What Are Terpenes & What Do They Do?

Cannabis Terpene Header

This post is part of a series on cannabis compounds. For more information, see our Cannabis Compounds overview.

Though often overshadowed by the widely known cannabinoids, the star compounds in cannabis, terpenes are becoming a well-known term in the industry. If asked "what are terpenes?" the simple answer is that they are aromatic organic hydrocarbons often found in the essential oils of plants.

These compounds are most commonly known to provide the unique fragrance profiles sought after by medicinal cannabis users. As science continues to uncover the unknowns about cannabis, terpene-specific research has pointed to the therapeutic benefits of these aromatic compounds. This research shows that these molecules are active in the synergistic effects of whole-plant cannabis consumption, commonly known as the 'entourage effect'.

Now certainly terpenes are a big star in the medicinal and recreational marijuana circles, but these important compounds are making themselves known in the hemp-derived CBD space as well. As research and anecdotal evidence continues to grow, the role of individual terpenes has become well documented. These compounds provide unique potential medicinal benefits that should be considered by anyone who consumes cannabis.

Popular Terpenes Found in Cannabis

While there are over 100 identified terpenes that have been found in cannabis, there are a few abundant types that are most common. Below we will take a look at the most well known of these cannabis-occurring compounds:


Linalool Terpene Representation

Linalool is a widely sourced compound found in several hundred different types of plants. This compound has long been used as a sleep aid and modern research points to its therapeutic potential in helping to treat a wide range of ailments.

Formula: C10H18O
Molar Mass: 154.25 g/mol
Boiling Point: 198°C (388°F)
Aroma(s): Floral
Potential Effects: Sedative, mood enhancer
Potential Medicinal Value: Treatment of depression, anxiety, pain, inflammation, insomnia, cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases
Also Found In: Lavender, citrus, laurels, birch, coriander, and rosewood


Limonene Terpene Representation

D-Limonene is a cyclic terpene with very important uses. The compound is commonly used in citrus cleaner as it has a very low toxicity and low chance of allergic reaction. This molecule is important for use in medicinal cannabis as it helps the absorption of other terpenes and cannabinoids through the skin, mucous membranes, and digestive tract - all increasing bioavailability.

Formula: C10H16
Molar Mass: 136.13 g/mol
Boiling Point: 176 °C (349 °F)
Aroma(s): Citrus
Potential Effects: Improved mood, stress reliever
Potential Medicinal Value: Anti-fungal, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-tumor, immuno-stimulant, painkiller, anti-inflammatory
Also Found In: Fruit rinds, rosemary, peppermint, juniper


Humulene Terpene Representation

Formula: C15H24
Molar Mass: 204.19 g/mol
Boiling Point: 198 °C (388 °F)
Aroma(s): Hoppy, woody, earthy
Potential Effects: Anti-inflammatory, appetite suppressant
Potential Medicinal Value: Anti-tumor, anti-bacterial
Also Found In: Hops, coriander, basil, cloves


Beta-Myrcene Terpene Representation

β-Myrcene is a monoterpene, and one of the most well known and important in cannabis. This compound is a precursor to many other terpenes and offers a wide range of effects and benefits. Specifically, the molecule lowers the resistance across the blood to brain barrier. This property works to speed the onset of effects of other cannabis compounds including and specifically cannabinoids.

Myrcene has been shown to increase the maximum saturation level of the CB1 receptor allowing for greater psychoactive effects of THC consumption. This can work by both eating myrcene-rich foods like mangos roughly 45 minutes before inhaling THC, or by choosing myrcene-rich strains of marijuana.

Formula: C10H16
Molar Mass: 136.13 g/mol
Boiling Point: 168°C (334°F)
Aroma(s): Cardamom, cloves, earthy, herbal, musky
Potential Effects: Sedative, relaxing, increase the rate of cannabinoid effect
Potential Medicinal Value: Antioxidant, insomnia treatment, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasm properties
Also Found In: Fresh mango, hops, eucalyptus, lemongrass, bay leaves


Phytol Terpene Representation

Phytol is one of two parts created when the chlorophyll molecule degrades. This oily diterpene is used in the synthesis of vitamins E and K.

