Cannabis Guide: Understanding Terpenes

If you’re reading this, you are interested in understanding terpenes. But what are they, exactly? Terpenes are fragrant essential oils that are produced by plants. They are responsible for the unique scents of different cannabis strains and play a role in the plant’s effects. This guide will thoroughly explore terpenes and explain how they work within the cannabis plant and the endocannabinoid system.

What are Terpenes?

There’s a reason you can smell weed before you see it — and the reason is terpenes! Terpenes, naturally occurring aromatic compounds, are found in the oils of all plants, and they’re responsible for the unique scent and flavor of cannabis.

Terpenes are produced in tiny resin glands on the flowering buds’ surface. They work with cannabinoids like THC and CBD to create a synergistic effect known as the entourage effect (we’ll get to this later). This means terpenes can modify and even enhance the effects of cannabinoids in cannabis.

The Nature of Terpenes

In nature, terpenes, with their distinct aromas, are used in protecting plants from animal grazing and infectious germs and pests. While some terpenes play a more active part in helping a plant maintain its homeostasis and heal from physical damage, other terpenes strengthen its immune system. These terpenes also help plants attract pollinators. 

In humans, terpenes interact with the receptors like GABA receptors and adenosine receptors to supplement the effects of THC and CBD. In addition to the beautiful aromas and flavors, terpenes add to the cannabis experience, they provide potential health benefits to users. The specific therapeutic or medicinal effect terpenes have on the human body depends on the chemical composition of the terpene. 

Let’s read on to find out more about how terpenes affect the human body. 

Terpenes and the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a receptor pathway in the human body that interacts with cannabinoids like THC and CBD. It’s responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or balance, throughout the body. The ECS essentially regulates the functioning of the central and peripheral nervous systems and includes receptors like CB1 and CB2. These are located in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs. These regulate things like:

  • Pain.
  • Mood.
  • Sleep.
  • Stress.
  • Appetite.
  • Immune function.

When THC binds to CB1 receptors in the brain, it causes psychological effects such as euphoria and relaxation. On the other hand, when CBD binds to CB2 receptors in the body, it helps reduce inflammation.

Terpenes also interact with the endocannabinoid system by binding to cannabinoid receptors like CB1 and CB2. They can act as agonists or antagonists of these receptors and change how THC and CBD interact with the receptor sites. They can produce therapeutic effects like pain management, anti-inflammation, and reduced anxiety. For example, some terpenes are energizing, while others can be sedating. Understanding how terpenes interact with the endocannabinoid system helps us identify which cannabis strains are best for different needs.

New research suggests that terpenes also interact with the serotonin and dopamine systems. However, further research is needed to fully understand the different ways in which terpenes actually affect the human body. 

Effects & Benefits of Cannabis Terpenes

While they are known for the aroma and flavor they bring to cannabis, terpenes aren’t just about that. They are also known to produce clear therapeutic effects in users. Unlike cannabinoids like THC, terpenes do not produce psychoactive effects. This means they do not get you ‘high.’ Instead, they have healing effects and therapeutic properties but do this without accompanying mind-altering outcomes.

Let’s take a look at some benefits of using terpenes in cannabis: 

  • Anticancer: Recent research suggests that terpenes such as limonene can be helpful as anticancer and antitumor agents that stunt the development of tumors. Limonene has demonstrated several chemotherapeutic properties, and other terpenes like pinene, camphor, terpinene, and beta-myrcene. 
  • Pain relief: Terpenes can relieve pain and affect pain perception, which is why they are often used to treat chronic pain. Terpenes like humulene, geraniol, linalool, and β-pinene have shown promising results for pain management. 
  • Anti-depressant: Antidepressants often actually have a range of terpenes in them. Linalool and beta-pinene are most commonly used as anti-depressants. In fact, 25% of antidepressant drugs contain herbal extracts with terpenes. Terpenes are also helpful in managing stress and anxiety. For example, Linalool, found in lavender flowers, has anti-anxiety properties.
  • Sedative: Terpenes can also help people suffering from insomnia. Linalool exhibits excellent sedative properties. Myrcene, another terpene, is another excellent sedative and muscle relaxant.  
  • Anti-microbial: Several terpenes are excellent at killing harmful microorganisms. This is why terpenes like limonene are used in cleaning products and room fresheners. 

While there isn’t enough research about how these effects are produced, anecdotal evidence suggests that terpenes can be effective.

How Terpenes May Alter the Effects of Cannabinoids

In the cannabis plant, terpenes work together with cannabinoids like THC and CBD to produce a synergistic effect that can be very beneficial. This is known as the entourage effect — and understanding it has been vital in understanding how cannabis works.

The effects of different terpenes depend on the type of terpene present in the cannabis, but there are a few common effects:

  1. Terpenes may help cannabinoids to be absorbed more easily.
  2. Terpenes may increase the efficiency of cannabinoids in attaching to ECS receptors.
  3. The metabolic rate of cannabinoids may decrease when terpenes are present.
  4. Terpenes may produce similar effects to cannabinoids, though they operate through separate mechanisms.
  5. Terpenes may reduce or eliminate the negative side effects of cannabinoids.

Beyond this, let’s talk about that synergistic effect. When you consume cannabis, dozens of terpenes can be found in your body. Each one of these terpenes interacts with the other cannabinoids, and in doing so, they create a unique set of effects that are different from what would happen if the cannabinoid was taken alone.

The entourage effect is still being studied but understanding how it works is a major breakthrough in understanding the medicinal properties of cannabis. It helps us better understand why some types of cannabis provide different effects than others and also guides us on understanding how to best use cannabis to get the maximum benefit out of it.

