What are terpenes, and why do they matter?

What are terpenes, and why do they matter?

As you read the descriptions for various cannabis products, you might come across the word ‘terpene.’ However, it isn’t always clear what terpenes are, why they are in cannabis products, and how they are relevant to you.

You are already familiar with terpenes, even if you don’t realize it

Terpenes are not exclusive to the world of cannabis. They are one type of chemical compound found naturally in cannabis plants, but they are also found naturally in other plants and even some animals.

Reportedly, terpenes are the most common type of compound found in plants. They are the chemical compounds that cause plants to have the aromas, flavors and sometimes even the colors that they do. According to Healthline, these compounds are especially plentiful in cannabis, aromatic herbs and citrus fruits.

“You may not know their names, but you already know these compounds because they’re ingrained in your life,” reported Project CBD. “The fresh scent of lemon zest is from the terpene limonene. The refreshing aroma wafting through a pine forest comes from the terpene aptly named pinene.”

Why you might care about the terpenes in CBD products

Most CBD consumers take CBD products for a reason. For example, you might take CBD to help you relax and manage anxiety. Alternatively, you might take it to reduce inflammation or pain. Scientists are still researching all of the potential therapeutic benefits of CBD, but CBD is just one of many compounds found in hemp.

You could consume a CBD isolate product, that is to say a product that contains only CBD. However, you would miss out on something called ‘the entourage effect.’

The entourage effect is the theoretical principle that the medicinal qualities of cannabis can be enhanced when multiple compounds found naturally in the plant are able to work together in the body. These compounds include major players, like CBD and THC, but they also include minor players like minor cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes.

What exactly do terpenes do?

In nature, plants use terpenes to attract beneficial insects and repel damaging insects. They also use them to repel animals that might otherwise eat the plant and to avoid being damaged by fungus.

Each cannabis plant reportedly contains between 20 and 40 different terpenes. These terpenes help give the plant its scent and flavor. They also have medicinal qualities.

“Pinene, which is found not only in the oils of pine and other coniferous trees but also in rosemary, is known for its anti-inflammatory effects,” reported Project CBD. “Bata-caryophyllene, a terpene found in black pepper, oregano, leafy green vegetables, and various cannabis strains may be good for treating certain ulcers and auto-immune disorders. Linalool, the dominant terpene from lavender, alters brain wave activity and promotes relaxation.”

In addition to having their own unique medicinal qualities, terpenes play an important role in the effectiveness of the entourage effect.

Research reportedly shows that terpenes can help cannabinoids cross the blood-brain barrier and may also improve transdermal absorption. This means that the terpenes in CBD products could help the CBD and other desirable compounds be absorbed easier into the body, whether taken internally or externally.

One article published in the British Journal of Pharmacology reports the findings from multiple studies on cannabis and terpenes. These studies reportedly show that interactions between cannabinoids and terpenes could increase the effectiveness of treatments for pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer and infections.

Terpenes may be just a minor component of a CBD product, but they can affect the qualities of that product. The specific terpenes in a product could affect how it smells and tastes. It could also contribute to the product’s ability to relax you or ease your inflammation.

When a product description lists terpenes, it is providing information that suggests how the product might smell and taste, but also some of the medicinal qualities the product could have. Recognizing common terpenes can help you be more informed about the products you purchase before you even try them for yourself.


[1] https://www.projectcbd.org/cbd-and-its-entourage

[2] https://www.healthline.com/health/cannabis-terpenes#do-they-make-you-high

[3] https://www.cannabistech.com/articles/what-is-the-entourage-effect-in-cannabis/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/