Terpenes are the main class of aromatic compounds found in hemp and many other plants. They are the molecules that are responsible for the scent, flavor and sometimes even the effect on the human body.* The most fascinating characteristic of terpenes is their ability to interact with other compounds in the plant and activate synergistic benefits called “The Entourage Effect.”*
Hemp has hundreds of terpenes that work together to activate other compounds in the plant. Studies suggest that terpenes may adjust the strength of individual cannabinoids, like Cannabidiol (CBD), improving the overall benefits of hemp.* Because our sense of smell is linked to emotion and memory centers in the brain, it is believed that there is a “cause and effect” between the scent of terpenes and improved overall mood.*
Do hemp terpenes contain CBD?
Terpenes do not contain CBD. As a cannabinoid, CBD is a distinct type of compound that exists alongside, but independently of, terpenes. Terpenes instead promote particular aromas and flavors, as well as alter the way cannabinoids like CBD interact with the series of receptors found throughout the brain and body known as the endogenous cannabinoid system.* Because of this, terpenes are thought to play a role in augmenting cannabinoid effects.* Each cultivar of hemp and cannabis has a unique combination of terpenes known as its “terpene profile.”
Terpenes are an influential compound in their own right, and the varying combinations of terpenes have made them significant to many consumers. There are hundreds of terpenes found in cannabis plants, but a few stand out from the crowd. Here are the top 8 terpenes in hemp.
Myrcene is often regarded as one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis plants. In a given strain of cannabis, myrcene could represent between 30% and 65% of the essential oils extracted from the plant.
Myrcene is known for its musky and earthy aroma, underscored by a hint of cloves. And while the scents evoke a peaceful forest meditation, so too do its characteristics; myrcene is thought to support relaxation and temporarily aid in sleep during occasional periods of sleeplessness.*
Also found in hops, lemongrass, parsley, and wild thyme, myrcene is familiar to many of us already. It is commonly extracted and used in a wide range of products, including perfumes and foods.
- Scent: musky, herbal, earthy scent with hint of cloves
- Benefits: relaxing*, supports sleep, known antioxidant*
- Fun Facts: also found in mango, lemongrass, thyme and hops
Caryophyllene is another terpene commonly found in cannabis and hemp plants. It is thought to primarily interact with the CB2 receptor of the endocannabinoid system.
Caryophyllene is easily recognizable by the spicy, pepper-like aroma and taste that it gives off. It’s no surprise by this scent and flavor that caryophyllene is found in black pepper, oregano, cloves, basil, and rosemary as well.
- Scent: woody, spicy with a hint of pepper and cloves
- Benefits: activates the cannabinoid receptor, CB2
- Fun Facts: also found in black pepper, cloves and cinnamon
Linalool is most commonly linked with lavender, but it is also a major terpene in many different cannabis cultivars. As you might expect from a lavender-based terpene, it tends to give off a floral scent. Surprisingly, though, it tends to promote a hint of spice.
Linalool is thought to reduce stress and could be the primary source of lavender’s stress-relieving properties as well.* In addition, it is thought to serve as an terpene that supports the immune system.* Finally, linalool could promote more restful sleep during occasional periods of sleeplessness.
- Scent: floral with a hint of spice and lavender
- Benefits: mood enhancement*, anti-microbial, immune system support*, stress reducer*
- Fun Facts: also found in lavender
Pinene is aptly named for its scent: smell this terpene, and you’ll immediately recognize a familiar scent: pine. There are two types of pinene, known as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Generally, alpha-pinene is the terpene discussed when examining it in cannabis.
Pinene is thought to contribute to alertness and mental acuity.* In addition to cannabis, pinene is also found in pine trees, pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley, and orange peels.
- Scent: pine
- Benefits: promotes alertness and memory retention*
- Fun Facts: also found in orange peels, conifer trees, pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil and parsley
Beer drinkers are likely already familiar with humulene, as it is highly concentrated in the hops used during the brewing process. Hops contain between 20% and 50% humulene, but it is commonly found in strains of cannabis as well.
As you might expect, humulene offers a hoppy aroma that could be described as earthy and woody. In addition to hops and cannabis, humulene is also found in coriander, cloves, and basil.
- Scent: woody and earthy with hints of hops
- Fun Facts: also found in hops, coriander, cloves and basil
Another well-named terpene, limonene, gives off the unmistakable scent of citrus. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that limonene is often used as an ingredient in food flavorings and cleaning products alike. It is also often used in skincare products to improve absorption through the epidermis.
In cannabis, limonene is thought to act as a stress-reliever and mood enhancer, adding a buoyancy to the consumption experience.* Beyond cannabis, limonene is found in oranges, rosemary, juniper, peppermint, and a variety of fruit rinds.
- Scent: citrus
- Benefits: mood enhancer*, stress reliever*
- Fun Facts: responsible for the scent of an orange, also found in fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper and peppermint
Ocimene is not quite as common as myrcene or linalool, but it is still commonly found in cannabis and hemp plants. The aroma produced by ocimene is often described as sweet, herbal, and woody. Sometimes, ocimene is associated with undertones of citrus, as well.
Outside of cannabis plants, ocimene is also found in mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes, orchids, and kumquats -- in many cases in higher concentrations.
- Scent: sweet, herbal, woody
- Fun Facts: also found in mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes, orchids and kumquats
Last but not least is terpinolene, a terpene found throughout a wide variety of cannabis strains. It is notable for its pine and floral aroma with hints of herbal scents.
In addition to cannabis, terpinolene is found in nutmeg, tea trees, conifer trees, apples, cumin, and lilacs.
- Scent: piney, floral, herbal
- Benefits: antioxidant and relaxing properties*
- Fun Facts: also found in nutmeg, tea tree, conifer trees, apples, cumin and lilacs
Terpenes are as important as cannabinoids
Cannabinoids might get all the press, and understandably so; they are, after all, unique to cannabis and hemp plants. However, without terpenes, cannabinoids would be far less effective, not to mention far less flavorful. Terpenes are the faithful sidekicks to cannabinoids, but they’re far from a background character. These eight terpenes are among the most well-known, but there are hundreds more out there in cannabis and countless other plants worldwide. The possibilities for terpenes are endless.