What are Terpenes?

cannabis leaf

As cannabis continues to shed taboo social connotations and become further engrained in common culture, there continues to be increasing exposure to cannabis-related terms such as cannabinoid, THC, and CBD. One term which is not as well publicized but of equal importance is the term terpene.  Terpenes are a class of molecular compounds found in the ever-complex cannabis plant.

But what are terpenes? And why should you know which types and concentrations are in cannabis before you buy a product?

Terpenes are often described as hydrocarbons that occur in plant essential oils, and they are most commonly known in conifers (most evergreen plants). In cannabis, we define terpenes as compounds that occur naturally in the trichomes of cannabis plants. The chemical compounds they secrete give fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs their signature scents. There are over 100 identified terpenes, many of which are unique to the cannabis plant.

Although cannabis is often generally associated with a certain musky aroma, each strain of cannabis has its own distinct scent. The individual scent of a strain will be based on the concentration and type of terpenes present. Terpene scents can range from earthy, woodsy, herbal, spicy, diesel or cheesy, all the way to citrusy or sweet.

Why are Terpenes Important?

Given individual preferences for smell and taste, knowing the terpene profile of a cannabis product can help consumers select a scent and flavour profile that best suits their interests. Furthermore, while terpenes are not intoxicating in and of themselves, it is commonly believed that they play a role in what is known as the entourage effect. This latter term refers to the theory that terpenes have a synergist impact on cannabinoids, such that they potentiate the experience.

Beyond the recreational cannabis experience, many terpenes are associated with various types of plants and herbs used in naturopathic remedies and it has been theorized that terpenes play a role in the physiological effects of cannabis. For instance, linalool, a common terpene found in lavender, may be associated with relaxation.

There are over one hundred known terpenes in cannabis. These are six of the most common terpenes found in cannabis:

  • Myrcene: Found in mangos, myrcene has antifungal and antibacterial properties and is thought to have sedating effects.
  • Pinene: The piney scent of beta-pinene can be found in any coniferous forest and this terpene is believed to have potentially both anti-depressant and anti-cancer properties.
  • Limonene: One of the most commonly occurring terpenes, limonene has distinct citrus notes and may potentially have anti-cancer properties. In mice, it has been shown to have anti-anxiety properties.
  • Linalool: People who enjoy lavender as aromatherapy may want to seek out cannabis with linalool, as it may help alleviate stress.
  • Beta-Caryophyllene: A major ingredient in cloves, rosemary, and hops, beta-caryophyllene could be beneficial for managing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Humulene: This terpene is found in ginseng, which has long been used in folk medicine for its energizing effects and appetite suppression.


  1. When in store, look at the labeling info for more than just the THC percentage. Look for the terpenes percentage as well.
  2. Terpenes play an important role in the aroma, flavor and overall experience of a cannabis strain.
  3. Keep a journal. As consumers trial different terpene profiles, it is important to take note of the ingestion method and overall experience relative to the terpene profile.. Over time, this can help identify the individual’s optimal strains based on the desired effect.

Here are some additional Terpenes:


CEDRENE – Scents: Cedar, Amber, Sandalwood, Patchouli – Found in: Cedar

CARENE – Scents: Earth, Pine, Forest Scents, Citrus – Found in: Bell Pepper, Pine, Citrus Fruits

ALPHA PINENE – Scents: Pine, Rosemary – Found in: Pines, Conifers, Rosemary, Sage


FENCHOL – Scents: Camphor, Pine, Lemon – Found in: Basil

PHYTOL – Scents: Green Tea, Light Florals, Jasmine, Balsam – Found in: Green tea

ISOPULEGOL – Scents: Sweet Mint, Eucalyptus – Found in: Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Geranium


BETA-CARYOPHYLLENE – Scents: Peppery Spice, Wood – Found in: Black Pepper, Cloves, Balsam

SABINENE – Scents: Wood, Pepper, Spices – Found in: Oak, Tea Tree Oil, Black Pepper, Carrot Seed

BORNEOL – Scents: Menthol, Camphor, Rich Earth – Found in: Wormwood, Cinnamon


MYRCENE – Scents: Musk, Earth, Ripe Fruit – Found in: Mango, Lemon Grass, Hops, Thyme

GERANIOL – Scents: Geranium, Rose, Citronella, Stone Fruits – Found in: Geraniums, Tobacco, Lemons

NEROL – Scents: Bitter, Citrus, Rose – Found in: Cumin, Lilac, Apple, Tea Tree, Conifers


TERPINEOL – Scents: Florals, Lilac, Lime, Cardamom, Clove – Found in: Cypress, Juniper Berries, Cardamom, Marjoram, Thyme

OCIMENE – Scents: Flowers, Fruit, Herbs – Found in: Mint, Parsley, Pepper, Basil, Mango, Orchids

BISABOLOL – Scents: Fresh Flowers – Found in: Chamomile


GERANIOL – Scents: Geranium, Rose, Citronella, Stone Fruits – Found in: Geraniums, Tobacco, Lemons

NEROLIDOL – Scents: Wood, Bark, Flowers, Apples – Found in: Citronella, Ginger, Orange Peel

CITRONELLOL – Scents: Floral, Sweet Citrus, Rose – Found in: Roses, Geraniums, Lemon Grass


VALENCENE – Scents: Oranges, Tangerines or Grapefruit – Found in: Citrus fruits, Valencia oranges

PHELLANDRENE – Scents: Citrus, Mint, Herbs, Pepper – Found in: Eucalyptus, Pine, Parsley, Dill, Mint, Lavender

CYMENE – Scents: Tangy Oranges, Carrots, Musk – Found in: Cumin, Thyme


MYRCENE – Scents: Musk, Earth, Ripe Fruit – Found in: Mango, Lemon Grass, Hops, Thyme

LIMONENE – Scents: Lemon, Lime – Found in: Citrus Fruits, Juniper

LINALOOL – Scents: Sweet Flowers, Citrus – Found in: Lavender and Many Flowers, Mint, Cinnamon


BETA-PINENE – Scents: Dill, Parsley, Basil – Found in: Pines, Conifers, Rosemary, Sage

BETA-CARYOPHYLLENE – Scents: Peppery Spice, Wood – Found in: Black Pepper, Cloves, Balsam

HUMULENE – Scents: Wood, Earth – Found in: Hops, Coriander

© Kanab Inc. – Kanab Inc. is a Toronto based cannabis retail company that honors the historical significance and uses of the cannabis plant across cultures and civilizations. Kanab has now opened its first cannabis dispensary at the intersection of Don Mills Road and York Mills Road in North York region of Toronto, Ontario (South of 401, West of 404 / Don Valley Parkway, and East of Leslie). For more info, please visit: kanab.ca

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