If the growing wave of legalization hit a few snags last year—failing to pass in conservative North Dakota, for example—there’s not a great deal of doubt that 2019 will be a big year for cannabis. If Federal decriminalization is still a pipe dream, so to speak, there’s an enormous rise in investment in research, marketing, and political lobbying, signaling that the Green Wave will continue to roll through the land. To say “We’re excited!” is putting it mildly.
On a personal level, this means that we not only have access to a huge variety of cannabis strains, products and, accessories but that our knowledge of how to best use them is growing in leaps and bounds. And one of the major ways this is happening is through our understanding of terpenes, the essential oils that give cannabis strains their unique aromas and flavors.
What’s more, those terpenes aren’t just flavoring our favorite plant; they’re giving it powerful and unique medical qualities as well. So let’s take a moment to learn a bit more about these fascinating plant compounds, so you can decide for yourself what the best terpenes for your particular needs might be. Let’s start with some basic education.
The “Active Ingredients” in Cannabis: More Than Meets the Eye
At this stage in the game, it’s a safe bet that you’re familiar with the concept of cannabinoids. They’re that collection of fascinating plant compounds which includes THC and CBD. Thus far, researchers have identified over 100 of them.
Cannabinoids are often described as the “active ingredients” in cannabis, and all in all, that’s a pretty good way of putting it. We know that THC is the most abundant cannabinoid, and it’s responsible for the delightful euphoria we know as “being high” as well as a slew of other, equally fascinating effects in our bodies and minds.
And you’ve probably heard about CBD. In addition to being the second most prevalent cannabinoid after THC, it’s getting quite a buzz, so to speak, as researchers unlock its secrets and its potential.
You may even have seen CBD advertised as an additive in popular foods and beverages. You can legally buy CBD-infused coffee, candies, ointments—even dog treats!
That’s because CBD isn’t psychoactive like THC is. Even if CBD by itself won’t get you high, it interacts with THC in fascinating ways, and it’s responsible for many of the health benefits for which cannabis is known.
As we’ve reported before, these two cannabinoids fight pain (and even give you the munchies) in different ways. And while THC’s psychoactivity can make pain feel less severe, more studies actually point to CBD’s pain-fighting qualities than THC’s. While so far there is only a little hard clinical evidence to suggest CBD has a role in fighting pain, anecdotal stories lead us to believe there’s real promise in this particular area.
There are a lot of cannabinoids to investigate after the “Big Two,” and it’s safe to say the next few years are going to yield an incredible harvest of knowledge and insights into our bodies’ interactions with this incredible plant.
But in another sense, calling cannabinoids the plant’s “active ingredients” falls short in one crucial way. That’s because it’s becoming clear that they’re actually not the only “active ingredients” in cannabis. That’s where the terpenes come in.
Wait, I Just Learned About Cannabinoids… What Are Terpenes?!?
The cannabinoids might be responsible for the most obvious effects of cannabis ingestion, including the major sensations of being high. (Yes, THC is probably the all-natural compound responsible for your watching 6 episodes of Bob’s Burgers in a row.)
But terpenes are an entirely different group of natural compounds in cannabis, a category of fragrant hydrocarbons—otherwise known as “essential oils”—that give different strains of cannabis their characteristic aromas and flavors.
Even if you’ve never heard of terpenes, you’ve interacted with them. Whenever you enjoy a cannabis product and detect a specific flavor—whether it’s the peppery bite of Northern Lights or the resinous, piney aroma of Pineapple—you’re detecting their terpene profiles.
So far as we can tell, terpenes don’t play as prominent a role the cannabinoids. But they’re important: Research has already revealed some startling facts—and intriguing possibilities—about how terpenes interact with our bodies.
Like the cannabinoids, there are many terpenes in cannabis (over 200 at last count!). Fortunately, we’ve narrowed our list to those most commonly found in cannabis and which have the most obvious beneficial effects on our bodies. So without further ado, let’s take a tour of the terpenes!
A Terpene Tour: What Are the Most Common Terpenes, And What Can They Do For Me?
As we hinted earlier, terpenes do more than just contribute their beguiling and delicious scents and flavors. They’re affecting our bodies in many subtle—and not-so-subtle—ways! If you’re trying to determine the best terpenes for your particular needs, peruse this alphabetical list to begin your terpene education.
Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these related terpenes have a distinctively piney and resinous aroma. It’s a hint to other natural sources of pinene: Pine trees, rosemary, orange peels, basil, and parsley, among others.
Pinene has an anti-inflammatory effect on us, especially when it comes to respiratory function. It may sound counterintuitive, but inhaling pinene-rich cannabis—particularly using a vape pen or vaporizer, which doesn’t actually burn any plant matter—may help reduce inflammation in the lungs and airways, such as asthma.
Pinene-rich strains include: Jack Herer, Strawberry Cough, Blue Dream, and Dutch Treat
This terpene—also known as levomenol—has a lovely floral character, and it’s also found in chamomile flowers and the Brazilian candeia tree. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory medicine, and in addition, it’s been shown to be an effective antibacterial agent.
Bisabolol-rich strains include: Harle-Tsu, Pink Kush, OG Shark, and ACDC
This terpene is characterized by an herbal and minty scent, a hint to other natural sources like rosemary, mint, and camphor. Like camphor, borneol is a natural insect repellent, which makes it a valuable weapon in the fight against diseases like West Nile virus and other mosquito-, flea- and tick-borne illnesses. Traditionally, it’s been used in Chinese acupuncture for centuries.
