Cannabis terpenes: everything you need to know

Cannabis terpenes: everything you need to know
Adam Parsons

Terpenes give cannabis its aroma and make each strain unique. Find out how your nose can pick the type of weed that's right for you.

Terpenes don't get nearly the amount of buzz they deserve, but without them, weed would be a boring, one-dimensional experience without all the subtle nuances that we all know and love. Choosing weed without a strong smell is like picking a bud with no active THC or CBD - it simply isn't done. Terpenes give pot its delectable aroma and can influence how it makes you feel.

If you study up on what each terpene can do, you might even be able to pick out the strain that's best for you on smell alone, or at least narrow down your choices.

Here's all you need to know about terpenes:


If your weed envelopes you in a fresh, piney aroma like a Christmas tree, your buds contain a high amount of alpha-pinene. This terpene reduces the psychoactivity of THC to protect your memory and keep you alert. Medicinally, alpha-pinene is a natural antiseptic and can help treat asthma.

Strains with high levels of alpha-pinene include Chem Dawg, Super Silver Haze and Jack Herer.

You can also find these aromatic oils in rosemary, dill, basil and … wait for it … pine needles.


When you break open a cured bud and get a big burst of earth and herbs, you're dealing with a high-myrcene strain. It adds a touch of relaxation to any type of cannabis and can either enhance the sedating, couchlock effect of a strong Indica or calm a Sativa's racy buzz. Myrcene has anti-inflammatory properties so it can fight pain and tension, but it's also a strong antioxidant and has anti-carcinogenic properties.

Strains with high levels of myrcene include White Widow, Skunk and Afghani Kush.

Mangos, hops and thyme also contain myrcene.


If your mouth starts to water as soon as you get the faintest whiff of lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit or even strawberry, you're in luck. Those smells and the matching flavours are thanks to limonene, one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis. Limonene lifts the mood, relieves stress and gives the pot smoker an overall feeling of well-being. Medical properties include relief of heartburn, depression and stomach problems. Limonene is also a strong natural antifungal, anti-carcinogenic and anti-bacterial. Plus, in some cases, it can even dissolve gallstones.

Strains with high levels of limonene include Lemon Skunk, OG Kush and Jack the Ripper.

You'll also find limonene in the rinds of citrus fruits, juniper and rosemary.


Like the bite of exotic spices and black pepper when you light up? Thank caryophyllene. This terpene doesn't have much of an effect when it comes to how weed makes you feel, but it has plenty of medical properties including help for your immune system, arthritis, stomach issues, ulcers and inflammation.

Strains with high levels of caryophyllene include Hash Plant.

You'll also find carophyllene in cotton, cloves and black pepper.


If your cannabis has a sweet smell, like flowers or candy, it probably contains a lot of linalool. This terpene can act as a mild sedative to help deliver a pleasant, anxiety-free high. Medically, linalool can fight acne, anxiety, depression and seizures.

Strains with high levels of linalool include LA Confidential, Lavender and G-13.

Linalool can also be found in lavender flowers.


Humulene is a sesquiterpene—meaning it has three isoprene units and fifteen carbon atoms. The molecule adds a pleasant scent and taste to specific cannabis cultivars, and also appears in cloves, ginger, sage, basil, and hops. Humulene contributes hints of wood, earth, and spice to cannabis flowers.

In nature, humulene protects plants against pests and can stop fruit flies from mating. As well as tasting delightful, humulene is associated with several therapeutic qualities. In animal research, the terpene was able to protect nervous system cells associated with homeostasis (physiological balance).

Humulene appears in many cannabis strains. It exists in particularly high concentrations within White Widow and OG Kush chemovars.


Geraniol is a monoterpene that gives off a pleasant, moreish aroma. Its sweet and floral essence can be found in other plants and fruits, including coriander, carrots, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, lemongrass, and roses. Commercial industries have harnessed geraniol's pleasant and somewhat subtle aroma, infusing the terpene into lotions, perfumes, and essential oils. The compound adds a relaxing and soothing touch to specific cannabis cultivars; however, it provides more than sensory pleasure.

Geraniol has been the subject of rather extensive scientific enquiry, displaying anti-inflammatory effects in cases of fibrosis and atherogenesis. Geraniol has also demonstrated neuroprotective properties and may ease diabetic neuropathy.

