Cannabis 101: Terpenes

Cannabis 101: Terpenes

When you begin researching cannabis and learning about the compounds in the cannabis plant you will first learn a bit about cannabinoids and shortly after you will learn about terpenes. Most people don’t have any clue what you are talking about when you mention terpenes, however, people who are more familiar with cannabis (or bioscience) and derivatives will get excited about the lemon scent from a recent Lemon Haze varietal they experienced.

The female cannabis plant produces flowers that produce trichomes, and those trichomes contain compounds that effect the body including cannabinoids and terpenes. As the average consumer knows, the first thing to do after purchasing cannabis is to stick your nose deep into the flower and take a long deep whiff. This is your first impression of the product that you will soon consume and can and should set your expectations for the effects it will have on your body after you consume them.

Terpenes, simply put, are scent molecules and are found throughout nature; they may trigger danger warnings, hunger, relaxation, or even awareness. The terms “Sativa” and “Indica” are often used to identify the expected effects of cannabis on the mind or body, whether it will help a consumer sleep or be more creative at work. However, the terms sativa and indica identify the type of leaf a cannabis plant has. Sativa identifies a narrow leaf, these strains are mostly found near the equator where the sun is strong and the days are long. Indica plants are identified by having a wide leaf, this is because they come from northern and southern hemispheres where there is less sun light and the wide leaf is an evolution of survival.

The terms sativa and indica don’t have anything to do with the effects of cannabis on the body. That being said, let’s look at the terpenes and where they come from vs their expected effects.

Terpene Source Expected Effect Other places found
Limonene Warm tropical zones Creativity, Alertness Lemons, Lemongrass
Pinene Norther hemisphere Alertness, Memory Pine trees, Rosemary
Caryophyllene Tropical areas Anti-anxiety Black Pepper, Cloves
Linalool Around the globe Relaxation, Calmness Lavender, Cinnamon
Humulene Primarily Northern Hemisphere Sedative, Appetite Suppressant Hops

Scent is one of the most primal senses of the human body and linked to the deepest areas of the brain. Scent would allow early humans to determine if something was dangerous or flavorful; this is the base principle for aromatherapy.

An easy example of aromatherapy in real life; think about your local pharmacy. The face washes often smell like orange or citrus, helps wake you up and refreshes you; while the bath bombs and bubbles are scented with lavender and olive oil that calm and relax the body. Terpene profiles on cannabis should be the key indicator for the anticipated effects of the product. Whereas cannabinoid profiles will give you a good sense of the biophysical effects.

Most cannabis today is a hybrid between the inidca and sativa strains and so the leaf shapes are all about the same, but the profiles can be very elaborate when they are fully analyzed. It is now easy to find high THC strains with high linalool content or CBD strains with limonene! Trying to qualify cannabis effects as “sativa” and “indica” has now become very difficult, and frankly, inaccurate. The best way for consumers and patients to identify the types of products they prefer is through trial and success.

Some terpenes, specifically those Cannabis 101 | Marijuana plant sativa strains terpeneswhich would cause a alertness or energy, may cause panic attacks and discomfort for the user. On the other side of that coin, a person who has experienced severe depression may have negative side effects from terpenes that promote sleep and relaxation.

There are a few things that are especially important for new consumers or consumers who are trying to target specific effects. First of all, get as much information as you can about the flower or product you are going to consume, what is the cannabinoid profile and what is the terpene profile, and what are the parent strains? Secondly, you want to consider what form is the product in? Flower will have the maximum natural cannabinoids and terpenes, products that are processed in different manners may have terpenes reintroduced in order to recreate the natural flavor and scent profile. Finally you should keep a journal for a few months as you try new varietals and profiles.