Borneol-rich strains include: Amnesia Haze, Golden Haze, and K13 Haze
This musky-smelling terpene is reminiscent of fir needles and damp woodlands. It’s already in wide medical use, typically incorporated into topicals topical to address common skin issues like eczema and psoriasis. When taken in conjunction with vitamin C, it’s a powerful antioxidant, helping the body repair damaged tissues. It can also help us lower the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Camphene-rich strains include: Ghost OG, Strawberry Banana, and Mendocino Purps
This terpene is responsible for a distinctly spicy and peppery aroma and flavor; no surprise as it’s also found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and rosemary. Caryophyllene has powerful analgesic and anti-anxiety properties; because it binds to our body’s receptors—unusually for a terpene—it’s a key ingredient in anti-inflammatory topicals and creams.
Caryophyllene-rich strains include: Super Silver Haze, OG Kush, and Rock Star
Delta 3 Carene
This terpene is characterized by a lemony and cedary aroma. It’s believed to be responsible for the sensation of dry mouth. While this may be distracting, it’s a hint to the terpene’s other uses, such as helping quell a runny nose, excessive perspiration, or even heavy menstruation.
Delta 3 Carene promotes bone growth, and it is believed to stimulate memory and improve retention. Like several other terpenes, this leads some researchers to believe it might play a role in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Delta 3 Carene-rich strains include: Super Silver Haze, Super Lemon Haze, and Skunk #1
This pleasantly cooling terpene is also known as cineole, and it exhibits powerful antibacterial effects, and it’s effective against such nasty bugs like E. coli, Enterobacter, and Staphylococcus. (Though if you actually have any of these conditions, don’t get high; get to a hospital!) Comparatively rare in cannabis, it’s known to help relieve pain, and may actually play a role in combating Alzheimer’s disease.
Eucalyptol-rich strains include: Super Silver Haze and Headband
This flavorful terpene is reminiscent of sweet fruit like peaches and plums, with notes of rose and fresh grass; elsewhere, it’s found in lemons and in tobacco. These aromatic qualities mean it’s often found in aromatic bath products and lotions, but research suggests it has powerful neuroprotectant and antioxidant qualities as well.
Geraniol-rich strains include: Amnesia Haze, Great White Shark, Afghani, Headband, Island Sweet Skunk and Master Kush
This distinctive terpene is found mainly in hops, which in turn give many beers their earthy, woody and spicy notes. As well as having antibacterial qualities—one reason hops are used to flavor beer in the first place—humulene is shown to be helpful in fighting the growth of tumors, as well as helping to suppress the appetite. A cure for the munchies at last?
Humulene-rich strains include: White Widow, Headband, Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) and Pink Kush
Limonene may be able to help find medicine’s holy grail: The cure for cancer. Some studies suggest that this terpene not only helps regulate our immune system but may also play a direct role in controlling the spread of certain cancers themselves. Researchers have also found that it has antifungal and antibacterial properties, one reason this terpene is often used in all-natural cleaning solutions! Limonene is known to impart general uplift and mood-lightening effects and to reduce stress.
Limonene-rich strains include: Sour Diesel, Super Lemon Haze, Durban Poison, and Jack Herer
The terpene most clearly associated with the stereotypical “marijuana smell,” this terpene is also found in lavender. Like that herb, it’s known to help fight anxiety and depression, and impart sedative and generally relaxing sensations. As with eucalyptol, preliminary studies suggest linalool could help reverse the cognitive impairment and memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Linalool-rich strains include: Amnesia Haze, Special Kush, Lavender, LA Confidential, and OG Shark
Myrcene is the most abundant terpene. In fact, a cannabis plant’s myrcene content dictates whether or not it will exhibit a sativa-like energizing effect or an indica-like sedative effect. In addition, it has powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-fighting) qualities.
Myrcene is characterized by a fruity, grapelike flavor. Outside cannabis, myrcene occurs most notably in mangoes. Some fans report that if you consume a mango some 45 minutes before cannabis, the myrcene leads to an especially intense and long-lasting high.
Myrcene-rich strains include: Skunk XL, White Widow, and Special Kush
Another floral terpene, terpineol is often described as being reminiscent of lilacs, or apple blossom with a slight citrus note. This makes it a common ingredient in perfumes, cosmetics, and natural flavorings. Terpineol is heavily sedative, and some feel it’s the main terpene responsible for the dreaded (or beloved) “couch lock” effect. Medically, it has antibiotic and antioxidant properties.
Terpineol-rich strains include: Girl Scout Cookies (GSC), Jack Herer, and OG Kush
This sweet-smelling, floral terpene occurs mainly in flowers such as jasmine, as well as lemongrass and tea tree. Some fans describe it as a mixture of rose, citrus and apple aromas.
Trans-nerolidol is a potent infection-fighter, exhibiting antiparasitic, antioxidant, antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
Trans-nerolidol-rich strains include: Jack Herer, Sweet Skunk, and Skywalker OG
This flavorful terpene gets it’s name for its most famous source: The sweet Valencia orange. Having a sweeter citrus aroma than limonene, it’s used—like Borneol—as an ingredient in insect repellants.
Valencene-rich strains include: Tangie and Agent Orange
Ready to experience the wonder of terpenes? Stop by your favorite Have a Heart location to source high-quality, terpene-rich strains and cannabis products!