If you’re looking to make geraniol-rich extracts or edibles, some strains are better than others. Amnesia Haze and Headband produce high levels of the terpene.


Ocimene is a genuinely delicious terpene. The chemical contributes flavours of sweetness, herbs, earth, and fruit to many cannabis varieties. The molecule offers its tantalising tastes elsewhere in nature, showing up in oregano, tarragon, mint, basil, and mango.

Have you ever noticed that certain strains make you cough more? Some bong hits result in minute-long coughing fits, whereas others go down smooth. Ocimene is believed to positively influence how much a strain makes you cough, thanks to its action as a decongestant.

Ocimene also features in various plant essential oils that exhibit antifungal and pest-resistant activity.

If you want to try the lung-opening effects of ocimene, give OG Kush, Strawberry Cough, or Purple Haze a try.


Terpinolene-rich cannabis flowers transport users to a forest setting, producing striking aromas of wood and pine. As well as being delicious, these smells trigger nostalgic memories of the outdoors. Terpinolene is partly responsible for the signature scents of cumin, sage, rosemary, lilac, tea tree, conifers, and apples.

Terpinolene is a cyclic monoterpene that’s common in many cannabis varieties. It’s believed to be an integral terpene in many sativas. Although terpinolene acts as a sedative in mice, subjective accounts state that cannabis chemovars rich in terpinolene produce a stimulating effect in humans.

Terpinolene has also proven its worth in the laboratory. The molecule appears promising in the prevention of coronary heart diseases, thanks to its ability to prevent oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. The molecule has also displayed antiproliferative effects against neuroblastoma cells.

Jack Herer, Super Lemon Haze, and Sour Diesel produce high levels of terpinolene.


Valencene gets its name from Valencia oranges—one of its primary sources. Not surprisingly, the terpene generates pungent scents of orange, grapefruit, herbs, and wood.

The delicious molecule adds a moreish element to bong bowls and blunts. Flavour aside, the terpene presents some intriguing therapeutic actions. Valencene possesses anti-inflammatory and antiallergenic properties.

If you’re seeking citrus-infused smoke and vapor, grow or purchase some Tangie, Agent Orange, or ACDC.


So far, hundreds of individual terpenes have been identified, and there are probably many more. Each one of these aromatic oils has its own unique properties, but when they come together, they combine and interact to create something new. That's how you get so much variety even though most strains are basically an Indica, a Sativa or a mix of the two.

Although a specific strain of cannabis will have a genetic tendency to produce more or less of a certain terpene, many things come together to determine any single plant's distinct terpene profile including phenotype variation, nutrients, weather, grow media, temperature and harvest time.


When different terpenes combine, they can produce a wide variety of smells and flavours from sweet blueberry to fresh mint to soft vanilla, but these aromatic oils also affect how individual cannabinoids work. Myrcene, for example, makes cells more receptive to THC so that you can get higher on weed with appears weak if you look at THC alone. Caroyophyllene, on the other hand, works to lower THC's psychoactivity to prevent anxiety and paranoia.

If you know your terpenes and you have a practiced nose, a specific strain's bouquet could be your shortcut to finding the type of cannabis that gives you the recreational high or medicinal benefits you're looking for. What's your favorite scent and does it match up to what you want to get out of weed?


There are many different terpenes in cannabis, and their concentrations vary depending on the chemovar in question. Cannabis lovers can capture some of these molecules through cooking and extraction. However, all terpenes have slightly different evaporation points. Moreover, due to their volatile nature, you won’t be able to capture all available terpenes.

For this reason, vaping is the best way to target certain terpenes. Modern devices allow users to alter temperature settings to specific degrees. Terpenes that have a low evaporation point include pinene (155°C), caryophyllene (160°C), myrcene (166–168°C), and limonene (177°C). In contrast, linalool (198°C) and α-terpineol (217°C) have a high evaporation point.

Adam Parsons
Adam Parsons

As a professional cannabis journalist, author, and copywriter, Adam has been writing about all things psychoactive, CBD, and everything in between for a long time. In an ever-changing market, Adam uses his BA (Hons) Multimedia Journalism degree to keep in stride with contemporary research and contributing worthwhile information to all of his projects.