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Terpenes are organic compounds that give cannabis strains their unique aromatic qualities. Synthesized with cannabinoids in the plant’s glandular trichomes, terpenes are responsible for the smell and taste characteristics – skunky, lemony, piney – that accompany respective cannabis varieties.
Produced by a range of plants, terpenes are the subject of much study in the medical cannabis space. Significantly, scientists are particularly interested in the relationship between terpenes, or terps as they’re commonly known, and the plant’s cannabinoids; an interplay that has been coined the “entourage effect.”1
More than 100 terpenes have been discovered in the cannabis plant, while only a dozen or so have been studied in detail. To the olfactory tapestry of the contemporary cannabis discussion, still only a handful of those terpenes – caryophyllene, pinene, limonene, myrcene and linalool – are of note.2
One of the primary chemical compounds that gives pepper its punchy smell, caryophyllene is present in most cannabis varieties. Characterized by the scent of spice and pepper, caryophyllene is found in basil and oregano, as well rosemary and cinnamon. Reported to help patients with chronic pain and sleep issues, caryophyllene also possesses poignant antifungal properties.
Produced primarily by conifers and non-coniferous plants like camphorweed and big sagebrish, pinene is the most common terpene found in nature. To the cannabis sativa plant, pinene lends some varieties a sharp and distinct smell – spicy pine. Celebrated by many consumers and patients for its pastoral appeal, pinene is reported to serve as an effective anti-inflammatory.
As its name suggests, limonene gives off the scent of lemons and citrus fruit. A particularly popular terpene, renowned for its hints of orange and peppermint, limonene is used in food manufacturing and as a fragrance in cosmetic products. An inviting and pleasing terpene, limonene is reported to function as an anti-fungal and, in some instances, as an anti-depressant.
The most common terpene found in the cannabis plant, myrcene carries a characteristically earthy smell. Found in plants ranging from parsley to hops, and lemongrass to mangos, myrcene also holds citrusy qualities. Used in the making of fragrance chemicals like citronella and menthol, myrcene has been reported to help with inflammation and chronic pain.

Naturally occurring in over 200 species of plants, linalool is responsible for lending some strains a sweet lavender scent, with hints of citrus and coriander. Used in nearly all perfumed soaps, shampoos and detergents, linalool has been reported to possess analgesic properties in the area of sleep and anxiety.

  1. “What is the entourage effect?” https://www.auroramj.com/blog/2018/06/28/what-is-the-entourage-effect/
  2. “Terpenoids.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/terpenoids

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