In the world of botanical science and alternative medicine, terpenes are nothing new.

All plants, and even some insects, have been producing them for millenia. Traditional Chinese Medicine has utilized these aromatic compounds for thousands of years as well, but only recently have we begun to understand how the terpenes produced by cannabis and hemp plants contribute to their effects.

So, what are terpenes? Terpenes are aromatic, organic hydrocarbon compounds that are essentially the ‘building blocks’ of aromatherapy. Plants produce terpenes for a variety of reasons – as a defensive coating against disease pathogens and environmental stresses, to deter predators and pests, or to attract pollinators. Terpenes have a wide variety of effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-depressant, anxiolytic, antiemetic, and neuroprotective properties. 

In cannabis plants, terpenes are secreted by trichomes, the same resin glands that produce cannabinoids. The terpenes found in cannabis plants are no different than the terpenes found in other plants – for example, linalool from a lavender plant is the same, both molecularly and in effect, as the linalool found in certain cannabis strains. Terpenes are responsible for not only the wide variety of aromas and flavors found in different cannabis varieties, but for the differences in effects as well. As our knowledge of terpene profiles grows, the traditional thinking around sativa, indica, or hybrid strains is giving way to a more nuanced way of understanding what effects a given variety will produce. 

When it comes to cannabis, terpene content is very important to the effect its consumption will produce. A plant that has been bred for high-THC “street value”, but that lacks in terpene content, may look potent on paper but won’t pack as much of a therapeutic punch. Terpenes act as ‘ushers’ to help cannabinoids more easily cross the blood-brain barrier.  Plants with the same cannabinoid content, but different terpene profiles, will have different effects. It’s the varying combinations and ratios of terpenes in a plant’s chemical profile that give rise to the plethora of different effects available. 

Check out the infographic below to learn more about the effects of some common cannabis terpenes.


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