Have you ever wondered what terpenes are all about? If so, you’re in the right place. Terpenes are the naturally occurring compounds responsible for many of the flavors and fragrances found in plants. You consume terpenes every time you bite into a mango, drink a coffee, or sprinkle herbs in your pasta sauce.
Cannabis produces a wide variety of terpenes, and does so in abundance. When paired with the right cannabinoids, terpenes can produce a synergistic effect that improves upon the experience. This is known as the ‘entourage effect’, though the actual effect can vary greatly, as each terpene has its own unique properties to consider. Some terpenes are even being studied for therapeutic use.
But with over 150 terpenes discovered in cannabis, how do you choose? There’s no shortage of high quality terpenes on the market, and the decision can seem overwhelming. Thankfully, there’s the terpene chart.
What is a terpene chart?
Terpene charts are a helpful guide to understanding the individual properties of each terpene. They typically focus on the terpenes most commonly found in cannabis, such as: myrcene, limonene, pinene, linalool, caryophyllene, and humulene. Terpene charts come in many shapes and sizes, but we prefer using the wheel chart.
To look up information about a terpene on the chart, start at the edge, then work your way in towards the center. Terpenes are differentiated from one another by color, with each terpene having its own colored slice of the pie, or wheel. In each slice you will find information on the aroma, benefits, and boiling point of each terpene.
Why are terpenes important?
Whether it’s the wafting whisper of a tray of fresh baked cookies, or the zesty tang of a juiced lime, everyone loves a good smell—and cannabis presents many of them. The fragrance of cannabis derived terpenes may differ depending on the specific strain involved, but can be described as: diesel, skunky, floral, grassy, cheesy, earthy, woody, piney, citrusy, peppery, fruity, sweet, vanilla, pastry, and more.
Aside from olfactory nirvana, terpenes offer an array of potent effects and benefits. When combined with cannabinoids, they provide a synergistic effect, also known as the ‘entourage effect’. This helps you customize your experience to get the most out of your cannabinoids.
For example, if you’re seeking a sativa-type experience, you may want to consider limonene or pinene heavy terpenes, which have an energizing effect. These terpenes would pair well with uplifting cannabinoids like CBDV. If you prefer a more indica-type experience, you might think about trying myrcene or linalool based terpenes, which have a more calming effect, and would mix well with cannabinoids like CBD, CBN, or CBNo. The versatility of terpenes makes them an invaluable tool to have on hand.
How are terpenes made?
There are many different methods and techniques used in making terpenes. It’s important to be aware of these differences, as they have a significant effect on the final quality. The three major categories of terpenes to be aware of are: synthetic, botanical, and cannabis derived.
Synthetically derived terpenes are created by blending and manipulating chemicals to create innovative smell and taste combinations that are not found in terpenes from any organic source. These terpenes are used widely across multiple industries, though they are not common in the cannabis industry, as they tend to produce a ‘one-dimensional’ or ‘artificial’ smell that is not very comparable to the natural terpene profiles found cannabis.
Botanically derived terpenes on the other hand, are extracted exclusively from plants. Technically, this categorization includes cannabis derived terpenes as well. But typically when it comes to cannabis, the term ‘botanically derived’ is used to describe plant derived terpenes from a non-cannabis source, such as cloves, citrus, lavender, or pine. Botanically derived terpenes aim to replicate the naturally occurring mixture of chemicals found in cannabis, but due to differences in terpene makeup, can sometimes have a ‘sweet’ or ‘candy-like’ aroma.
Cannabis derived terpenes are extracted exclusively from cannabis. This encompasses THC dominant, CBD dominant (including hemp), and other types of cannabis. Because these terpenes are extracted directly from cannabis plants, they have a much more ‘natural’ or ‘realistic’ fragrance that is similar to what you’d experience with cannabis products which have left their terpenes intact.
Besides the starting material, there is also the method of extraction to consider. The two most popular terpene extraction methods today are steam distillation and CO2 extraction. These methods can be used with any organic material, including cannabis.
Steam distillation (also known as vacuum steam distillation) uses pressure and steam to separate terpenes from other components in the plant. Steam vaporizes the compounds and then sends them through a condensation and collection process for further purification, leaving a very clean product that is true to the original source.
CO2 extraction (also known as supercritical carbon dioxide extraction) uses CO2 to extract terpenes. It is a fine-tuned process that uses lower temperatures to preserve the terpene profile better than steam distillation, but costs significantly more as a result.
How do I use terpenes?