The Entourage Effect

In recent years, research has shown that using both cannabinoids and terpenes together produces a far more balanced and holistic cannabis experience. This synergy between the two is known as the entourage effect. The idea here is to use different aspects of the cannabis plant to feel a fuller and enhanced high. 

Terpenes can soften the psychoactive elements of THC and modulate the high so that it isn’t overwhelming. Terpenes are also known to temper the side effects of THC, such as anxiety, paranoia, and increased heart rate. 

For example, linalool, a commonly found terpene, is believed to enhance the sedative effects of THC, while Alpha pinene does the exact opposite. So, if you know what kind of high you are looking for, you can choose the right combination of terpenes and cannabinoids that will deliver a smooth and exact experience. 

Similarly, terpenes also enable better absorption of cannabinoids when applied topically. Terpenes lower the blood-to-brain barrier, making it easier for cannabinoids to be absorbed through the skin. The examples of such synchronicity between most terpenes and cannabinoids are endless! 

The entourage effect results in a positive collaboration between terpenes and cannabinoids where the sum of both is better than the effects they could produce separately.  

Common Terpenes in Cannabis

You might not have realized it, but you are already familiar with many terpenes that make their way into day-to-day products, other plants, and fruits. The smell of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons is produced by a terpene called limonene. Similarly, the minty smell and flavor used in lozenges come from a terpene called eucalyptol which is known to provide respiratory benefits in addition to its cool and forest-like aroma. 


This is one of the most commonly found terpenes. Besides cannabis extract, myrcene can also be found in hops, thyme, mango, and lemongrass. It has a distinct earthy and musky scent.

Of its various benefits, its anti-inflammatory effects are the most useful. Myrcene’s other benefits include pain relief, its sedative effects, and its role in cartilage degeneration in arthritis. Cannabis strains that contain myrcene include OG Kush, Critical Mass, and Purple Urkle. 


Pinene is an earthy-scented terpene found most commonly in pine trees, basil, cannabis, dill, parsley, and rosemary. Essentially, this terpene smells like pine needles and has that citrusy and peppery smell.

It is anti-inflammatory and is therefore used in many topical creams and lotions. Also, pinene helps boost energy levels and improve concentration and memory. Strains of cannabis that are high in pinene include Harlequin, Blue Dream, and Bubba Kush. 


Limonene produces the distinct citrusy scent we associate with lemons and oranges. This terpene is most commonly used in cleaning products due to its antimicrobial properties.

Limonene also helps with pain management, inflammation, insomnia, stress, and nausea. Strains of cannabis that boast limonene terpenes include Lemon OG, Bruce Banner, and OG Kush. 


Linalool has a lovely floral scent that is most commonly associated with lavender. It is also found in birch trees and coriander. Linalool has many therapeutic properties, such as fighting inflammation, lowering anxiety, and (miraculously) the ability to stave off mosquitoes! Strains of cannabis that contain linalool include Lavender Kush and Granddaddy Purple. 


Humulene’s aroma has spicy and herby notes. It is usually found in ginseng and has been used in folk medicine for centuries. Its benefits include accelerating wound healing, reducing inflammation, and pain relief. Strains of cannabis that contain humulene include White Widow, Skywalker OG, and Sour Diesel. 


This terpene’s sweet and floral aroma can be found in mangoes, kumquats, mint, parsley, and orchids. It is often used in perfumes for its delicate and flowery scent. As a therapeutic terpene, ocimene has been used to reduce inflammation and pain. It also has antitumor and anticonvulsant properties. Strains of cannabis containing ocimene include Strawberry Cough and Lemon Sour Diesel.  


Geraniol’s fruity aroma is reminiscent of roses. It is found in lemongrass, rose oil, lemons, geraniums, and peaches. It is used to help patients manage symptoms of diabetes and atherosclerosis because of its anti-inflammatory effect and antioxidant properties. Cannabis strains with geraniol include Harlequin, Dutch Hawaiian, and Tahoe OG.   


Found in cloves, black pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and rosemary, Caryophyllene is a terpene that smells distinctly like pepper. It is known to help with inflammation, anxiety, pain, stress, and depression. Caryophyllene also helps halt the advance of cancer cells. Cannabis strains containing caryophyllene include Sour Diesel, Cookies and Cream, and Chemdog. 


This minty and cooling terpene is found in eucalyptus leaves, rosemary bay leaves, tea trees, and wormwood. Eucalyptol is especially useful when dealing with respiratory issues such as breathlessness, asthma, or bronchitis. In addition, it is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Cannabis strains that contain eucalyptol include Bubba Kush and Girl Scout Cookies.  


Camphene is a terpene that smells earthy, musky, and just like a forest. It is found in cypress oil and citronella. Camphene has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to reduce pain. In addition, it is known to lower cholesterol and boost heart health. Cannabis strains that contain camphene include ACDC and Banana Kush.  

Start Your Terpene Journey

With so much information and constant chatter about cannabinoids like CBD and THC, terpenes have mostly existed in the shadows. But with new research and anecdotal experience, they’re slowly emerging out of the shadows and amassing quite a fan following! 

If you are a new cannabis user and looking to experiment with different kinds of products, knowing about terpenes is an absolute must. Cannabinoids aren’t the only cannabis compounds that produce physical and mental effects. Other compounds like terpenes mentioned above also play a huge role in tempering and moderating those effects, adding lovely aromas and flavors to the experience. 

At WHTC LA in Studio City, we pride ourselves on running our dispensary by the motto “Here to Help, Here to Heal.” Our staff is always ready to assist customers who want to learn more about cannabis and its many components. We’d be happy to guide you through the basics and help you choose high-quality products perfectly suited to your needs. 

Swing by our dispensary located on Cahuenga Blvd, or order online here