Terpenes (general)

Terpenes 101: Discovering Cannabis Aromatherapy

Most Cannabis buds are green, but not every strain of Cannabis will have the same smell or flavor. In fact, the aromatic composition of each strain will vary, depending on its genetics. The genetics of a strain will influence its terpene profile.

What is the definition of a terpene?

In simple terms, Cannabis terpenes are fragrant, naturally-occurring chemicals that are produced by the flower’s resin glands. These sticky glands secrete the organic compounds in the form of an oil. Also secreted in the resin glands are the two main cannabinoids that produce medical and euphoric effects – cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Thus far, an estimated 200 types of Cannabis terpenes have been discovered. It’s not just Cannabis that produces these organic hydrocarbons (which may also be referred to as “terpenoids” or “isoprenoids”) but also, various herbs, plants and fruits that form the botanical world.

What are the different types of terpenes?

Terpenes have long been acknowledged for their therapeutic benefits. This was confirmed by Dr. Ethan Russo in a 2001 report on the phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Generally, the terpenes found in the Cannabis plant will be categorized as “primary” or “secondary.”

By discovering exactly which type of terpene gives Cannabis its unique smell and taste, you can better select a strain that pleases your palate, or may provide enhanced medical benefit for a specific ailment.

Highlighted below are the most common types of primary and secondary terpenes:

Primary Terpenes

  • α-pinene – Widely found in the oils of pine trees (among many other tree species,) this terpene is clear and colorless with a smell of turpentine. Scientific studies show it to be a powerful anti-inflammatory.
  • Linalool – This terpene is favored by medical Cannabis users who are want to overcome opioid addiction. The scent is spicy, yet floral.
  • Myrcene – One of Cannabis‘ most common terpenes, myrcene has been linked to pain relief. It has an earthy scent with undertones of cloves, red grape and musk.
  • Limonene – Abundantly found in citrus fruit peel terpenes, limonene is a fresh-smelling terpene that is used for weight loss and to relieve cancer-related symptoms.
  • Terpinolene – Inhale the pleasant waft of flowers, herbs, citrus and pine when you stock up on sativa-dominant strains. These Cannabis strains tend to contain high levels of terpinolene. It is an antioxidant and sedative with antibacterial, antifungal and anticancer benefits.
  • Geraniol – Otherwise known as lemonol, this terpene has a fruity odor that blends the scent of passionfruit with plums, peaches and citronella. It is antifungal and can be used as a neuroprotectant.
  • Ocimene – High levels of this herbal/woody/citrus terpene are found in strains like Golden Goat, Strawberry Cough and Lemon Sour Diesel. Ocimene is a decongestant with antiseptic properties.
  • β-Caryophyllene – An anxiety and depression-buster, this peppery terpene has been exposed for its ability to treat neuropathic pain and inflammation.
  • Valencene – The aroma of this terpene is sweet and citrusy. High levels of Valencene can be found in OG Kush and Jack Herer. It is used as an anxiolytic and antimalarial medicine.
  • Terpineol – Tickle your nose hairs with the smell of lilacs when you handle buds that test positive for terpineol. Soothing and calming, terpineol is usually one of the first three types of terpenes contained in Cannabis. The others are valencene and geraniol.
  • α-humulene – Not only is humulene a primary Cannabis terpene, but it is also a primary terpene found in hops. Otherwise known as alpha-caryophyllene, humulene is a mish-mash of spices and herbs. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and Pharmacokinetic.

Secondary Terpenes

  • Phellandrene – Also found in eucalyptus plants, this herbaceous terpene is slightly minty. Traditionally, Phellandrene was used as a Chinese medicine for treating digestive problems.
  • Carene – Pungent yet pleasant, carene is crammed with goodness. The terpene boasts anti-inflammatory qualities that make it suitable for patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Fenchol – Commonly used to make perfume, this aromatic terpene smells woody with a hint of lemon.
  • Terpinene – If your Cannabis smells earthy, it probably contains this secondary terpene. When tested on rats, terpinene had anticancer effects.
  • Borneol – A therapeutic terpene also believed to have anticancer properties, borneol has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
  • Bisabolol – Some people consider this to be a primary terpenoid, but it usually falls under the secondary category. Bisabolol is mildly floral and possesses antibacterial benefits.
  • Camphene – Said to fight cardiovascular disease and lower cholesterol, camphene smells somewhat similar to fir needles.
  • Phytol – Frequently found in hemp plants, this terpene is a natural pain reliever with a scent that has been likened to jasmine.
  • Camphor – Easy to turn into menthol, camphor can be used as a mild chest rub.
  • Sabinene – This delicious terpene has oak, pepper and spice accents. It is favored among vapers.
  • Isoborneol – Not only does this terpene have a very special bouquet but also, it has antiviral properties.
  • Menthol – Some people will select strains with a menthol terpene profile as a way of relieving stress.
  • Nerolidol – Also found in lemongrass and tea tree, nerolidol is antiparasitic terpene contained in strains like Skywalker OG and Jack Herer.
  • Cedrene – Fight insomnia with this terpene, which acts as a natural insect repellent.
  • Isopulegol – An antioxidant with anticancer properties, this minty terpene may also work as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Cymene – Usually present in small quantities, this terpene has a carrot-orange scent.
  • Pulegone – Candymakers favor this terpene, which smells a bit like peppermint.
  • Eucalyptol – A popular terpene used to create body lotions, mouthwashes and such, eucalyptol has been linked to a reduction in blood pressure and pain.
  • Geranyl Acetate – Recreational Cannabis users will enjoy the taste of this floral/fruity secondary terpene.
  • Guaiol – Indica strains generally contain more guaiol than others. The smell is fresh and piney.

What is the importance of terpene testing?

Consumers of medical and recreational marijuana will need to know precisely what is contained in their product. This is where terpene testing comes in. Conducted inside laboratories, terpene profile analysis utilizes the correct methodology and equipment to reveal the molecular DNA, if you will, of each strain.

Cure methods and harvest procedures may affect a plant’s terpene profile. Testing will also unearth a product’s purity and ensure it was not exposed to environmental contaminants during the cultivation stage, such as fungus and toxins.

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Terpenes and Testing

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