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Guide to Terpenes

Learn About Terpenes

Written by Neal Brown . Updated: February 1, 2021

A Complete Guide to Cannabis Terpenes

More people are turning to cannabis than ever before because of its many healthful effects. At the same time, an ever-growing number of people are cultivating various strains of marijuana to help consumers take full advantage of this long-used herb. Understanding all the components of cannabis and how they work is the key to maximizing their benefits.

At Weed Seeds USA, we offer a vast selection of cannabis seeds to local growers in Oklahoma and throughout the rest of the country. Each strain in our inventory offers its own unique range of aromas, flavors, and effects. These come from the complex and diverse compounds found in each strain.

Marijuana contains hundreds of components. You are probably familiar with THC and CBD, the two primary cannabinoids, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. More than 100 others have been discovered over the years as well. These include CBN, CBG, THCV, and CBDA to name a few.

Cannabis is also loaded with other compounds, over 200 of which are terpenes. These are the ones we are going to focus on right now. They provide certain beneficial effects on their own, but when combined with THC and CBD, they all work together to ramp up weed’s power and create an entirely different level of positive influences.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are an elite class of compounds found in cannabis as well as all other plants. Technically, they are classified as hydrocarbons, meaning they are compounds that consist of hydrogen and carbon. That said, each terpene has a unique chemical composition and an exclusive scent, flavor, and assortment of benefits.

On a basic level, terpenes are a plant’s essential oils. You have experienced them all your life whether you realize it or not. When you bite into a luscious, juicy orange or a ripe, velvety banana, you are smelling and tasting the terpenes. If you pass by a rose garden and the bold, beautiful aroma invades your senses, that is the terpenes at work. When you bring in a live Christmas tree to decorate, its terpenes are what make your home smell like the holidays.

All plants contain terpenes. They are not unique to marijuana. Cannabis and other fruits, flowers, vegetables, and trees even share some of the same terpenes. Many terpenes are present in different strains of cannabis as well, but the varying types, amounts, and concentrations work in tandem with the cannabinoids in each strain to create and reinforce its benefits.

How Are Terpenes Made?

Plants make terpenes naturally as they grow. Cannabis, in particular, begins to take in moisture, heat, light, nutrients, and carbon dioxide as soon as its genetic material breaks free from the protective shell of its seed. As the plants use all those essential elements to make food, they are also using them to create THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds also develop along the way.

Like cannabinoids and other compounds, terpenes are present throughout the cannabis plant. They are more highly concentrated in the buds, though. When you harvest those buds, you are gathering all the compounds they hold in store, including the terpenes.

Several factors affect terpene concentration in plants. Their growing conditions are the most important aspects. Specific genetics in each cannabis strain determine the types of terpenes that will be present as well as their strength and effectiveness.

It is also fair to mention that terpenes are being created artificially these days. They are made in a lab as opposed to developing naturally within a plant. Some sources insist they are safe, but others paint a different picture. Certain synthetic cannabinoids and terpenes have been taken off the market due to their potential dangers.

Synthetic terpenes generally taste and smell stronger than their natural counterparts. Still, they are not real. You could compare synthetic and natural cannabis terpenes to the differences between eating a grape and drinking a grape soda or munching on fresh strawberries as opposed to eating strawberry-flavored candy.

Many reports show that synthetic terpenes may not be as effective as natural ones in their usefulness as well. They may provide some of the same benefits, but they do not have quite the same well-rounded profile.

Hundreds or even thousands of compounds exist together in marijuana plants, but scientists can only isolate and recreate about 40 of them. That means linalool or myrcene developed in a lab will not have the same accompanying compounds as it would coming from nature.

Hundreds or even thousands of compounds exist together in marijuana plants, but scientists can only isolate and recreate about 40 of them. That means linalool or myrcene developed in a lab will not have the same accompanying compounds as it would coming from nature.