Formula: C20H40O
Molar Mass: 296.53 g/mol
Boiling Point: 204°C (399.2°F)
Aroma(s): Floral, balsamic
Potential Effects: Immunosuppressant
Potential Medicinal Value: Reduce itching, wound treatment


Citronellol Terpene Representation

Citronellol has been used for over 2,000 years as a natural insect repellant to prevent exposure to mosquitos and preserve fabric from moths.

Formula: C10H20O
Molar Mass: 156.27 g/mol
Boiling Point: 225°C (437°F)
Aroma(s): Floral
Potential Medicinal Value: Anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor
Also Found In: Rose, perennials, succulents, shrubs


Caryophyllene-Oxide Terpene Representation

This terpene is the oxidation product of beta-Caryophyllene. The molecule is known for its anti-fungus and tumors. In the medicinal hemp space, this compound is important as it may play a roll in improving uptake of CBD/CBC in the CB2 receptor. It is also believed to be the only terpene in cannabis known to bind with CB2.

Formula: C15H24O
Molar Mass: 220.35 g/mol
Boiling Point: 257 °C (495 °F)
Potential Effects: Anti-inflammatory
Potential Medicinal Value: Anti-fungus, anti-tumor, antioxidant, cancer treatment, local anesthetic
Also Found In: Cloves, rosemary, hops


Alpha-Pinene Terpene Representation

Formula: C10H16
Molar Mass: 136.12 g/mol
Boiling Point: 155 °C (311 °F)
Aroma(s): Sharp, sweet pine
Potential Effects: Improved memory, alertness, counteracts psychoactive potency of THC
Potential Medicinal Value: Treatment of inflammation, asthma, pain, ulcers, anxiety, cancer
Also Found In: Pine needles, rosemary, dill, parsley, basil


Beta-Caryophyllene Terpene Representation

Formula: C15H24
Molar Mass: 204.36 g/mol
Boiling Point: 130°C (266°F)
Aroma(s): Peppery, spicy, woody
Potential Effects: Stress reliever
Potential Medicinal Value: Painkiller, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, ulcer treatment
Also Found In: Black pepper, cinnamon, cloves


Terpinolene Terpene Representation

Formula: C10H16
Molar Mass: 136.23 g/mol
Boiling Point: 185˚C (365˚F)
Aroma(s): Piney, floral, herbal, occasionally citrusy
Potential Effects: Sedative
Potential Medicinal Value: Anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal
Also Found In: Nutmeg, conifers, tea tree, apples, cumin, lilacs


Guaiol Terpene Representation
Molar Mass: 136.23 g/mol
Boiling Point: 92˚C (197˚F)
Aroma(s): Piney
Potential Medicinal Value: Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial
Also Found In: Cypress pine, guaiacum


Ocimene Terpene Representation
Formula: C10H16
Molar Mass: 136.24 g/mol
Boiling Point: 50˚C (122˚F)
Aroma(s): Herbaceous, sweet, woody, fruity, slightly acidic
Potential Medicinal Value: anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antiviral, decongestant
Also Found In: fruits and herbs including mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes, orchids, kumquats

Terpenes & Hemp-Derived CBD Products

Marijuana users really have it made when it comes to ingesting terpenes. There is a wide range of strains on the market that feature unique, specifically tailored terpene profiles that give each type unique characters, effects, and medicinal benefits. Unfortunately, the hemp-derived CBD industry doesn't offer this level of choice as a consumer.

That being said, more and more companies are focusing on providing full-spectrum CBD products that are rich in naturally extracted or added terpenes. Top-shelf companies will provide batch level terpene potency tests for their products. As a consumer, you'll be able to dig through lab results to find products containing a profile that suits your needs.

Originally Published: September 20, 2018 | Last Updated: October 24, 2018

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