Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

Written by Heather Ritchie

Research Illustrates How Terpenes Work Cohesively to Create Maximum Health Benefits

Today society is starting to realize the medical benefit of cannabis and research shows that this plant provides therapeutic benefits on a variety of levels. Cannabis consists of a variety of compounds and chemicals. Approximately 140 of these belong to a large class of organic hydrocarbons called terpenes.

Terpenes, or isoprenoids, are volatile, fragrant molecules that dissipate easily and provide cannabis with its unique aroma and flavor properties.  These molecules consist of small repetitious units of the compound isoprene.

People are generally less familiar with terpenes than cannabis; however, terpenes are vital to the psychoactive and physiological effects of cannabis. Similar to cannabinoids, terpenes bind to receptors in the brain and stimulate effects like relieving pain, aiding sleep, and reducing inflammation. They also affect the chemical production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Often used interchangeably with terpenoids, they differ in that terpenoids are chemically modified or changed through the process of oxidation.




The Entourage Effect

Israeli researchers Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat introduced the entourage effect in 1998. Their study supports the hypothesis that all natural components found in cannabis like cannabinoids and terpenes, combine synergistically to enhance their beneficial effects.  The study suggests that the cannabis compounds alone aren’t nearly as effective as when they act synergistically.

Some terpenes inhibit or catalyze the formation of the variety of compounds in the plant. Thorough studies of the function of terpenes help scientists manipulate cannabinoids to specific ratios.

Common Terpenes

There is a distinctive terpene profile for each cannabis strain, as strains produce their own unique concentration and a line-up of terpenes. Here are four of the most common terpenes found in high amounts in cannabis.


Myrcene is the most abundantly found terpene in cannabis.  It dictates whether a strain has a Sativa or Indica effect. Known for its musky, earthy aroma, it creates the stereotypical cannabis smell. It’s also found in plants like lemongrass and mango. Strains that have less than 0.5% of myrcene provide an energizing effect and those over 0.5% create a more sedate high.


Limonene is the primary terpene in cannabis with a significant Sativa effect. It is highly absorbed and promotes a positive mood and attitude. Limonene smells citrusy and enhances terpenes absorption through the epidermis. This terpene may block chemicals that form cancer and prevent cancer growth. Rosemary and peppermint are other plants that contain limonene.




This terpene binds to the cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) and stimulates and anti-inflammatory reaction. Caryophyllene smells peppery, spice, or woody and when dispensed with cannabinoids, it diminishes chronic pain. In addition, it’s found in black pepper, Thai basil, and cinnamon.


Found in more than 200 plant varieties, Linalool’s scent is floral, evocative of spring flowers. It’s best known as a sleep aid because of its help with relaxation.   Linalool is also thought to help reduce anxiety caused from too much THC. Additional studies illustrate that this terpene reduces lung inflammation and may possibly reverse histopathological properties of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cannabis in the Future

The future of the cannabis industry seems to be focused on the isolation of the cannabis compound. Terpene extraction will introduce new applications and products to the world and will help researchers refine their medicinal properties to take full advantage of their diverse health benefits.



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Heather Ritchie

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