Terpenes can be consumed alongside your regular cannabinoids. You should not use undiluted terpenes. For isolate or distillate, we recommend adding terpenes at a concentration of around 5-10% by weight. You can add more or less depending on your preference.
Adding terpenes to your concentrate blend is incredibly easy. To begin, heat your cannabinoids until they reach a liquid state. You can do this by using an oven, candle warmer, hairdryer, hot water bath, or any other source of heat capable of reaching 140–190°F (60–87°C). When it has finished heating, pour in your pre-measured terpenes and mix gently until you have a homogenous blend. Avoiding heating past the boiling point of either your terpenes or your cannabinoids, as this may affect the quality. Let the mixture sit until cool for safe handling.
If using flower or certain concentrates (such as live rosin) there is no need to add terpenes, as these products already contain naturally produced terpenes. Similarly, some edibles and distillate blends have had terpenes added to them. If you’re ever unsure, you can always check the certificate of analysis (COA) for a full list of terpenes. Understanding which terpenes you consume is essential to understanding their effects.
Which terpenes are best for me?
The answer to this question varies greatly. Some people are smell-hunters that care only for the fragrance of their terpenes, and may be seeking a specific strain profile. Others choose terpenes based on the effects they provide, or the way they synergize with certain cannabinoids.
Regardless of what you’re after, it always helps to stay informed. If you’ve read the terpene chart and are still undecided, try checking out the information below:
Myrcene is one of the most abundant terpenes found in cannabis, and is responsible for many of its characteristic scents, such as skunky or musky aromas. Some strains high in myrcene are Blue Dream, Remedy, and Grape Ape. Myrcene can also be found in thyme, bay leaves, and lemongrass. Myrcene is known to have a sedative effect, and is currently being studied for its anxiolytic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and analgesic properties.
Limonene, as its name might suggest, has a distinctly citrusy fragrance which carries tones of lemon, grapefruit, orange, lime, and tangerine. Strains high in limonene include Jack Herer, OG Kush, and Lemon Diesel. Besides cannabis and citrus fruits, limonene can also be found in juniper, peppermint, and rosemary. Limonene has an energizing effect, and is being researched for its possible anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antinociceptive, antiviral, and gastroprotective effects.
Pinene has a crisp, sharp smell that is reminiscent of a pine forest or Christmas tree. Strains with high levels of pinene include Cannatonic, Harlequin, and Trainwreck. Pinene is present in plants such as conifers, sage, parsley, and orange peels. It also provides cerebral clarity, and has promising research showing it may also have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anxiolytic, and analgesic benefits.
Linalool is one of the most powerful terpenes found in cannabis. It has a sweet or floral fragrance. Some strains high in linalool include: Granddaddy Purple, Zkittlez, and Do Si Dos. Linalool also has a potent calming effect, and can be found in lavender, birch bark and rosewood. There are studies showing linalool may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anxiolytic, and pro-cognitive potential.
Caryophyllene, or β-caryophyllene, provides a peppery or spicy aroma which can be found in strains like Girl Scout Cookies, Death Star, or Gelato. It’s also present in plants like black pepper, cloves, or rosemary. Caryophyllene isn’t known for its psychoactive effects, but it is being studied for its potential anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-microbial, and immunomodulatory properties.
Humulene is very similar to caryophyllene, and is also known as α-caryophyllene. Many plants and cannabis strains which contain humulene also contain β-caryophyllene, and vice versa. Humulene has a more woody or earthy smell than caryophyllene, and can be found in strains such as Wedding Cake, Headband, or White Widow. It can also be found in plants like coriander, hops, or basil. Humulene is purported to have an anorectic, or appetite suppressing effect, and is a topic of research for its purported anti-inflammatory, anti-histamic, and anti-bacterial effects.
There are also other terpenes which may play a minor role, such as: alpha-biasabolol, eucalyptol, trans-nerolido, delta-3-carene, camphene, borneol, isoborneol, terpineol, valencene, geraniol, guaiol, farnesene, ocimene, phytol, cymene, sabinene, phellandrene, fenchol, octanol, isopulegol, cedrene, geranyl acetate, bergamotene, pulegon, camphor, menthol, and many more.
Despite the fact that terpenes have a long and illustrious history of safe human use, their therapeutic studies are still ongoing. For this reason, we do not recommend the use of terpenes to cure or treat any disease. Any information provided is for educational purposes only.
We hope that this chart has given you everything you need to know about the versatile smell, taste, and effect of terpenes.