Terpenes: The Compounds Behind Cannabis’ Distinct Smell

What Are Cannabis Terpenes?

From the sweet and fruity aroma from a freshly cracked flower of Hawaiian Haze to the skunky smell of Sour Disease, cannabis has one of the most distinct smells in the world. But why? The simple answer; terpenes. Terpenes are organic compounds and oils that naturally occur in plants and insects all over the world. Their purposes are to ward off predators and to attract pollinators. Terpenes are the reason bees love those sweet smelling lavenders and peonies. Love them or hate them, terpenes are responsible for the vibrant smells of plants and insects everywhere.

The Terpenes of Cannabis

Cannabis plants contain over 100 different kinds of terpenes. Not to confuse them with cannabinoids, terpenes are the reason each strain of cannabis has its own unique effects, tastes, and smells. From the energizing nature of Sour Diesel to the euphoria of OG Kush, terpene profiles account for the variety of effects and smells cannabis offers.


A bowl of mangoes

Myrcene is the most commonly occurring terpene in all of cannabis. It accounts for over 20% of terpene profiles in all modern day strains. Typically 40% of strains’ most dominant terpene is mycrene. Aside from cannabis, mycrene can also be found in hops, lemongrass, and mangoes. It’s reasonable for the peppery/spicy fragrance of beer and it’s main effects can be found here: https://www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/myrcene-terpene


Pine needles on a pine tree

Pinene is the most naturally occurring terpene in all of nature. It is most commonly found in pine needles, basil, and rosemary. It’s piney smell is most closely associated with the winter season and Christmas holiday. Strains that contain a higher amount of Pinene are Blue Dream, Harlequin, and Remedy. Its effects can be found here: https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-is-pinene-and-what-are-the-benefits-of-this-cannabis-terpene


Photo of lemons lined up

Limonene, often found in lemon and orange rinds, is a sweet fruity smelling terpene. Typically, limonene is found in small amounts of cannabis strains maxing out around 2-3% total dry weight. For perspective, hemp plants typically have levels of 15-20% CBD total dry weight. Strains that contain this sweet terpene are Banana OG, Black Cherry Soda, and Wedding Cake. The effects can be found here: leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-is-limonene-and-what-are-the-benefits-of-this-cannabis-terpe


Bowl of black pepper

Caryophyllene is one of the most amazing terpenes found in cannabis. Not only does it smell of fresh pepper and spices, it’s also the only terpene that acts as a cannabinoid. As a cannabinoid, it has the ability to activate the Endocannabinoid System. This gives it a great ability to interact with the human body. A 2016 study has shown that caryophyllene interacts with the CB-2 receptor in much of the same way CBD does. Its effects can be found here: https://www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/caryophyllene-terpene

Why Are Cannabis Terpenes Important?

Terpenes affect every aspect of a cannabis users experience. A 2011 Study navigates the effects terpenes play in their synergy with cannabinoids in the endocannabinoid system. This study outlines the important of terpenes and how they contribute to the entourage effect. Terpenes influence how a strain taste, feels, and interacts with your body. It is important to know what you are consuming so you can achieve your desired effects… This brings us into lab testing.

Terpene & Cannabinoid Lab Testing

First, we must stress that lab tests are the most important part of any cannabis users experience. Without knowing what is in your products, you have no idea how, when, or even if it will work for you. Secondly, you need to know how strong the products are that you are using. Without this knowledge you might as well be shopping in a grocery store with a blindfold on.

Lab testing allows you to see on a microscopic level what exactly is in your products. From pesticides, to cannabinoid levels, to terpene profiles, lab testing is single-handedly the most important aspect of any cannabis product. Lastly, we must stress how important it is to shop at trusted companies like Green Extracts, who ensures all their products are organic, non-GMO, and tested for potency of cannabinoids/terpenes. Remember, without lab test you are blind to what is really in your products.


Rahn, Bailey. “What Are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do?” Leafly, 1 Oct. 2019, www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/terpenes-the-flavors-of-cannabis-aromatherapy.

Scott, Chad. “What Is Caryophyllene? Uses, Effects, and Benefits.” Wikileaf, Wikileaf, 26 Nov. 2019, www.wikileaf.com/thestash/terpenes-caryophyllene/.

Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects.” British Journal of Pharmacology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Aug. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/.

Fidyt, Klaudyna, et al. “β‐Caryophyllene and β‐Caryophyllene Oxide-Natural Compounds of Anticancer and Analgesic Properties.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 30 Sept. 2016, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/cam4.816.

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