You have probably heard of terpenes considering the amount of talk they are generating in the world of cannabis. You may have also heard the term used interchangeably with terpenoids. In reality, terpenes and terpenoids both exist, but they are two entirely separate elements.

Terpenes are cannabis compounds in their natural form. As mentioned, they are made up of hydrogen and oxygen. As long as these components remain in their natural, unaltered state, they are considered terpenes.

Terpenoids are terpenes that have been changed in some way. In most cases, the transformation from terpenes to terpenoids occurs during the extraction or drying process. Any factor that somehow alters the chemical composition of a terpene after harvesting the plants that created it causes it to become a terpenoid.

That is not to say terpenoids are bad or less desirable. They are still essentially the same types of compounds they were before being denatured by heat or other factors. They may be a bit less potent than in the beginning. Of course, since they have extra atoms and functional characteristics, some may be more beneficial and offer a broader range of effects.

What Role Do Terpenes Serve?

Terpenes serve numerous roles both before and after harvest. We have to understand that plants produce them during their growth cycles for a reason. That reason really has nothing to do with how humans can benefit from the compounds after all those ripe buds are harvested.

From the Plants’ Point of View

Some terpenes are tasked with deterring predators and diseases. Pests are drawn to certain smells and flavors. That is why they attack so many trees and garden plants.

They are not particularly fond of other aromas and tastes, which is where specific cannabis terpenes come into play. Many diseases and fungi feed off of certain botanical components, making plants vulnerable to pathogens. Terpenes help ward off those invaders and keep the plants healthy.

Other terpenes are responsible for attracting pollinators, like bees. Those terpenes have just the right scents and tastes to encourage pollinators to visit cannabis plants once they begin to mature. Then, they pick up pollen from male marijuana plants and deliver it to female flowers, so they will produce seeds to grow new plants.

Post-Harvest Terpene Functions

As we have already discussed, terpenes give each strain of marijuana its unique flavor and aroma. You have probably noticed that the better a food or beverage smells, the better it tastes. At the same time, the way it smells affects the way it tastes. Terpenes make cannabis buds smell stronger and taste better when they are present in the right concentrations.

In addition to enhancing the aroma and flavor of cannabis, terpenes offer a wide range of medicinal benefits. Some have antibacterial properties whereas others are antiviral. Many others help relieve pain and inflammation, through mechanisms that are only partially understood.

Certain terpenes alleviate anxiety and depression. Studies show some may even act as neuroprotectors to ward off Alzheimer’s and other degenerative disorders. For all the recreational marijuana users in the world, some terpenes can even enhance the high each THC-laden strain provides.

How Terpenes Work

Like cannabinoids, terpenes provide their beneficial effects by binding to or interacting with neurotransmitters and receptors throughout the brain and body. They may reduce the body’s reaction to serotonin or weaken various pain receptors. They might increase dopamine and norepinephrine production or intercept glutamate before it has a chance to transmit pain signals from the body to the brain. Each terpene acts in a different way.

Co-Existing in Harmony

On top of those benefits, terpenes work with cannabinoids and flavonoids to increase their influences. This is known as the Entourage Effect. If you remove the terpenes from cannabis buds, the CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids that are left behind will not be as effective. On the other hand, the extracted terpenes will not be as powerful on their own as they would be with their naturally accompanying cannabinoids.

What Are the Major Terpenes?

Hundreds of terpenes have been discovered in cannabis plants. Some are more prominent than others. They generally exist in higher concentrations and show up across more strains than other terpenes. We will discuss them in further detail later on, but this is a basic rundown of the major contenders.

  • Myrcene
  • Pinene
  • Linalool
  • Humulene
  • Limonene

These are a few of the basic and most common terpenes, but they barely scratch the surface. Keep in mind, science has barely begun to explore the world of terpenes, and many of them have yet to be discovered and studied. Now, let us take a look at how some of these terpenes relate to different marijuana strains.