What are Terpenes?

Cannabis has a unique smell and terpenes are essential oils that give the many strains of cannabis its aromatic diversity. Terpenes are produced by tiny stalk-like glands called trichomes; the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD. These terpenes are mostly found in high concentrations in unfertilized female cannabis flowers prior to senescence (the process of deterioration with age).

Plants produce terpenes to protect themselves from predators and to attract pollinators. Over 150 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant. However, unlike cannabinoids, terpenes are not unique to cannabis.

Each strain of cannabis, sometimes referred to as a chemovar, has its own profile of terpenes and cannabinoids. There are hundreds of these chemovars. The same chemovar can contain different concentrations of terpenes depending on the environment it’s grown in. Temperature, sunlight, growing medium, nutrients, and the plant’s maturation at harvest all affect a plant’s terpene profile.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes continue to draw attention from the scientific and medical communities due to their apparent pharmacological actions. Research suggests some terpenes such as myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, humulene, and pinene have anti-inflammatory properties, while others such as limonene and linalool may help reduce anxiety. Nerolidol, borneol, and phytol appear to have sedative properties which may help treat insomnia. Terpinene demonstrates strong anti-oxidant effects. Eucalyptol appears to aid in memory and learning. And numerous others including some of those listed above seem to additionally demonstrate anti-fungal and anti-bacterial activity.

The unique therapeutic properties terpenes appear to demonstrate may significantly contribute to the “entourage effect” of cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabichromene (CBC). Continued focus on cannabinoid-terpene interactions may demonstrate a synergistic relationship with respect to treating inflammation, pain, anxiety, depression, seizures, addiction, fungal infections, bacterial infections (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), and much more.


Russo, E; Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects; British Journal of Pharmacology; 2011 Aug; 163(7): 1344–1364.

Booth, J et al; Terpenes in Cannabis sativa – From plant genome to humans; Plant Science; 2019 July; 284:67-72.

Baron, E; Medicinal Properties of Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids in Cannabis, and Benefits in Migraine, Headache, and Pain: An Update on Current Evidence and Cannabis Science; Headache; 2018 July/Aug; 58(7): 1138-1186.

Author Bio:

Dr. Wright Penniman M.D. is a board certified family physician with 15 years of clinical experience and 4 years of experience as a medical director with a major health insurance company.

Article written by Dr. Wright Penniman M.D.

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