The Top 5 Cannabis Terpenes You Should Know
By The Honest Cannabist @thehonestcannabist
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are volatile secondary organic compounds which are found in cannabis and most all of nature. They are vulnerable to both temperature and oxidation. Along with flavonoids, terpenes (often referred to as terps) are responsible for the rich and delicious aroma and taste we get from cannabis consumption. But they do much more than that: terps have many strong medicinal benefits. They’re fucking lit. Goal: learn enough about terps so that you can take advantage of their presence in your medicine. Many people believe that the sativa/indica classification system is outdated. If we look instead, say, at myrcene content versus limonene content, we’d have a much clearer way of classifying what we commonly recognize as indica and sativa effects, respectively.
The most popular naturally-occurring terpenes in cannabis are:
1. Myrcene, as Beta-myrcene (ß-myrcene)
2. Pinene (a-pinene and ß-pinene)
3. Limonene, as Delta-limonene (d-limonene)
4. Caryophyllene, as Beta-caryophyllene (ß-caryophyllene)
(*Keep in mind that terpenes are sometimes synthetically added to cannabis extracts.)
Before we take a closer look at their individual properties, let’s take a second to chat about what makes terpenes so damn cool. Terps bring remarkable healing properties in spades. They are naturally-occurring compounds which, as a group, are known to be anti-inflammatory, antidepressive, antioxidant, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), sedating, calming and/or uplifting, antispasmodic, analgesic, and that just skims the surface of their capabilities.
Terpenes vaporize at temperatures as low as 311°F. If you’re combusting your herb at 451°F or higher, most of the terpenes will be destroyed by the high heat before it hits your lungs and you won’t get all the benefit. A low-temp vaporizer or an enail with temperature control is your best bet for harnessing the healing potential of terps. Just keep in mind that, as with all things, your mileage may vary. We all respond a little bit differently, and that’s okay! This is meant as an introductory guide, a blueprint of sorts, summing up what terpenes can do for you. What are the main terpenes all about? What do they do? Where can you find them? Read on to learn more!
Got insomnia? Unyielding, stubborn pain? Turn to myrcene. Aside from being one of our favs because it enhances the psychoactivity of THC, myrcene is the most prevalent terp in cannabis. (Yes, the mango rumors are true! Eat some myrcene-loaded mango 30-45 minutes before partaking to boost your high.) It is less volatile than the other terps, so it hangs out longer and is present in larger amounts. Myrcene’s heavy-hitting couchlock effect is the way most of us fondly remember our first adventures with cannabis. It is also incredibly potent medicine.
Myrcene lowers resistance of the blood-brain barrier allowing its medicinal effects (and that of the other terps and cannabinoids) to work more quickly. It is wonderful for calming muscle spasms and just relaxing the body in general. For a good night’s sleep or medicating intense pain, look for strains with a higher myrcene content. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night or struggle with insomnia (or the dreaded painsomnia), keep a myrcene-high strain on your bedside table to maximize your ZZZs.
This terp is highly present in hops, which is why beer makes a lot of people sleepy and those familiar with herbal medicine often use hops as a sleep aid. That hoppy presence in myrcene’s flavor and aroma is unmistakable, yet myrcene can just as easily be described as earthy, musky, and herbal with notes of clove. In addition to mango and hops, you can also find an abundance of myrcene in lemongrass, thyme, bay leaf, and eucalyptus.
Focus your mind and improve your short-term memory with pinene. This terp is a major anti-inflammatory, as well, which makes it good for easing several types of pain (e.g. most inflammatory autoimmune or chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis). Pinene is soothing for the tummy and digestive system. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial. It makes it easier to breathe by opening your airways, too.
Pinene’s aroma and its flavor aren’t any mystery. Think of pine, mountain air, and that woodsiness that transports you to the forest. Outside of cannabis, pinene is found in high concentrations in pine needles, orange peel, parsley, dill, basil, and rosemary. Did you know that pinene is the most prevalent terp in nature?
Limonene is another rock star in the world of terpenes. It increases the absorption of other terpenes in the body similarly to the way that cannabinoids work together in the Entourage Effect. Think of sunny, uplifting citrus and you have a great idea of limonene’s flavor profile and effects. It has a sweet citrus taste and sometimes a characteristic lemony-pine flavor comes out. Aside from cannabis, limonene is found within citrus rinds (e.g. lemon, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, lime), pine needles, and herbs such as peppermint, rosemary, juniper, and lemon balm.
Limonene helps ease depression and anxiety, energizes, uplifts, makes euphoria accessible, treats gastric distress, helps fight infection (bacterial and fungal), may help dissolve gallstones, aids in weight loss, promotes focus and an increased attention span— may, therefore, boost productivity— supports a healthy sex-drive, and generally makes life sunnier if you didn’t catch its vibe already. It’s a perfect terp for battling the winter blues or the blues of any kind.
Caryophyllene is all about relief. It relieves inflammation, pain, and digestive discomfort. This terp can help fight viruses and infections, so reach for strains high in caryophyllene when you’re sick. It is often included in topical preparations for its many benefits. Its peppery, woodsy, dry, and spicy aroma matches its flavor and is hard to miss. Caryophyllene tends to linger on the taste buds. It brings the heat. Black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, oregano, basil, hops, and rosemary are all heavy in caryophyllene.
Just as extra myrcene can boost your high, additional caryophyllene—minus THC— can mellow your high. That’s why chewing on peppercorns can help relieve uncomfortable symptoms associated with overmedicating or a bad trip. Caryophyllene’s superpower is that it is the only terpene that binds directly to the CB2 receptor of the endocannabinoid system, which makes it fantastic for helping ease the symptoms of autoimmune disorders and inflammatory conditions.
Linalool is, perhaps, most commonly associated with the aroma and flavor profile of lavender. However, that’s just one element of a much more complex terpene. It has an aroma and taste comprised of floral, spicy, and candy notes. Linalool is highly present in coriander, cilantro, basil, grapes, lavender, laurel, birch, and rosewood. Citrus is also a source of linalool!
Strains high in linalool may help soothe anxiety or help you chill after work. It’s a great go-to for finding calm, relieving stress, and taking the edge off pain without necessarily knocking you out. Linalool is inherently relaxing, so it makes sense that its highest concentrations are generally found in indica bud. If you’re a fan of mix-ins, toss a little lavender into your vape for an extra linalool boost no matter what you’re toking.
So, What Does This All Mean?
Terpenes are delicate compounds. Hit ‘em with too much heat, and they’ll burn off too quickly without sharing their medicinal magic. Understanding the basics of myrcene, pinene, limonene, caryophyllene, and linalool will help you identify the terps in your stash box. While this article highlights the five most prevalent terps, over 200 unique terpenes have been identified within cannabis. There’s always more to learn!
Let’s break down the basics: follow your nose when looking for symptom-relief and then let your taste buds lead the way while you’re medicating. If you’re not getting a full-bodied flavor, you need a device that lets you vape or dab at a cooler temp. Plant medicine is important. It isn’t cheap either, as you know. Don’t accidentally destroy your herb with high temps. Low and slow, fam. Preserve those terps, get medicated, and stay lifted. It’s what vape life is all about.