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What are Terpenes and How do They Work?

The latest buzz in the cannabis industry is surrounding terpenes and how they can aid THC in helping achieve the desired effects. But what are terpenes and what is the science behind them that allows for a more tailored experience?

Terpenes or terpenoids are hydrocarbons that act as a plant’s essential oils. It is the primary building block in plant resin and pollen. Terpenes are largely responsible for the scents, flavors, and colors of the plants and flowers that we know and love, including the cannabis plant.

In the cannabis plant, there are 200 known terpenes. The terpenes are synthesized in the sticky, secretory cells that exist within the plant trichomes. The trichomes are what give the cannabis plant that frosty, sugar coated look. In 1998, Dr. S Ben-Shabat began his research on “the entourage effect.” His research found that terpenes contribute to the overall effect of cannabis, singularly or via the total compounded effects. Although they contribute to the effect of cannabis, terpenes themselves do not possess any psychoactive properties.

Continuing Dr. Ben-Shabat’s research, Dr. Ethan Russo has also studied “the entourage effect.” His research concluded that secondary compounds, like terpenes, may enhance the beneficial effects of THC, and the other cannabinoids. Dr. Russo focused on five terpenes predominantly found in cannabis. We will discuss these five terpenes below.


This terpene is found in 80% of all cannabis plants. It has a woody, sweet, dry aroma, similar to cloves. This terpene has a promise to potentially aid in inflammation pain and some auto-immune disorders. Beta-caryophyllene has also been shown to target the CB2 receptors on the endocannabinoid system, which could potentially also help reduce anxiety and depression.


If you use black pepper to season your food, you are already using myrcene. It is the reason that your black pepper tastes spicy and warm in flavor and taste. This specific terpene affects the permeability of cell membranes, meaning that it allows more THC and CBD to reach the brain cells. Research shows that high doses of myrcene can help induce sleep. Myrcene has also shown potential to aid inflammation and pain relief.


Limonene is the most popular terpene, being responsible for most citrusy aromas found in cannabis. Studies have shown that limonene can aid in the fight of breast cancer, by slowing and destroying cancer cells, as well as other pathogenic bacteria. Because of its unique molecular structure, limonene also permeates the blood-brain barrier. Studies have also shows that when paired with THC, limonene can aid in cannabinoids binding to the CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, faster than other terpenes. It has also been shown to potentially aid in alertness and restlessness.

Alpha-Pinene/ Beta-Pinene

This terpene is found in no surprise, pine trees. This terpene is also already used in expectorants and topical antiseptics. Pinene also crosses the blood-brain barrier, like myrcene and limonene. Studies on this terpene have shown that pinene can specifically help to block chemical activity that normally destroys information transfer molecules. To put it simply, pinene has the potential to facilitate better memory. Currently, it is a part of a clinical study that is looking at how it can help Alzheimer’s patients. Pinene is also a known bronchodilator, meaning that it helps patients achieve larger breath inhalations, which has the potential to help patients with asthma.


Linalool is the main component in lavender. Linalool has been shown to have anti-anxiety and sedative properties. It might help in the treatment of several types of cancer due to its effective medicinal properties. It is a well-known anti-depressant because it amplifies the serotonin receptor transmission. It can also potentially act as a strong anticonvulsant. Lastly, linalool is found in many over-the-counter skin care treatments, as it has been proven to help with acne and non-severe skin burns.