What are terpenes?
The main hypothesis is that the terpene profile – the dominant terpenes – of a strain work in tandem with the cannabinoid content – the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and other cannabinoids – to produce the effects people associate with different strains.
For example, they might explain why two different strains with the same level of THC produce such different experiences.
How do terpenes compare to THC and CBD?
THC and CBD are just two of over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis, however they are the two most abundant cannabinoids and the most well studied.
Both cannabinoids and terpenes can give you some clues about what to expect from a cannabis product, but they’re two different compounds.
That said, they all appear to interact with each other in what experts call the “entourage effect.”This is the hypothesis that the “full spectrum” of cannabis, including all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds found in cannabis, work synergistically to produce the sensations and effects of cannabis.
In other words, it’s a hypothesis that a little bit of everything might have more benefit than a lot of one thing.
A 2010 studyTrusted Source, for example, showed that a combination of CBD and THC was more effective for pain management than THC alone.
In a 2018 studyTrusted Source, breast cancer tumors in a Petri dish responded better to a cannabis extract than pure THC on its own. But those synergistic effects were believed to be mainly attributed to other cannabinoids and not terpenes.
This is important to consider if you’re using CBD for therapeutic purposes. If you use a CBD isolate (a product that contains only CBD) and find it doesn’t have your desired effect, it might be worth trying a full-spectrum CBD product, which will also contain terpenes and other cannabinoids, including small amounts of THC.
Common terpenes and their effects
There are about 400 known terpenes in cannabis, but experts have only linked a handful of them to specific effects.
Here are some common terpenes and their potential effects:
- Beta-caryophyllene. A major ingredient in cloves, rosemary, and hops, beta-caryophyllene could beTrusted Source beneficial for managing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Beta-pinene. If you’ve strolled through a coniferous forest, you know the smell of beta-pinene, which could also have potentially both anti-depressantTrusted Source and anti-cancerTrusted Sourceproperties.
- Humulene. This terpene is found in ginseng, which has long been used in folk medicine for energizing effects.
- Limonene. One of the most commonly found terpenes, limonene has distinct citrus notes and may potentially haveTrusted Source anti-cancer properties. In mice, it’s been shown Trusted Sourceto have anti-anxiety properties.
- Linalool. Lovers of lavender as aromatherapy may want to seek out cannabis with linalool, which may helpTrusted Source alleviate stress.
- Myrcene. Found in mangoes, myrcene hasTrusted Source antifungal and antibacterial properties and could alsoTrusted Source have sedating effects.
Keep in mind that much of the research around terpenes is still in early stages. More high quality studies in humans are needed to fully understand the health impacts of different terpene profiles.
Maximizing their benefits
Curious to start exploring terpenes? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Read the label. Some lab-tested cannabis brands include the terpene profiles (often the three most prevalent terpenes) and concentrations of the product (usually a number that sits around 2 percent).
- Check for freshness. Terpene concentration can diminish over time, so look for products that have a recent package date. If you’re going with flower, give it a sniff if you can. You want something that’s fragrant (indicative of high terpene content), not stale.
- Use caution with cannabis oil. Oil-based vaping products often have added synthetic terpenes. It’s not clear if synthetic terpenes are less effective than natural ones, but they’re often used to create solvents and other household chemicals. Proceed with caution, and be wary of marketing materials that make promises about what they’ll do.
- Lay off the heat. There’s some evidenceTrusted Source that dabbing, which involves high heat, could degrade synthetic terpenes, resulting in potentially harmful byproducts. Until experts understand more about how heat affects terpenes, you may want to stick with vaporizing flower at a low temperature or consuming edibles.
- Keep a journal. As you try different terpene profiles, take note of your ingestion method and how you feel. Over time, this can help you pinpoint the best terpene profile for the effects you’re after.