA Confidential are just a few of the strains that contain linalool.

Anyone that’s used cannabis before knows just how intoxicating its scent can be, no matter the strain that’s being consumed. But knowing where those smells come from and what they are will deepen anyone’s appreciation for the marijuana strains that contain them.

MSNL Team / 6th November 2017

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