Let’s Talk About Terpenes

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One of the most popular cannabis topics this year is terpenes. Perhaps you haven’t heard about them yet, but you will. Have you ever smelled a cannabis bud and thought of any of the following words: piney, lemony, mushroom-smelling, gasoliny, or flowery? If so, that’s the terpenes talking. Simply put, terpenes are the essential oils of the cannabis plant and give strains their unique odor. But it is what researchers and growers are discovering about terpenes that has got the cannabis world buzzing. But before we dive in, let’s review the basic categories of cannabis: sativa versus indica.

Cannabis plants are broken down into three main categories:  sativa, indica, or hybrid (hybrid means a combination of the two). Sativa cannabis plants grow tall, has skinny leaves. Strains high in sativa  give you energy, make you happy, get you laughing, and is commonly for daytime use. Conversely, indica cannabis plants are short and bushy, have broad leaves and is commonly associated with providing relaxation, making you mellow and thus helping with sleep so it is a good candidate for nighttime use.     

Personally, I still find the broad distinctions of sativa versus indica to be helpful when guiding new users who are looking for new strains, although one thing you will find out quickly is that almost every strain is a hybrid. So more than likely you will ask for sativa-dominant or indica-dominant strain. The key question they should be asking themselves is “How do I want to feel?” And if the goal is to function efficiently but happily during the day then by all means try a sativa-dominated strain. If you are battling anxiety and need to quiet your mind and body, start with an indica-dominated strain. So, you may be asking yourself, why do then do I need to concern myself with terpenes?            

It seems that terpenes have been underrated or underappreciated when it comes to the effects of cannabis. But other than providing a distinctive order and taste, why are terpenes the new darling of the cannabis world? It appears that terpenes steer, influence, or alter the effects of cannabis. For instance, you may start with a sativa-dominant strain but because it contains the terpene Limonene, this may increase your energy and creativity. A similar sativa-dominant strain with Linalool may leave you feeling relaxed and contemplative but certainly not energetic and ready to clean the garage. Some dispensaries are taking note that their customers want to know what terpenes are present in particular strains and at what percentage, so this information is often marked on product packaging as well. If your dispensary does not list the terpenes that are present in a strain you can still research the strain online to find out what terpenes it contains; you just won’t know at what percentage they are present. 

Terpenes are present in other plants as well. Below is a chart listing the most common or dominant terpenes found in cannabis, what they smell like, other plants that contain the same terpene and cannabis strains where the terpene is present.


Terpene - Smell - Plants containing this terpene - Cannabis strains containing this terpene

Pinene - Piney - Pine needles, rosemary, basil - Purple Kush, Bay Dream, AK 47

Myrecene - Earthy cloves - Mango, thyme, hops - Granddaddy Purple, Amnesia, Trainwreck

Limonene - Citrusy/lemony - Lemons, rosemary, juniper - Hindu Kush, Lemon OG

Caryophyllene - Peppery/woody - Black pepper, cinnamon - Fire OG, GG4

Linalool - Flowery - Lavender - Kosher Kush, Sour Kush

Humulene - Earthy/woody - Hops, coriander, basil - Black Cherry OG, Death Star

Terpinolene - Piney/flowery - Nutmeg, apples - Dutch Treat, Ghost Train Haze

The bottom line is that we are still figuring out what terpenes bring to the party. Because everyone’s physiology is different, the effects of a strain will be different for everyone. So, once you find a strain you like, you may want to research similar stains. Keeping a journal to track your experiences is the best way of finding the best strain(s) for you. Check out 

why-you-should-consider-keeping-a-cannabis-journalto learn more. And here is a good journal to use Essential-Cannabis-Journal-Personal-Notes.For now, if you can track your product consumption and note which terpenes are present and in what amounts, this may lead you to figure out what terpenes your body responds well to. 

Rob Mejia is the founder of Our Community Harvest: A Cannabis Education Company and author of The Essential Cannabis Book: A Field Guide for the Curious, published by Spring House Press. His second book The Essential Cannabis Journal: Notes from the Fieldwill be available online and in bookstores shortly. Read his monthly Q & A column (which started in March here):