Terpenes: Get to Know What They Can Do for You

Terpenes: Get to Know What They Can Do for You

by Meghan Costa

Have you ever wondered why some cannabis strains smell sweet and citrusy, while others smell more like cloves and skunk? Many believe sativa strains smell floral and fruity, while indica’s smell like hops and spice. However, there is actually a lot more contributing to the smell and effects of the different cannabis strains: terpenes. 

What are Terpenes? 

Terpenes are organic compounds that can be found in every plants natural essential oils. These compounds are responsible for the “essence” (taste and smell) of a plant, as well as many of the plant’s medicinal properties. Terpenes are often extracted from plants and used in traditional medicines, food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and oil-based cannabis products.

Certain terpenes may help prevent medical disease or disorder, from serious illnesses like cancer to something as minor as the common cold. Terpenes are also effective in treating the symptoms of physical and mental illness, especially in combination with cannabinoids like thc and cbd. 

In cannabis, each strain contains a different amount of different terpenes. For example, a strain dominant in myrcene, caryophyllene and limonene will have different effects on a person compared to a strain dominant in myrcene, humulene and linalool. 

Common Cannabis Terpenes

The effects of a strain’s terpene profile in combination with a strain’s cannabinoid content helps the grower to determine whether a strain should be labeled sativa or indica dominant. 


The most abundant terpene across all cannabis strains, myrcene is responsible for the earthy, musky aroma of the cannabis plant. It has a tropical taste, and is also found in hops, mango, lemongrass and thyme. Myrcene is known for stimulating appetite, promoting sedation and encouraging stress and pain relief.  

Studies have proved that myrcene relaxes muscles and increases sleep time, but only in combination with sedating narcotics. Myrcene has proven effective in blocking the cancer-causing effects of aflatoxins, which are produced by fungi and can end up in human food. There is also evidence that myrcene, linalool and eucalyptol protect against DNA damage from toxins.  


Gives strains a citrusy smell and is known to elevate mood, reduce stress, promote weight loss, prevent depression and act as an antifungal and antibacterial. 

In mice, limonene vapor inhalation has been shown to positively affect regions of the brain that are associated with anxiety, depression and OCD. Limonene may also improve the absorption of other terpenes and chemicals through the skin, mucous membranes and digestive tract.


Best known for its spicy and peppery notes, caryophyllene is the only terpene known to also act as a cannabinoid by binding to CB2 receptors. 

Some studies have shown that caryophyllene helped relieve pain in lab mice. In another study, caryophyllene was shown to reduce voluntary alcohol intake in mice, indicating that the terpene could help treat substance use disorders. 

Caryophyllene has also been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may be beneficial for treating colitis. 


True to its name, this terpene smells of pine trees and can have anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effect on humans. It can also help improve airflow, respiratory function, focus and memory retention. 


First found in hops, this terpene aroma is earthy, woody and spicy. It can be useful for suppressing appetite, preventing bacterial infections and reducing  inflammation. In another study , researchers found that humulene plays an active role in fighting tumors and terminating cancer cells when combined with other terpenes and cannabinoids.  


Primarily found in lavender, Linalool’s sweet and floral notes encourage relaxation and stress relief. Those struggling with arthritis ,seizures, insomnia, neurodegenerative disease and even cancer have found aid in this amazing terpene. Linalool was proven effective in reversing cognitive and behavioral impairments present in genetic mouse models by reducing brain plaque and cellular tangles in the mice, which decreased their risk of brain degeneration. Researchers believe this study indicates that Linalool has potential for treating Alzheimers in humans. 

Linalool is also able to prevent Glucose, the excitatory chemical that is activated during seizures, from fully initiating. This suggests the terpene may have anti-epileptic properties, especially when in combination with Cannabidiol (CBD). 

Terpenes & Indica vs Sativa

Due to years of cross-breeding, most cannabis strains today are considered hybrids. A hybrid cannabis strain is traditionally thought to be a cross between a sativa strain and an indica strain. However, since most strains are considered hybrids, most strains tend to be a mix of sativa-leaning hybrids or indica-leaning hybrids. This can all get very confusing, which is why paying attention to terpene profiles is a far better way to ensure the strain your buying is right for you. 

Indica strains are generally believed to smell like cloves, pine and lavender, while sativas have a citrusy, floral smell. Limonene, known for its uplifting, energizing effects, tends to be a dominant terpene in most sativa strains. Linalool, a relaxing terpene, is usually found in higher quantities in indica strains. However, this is not always the case, especially as cross-breeding becomes more and more common. 

It is possible for some people to have adverse reactions if there is too much of one or more terpenes. For example, some people may be sensitive to pinene, so it is best for them to see out strains with low pinene content. This is why it is so important to check the lab results of strains in order to determine whether the strain is right for you, rather than trusting the arbitrary “indica” and “sativa” labels. 

The best way to keep track of which terpenes work well for you is to keep a cannabis journal. Write down how each strain makes you feel and the terpene content of that strain. Remember to always listen to your body and medicate consciously! 

About Meg Costa

Meg Costa

Meghan Costa is freelance journalist living in South Philadelphia, where she also works at her local dispensary. She is interested in helping others heal from psychological trauma through cannabis and other holistic methods, and plans to pursue a master’s counseling. In her free time, you can find Meghan biking around Philly, hiking with friends or cuddling with her cat June. 

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