Terps? Terpenes? What?
Updated: Mar 3
Have you ever walked down the candle aisle smelling candles one by one? That’s terps baby.
Have you ever walked into a dispensary smelling different strains, one by one (prop 215 days)? That’s also terps baby.
Terps are the main ingredients that provide many botanical plants their aroma profile and they are not necessarily specific to cannabis.
What are Terps or Terpenes?
Terpenes are highly aromatic chemical compounds that determine the distinctive scent of plants. It is what gives pine, oranges, cannabis and other plants their unique aromas. Terpenes are the natural form of the compound found in a live plant and once the plant is cut, dried and cured, terpenes oxidize and become terpenoids.
Some terpenes can be found among different plant species - terpenes are not plant specific. This is why some cannabis strains smell citrusy. These strains contain the terpene limonene, which is also found in oranges and lemons. On the flip side, one plant can have many terpenes. Like the cannabis plant that has over a 100 different terpenes!
Because cannabis plants contain such a high amount of mixed terpenes, terpenes are mainly associated with cannabis. Terps define the smoking experience through their distinct and unique aromas. And each strain has a unique terpene profile!
What do Terpenes do?
Scientists are still discovering and studying the effects of terpenes but here’s what we know so far.
Biologically, the terpenes in plants can serve various functions such as attracting pollinators, repelling predators, repairing damage to the plant, and even boosting the plant’s immune system.
When consumed, terpenes can have varying effects based on the concentration of terpenes and how the terpenes are used. You can either inhale (e.g. aromatherapy) or ingest the terpenes, depending on its properties, to feel its effects. Not all terpenes are safe to consume as supplements.
You’ve probably heard about the relaxing effects of lavender - this comes from the terpene linalool - also found in cannabis strains. And you’ve most definitely felt the energizing effects of citrus - this is caused by the terpene limonene. Almost every essential oil or candle brand has a lavender or citrus based scent.
Interesting find → According to researchers, spending time in areas with high terpene concentrations may also provide health benefits. This stems from the Japanese tradition of forest bathing, where one can benefit physically and mentally from spending time in nature. So every time I enter our cannabis lab in San Diego, to write blogs like this one while surrounded by thousands of pounds of cannabis being processed, I consider myself to be forest bathing at the highest level! Pinene is one of the many terpenes found in the evergreen trees of forests and found in many cannabis strains. Pinene can provide anti-inflammatory and respiratory benefits.
The Entourage Effect
The theory of the entourage effect is that the consumption of terpenes with other cannabis compounds and cannabinoids, such as THC & CBD, provides a synergistic effect greater than the effect a single compound or cannabinoid could provide. Terpenes can alter the effects of cannabinoids by either intensifying or softening your experience, hence the name, entourage effect!
Terpenes, Temperature, and Common Cannabis Consumption Methods
Too hot or too cold? Terpenes are temperature sensitive. At their evaporation point, approximately 70-100°F, they release volatile compounds further activating their healing properties. At their boiling point, usually around 300°F, they are fully vaporized thereby destroying their healing properties.
When cannabis is smoked, the temperature of the flame can range from 430°F to 2000°F, it will more than likely combust the terpenes as the smoke is inhaled. Some say, this can actually destroy the properties of terpenes, while others say terpenes are being consumed through inhalation. In my opinion, if you smell them, and are breathing them in, then the terps are doing their job, what do you think?
When cannabis is vaporized, the temperature of the heating element can be controlled to either lower temperatures for a lighter terpene effect or higher temperature for an intense terpene effect. Temperature of the heating element can also affect the amount and quality of smoke/vapor you consume, but this is another topic for another day.
Heating and burning terpenes are not the only way to enjoy the effects of these aroma profiles. Topicals, tinctures and edibles companies have also been known to use terpenes in their formulations. Bioavailability through evaporation, ingestion and inhalation during consumption can all be ways to benefit from terpenes. I guess we’ll have to try it! Of course, terpenes, like many other parts of the cannabis plant, are being studied in labs all over the world.
Long Story Short
Terpenes and its effects are still being studied, especially its effects through cannabis consumption. Right now, it’s hard to say a specific terpene used with a cannabinoid will 100% give you a specific desired effect since many other factors come into play on how cannabis affects a consumer.
In Case You’re Interested… A List of Common Terpenes
The following are a list of terpenes commonly found in various cannabis strains.
Note - not all of these terpenes appear and are exhibited in all cannabis strains. The only way to know the terpene profile is through lab testing since terpene profiles depend on cannabis growing and extraction methods too.
Found In: cannabis, hops, lemongrass, thyme, basil, ylang ylang
Aroma: earthy, musky, cloves, tropical fruit
Boiling Point: 332.6°F or 167°C
Common Effects: relaxing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, may help protect brain from oxidative damage following a stroke, protect heart tissue at high concentrations, treat osteoarthritis, alleviate pain, protect against cancer, relax muscles
Notes: one of the most prominent terpenes in cannabis
Beta-caryophyllene (also referred to as Caryophyllene)
Found In: cannabis, hops, cloves, rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon, cotton, oregano
Aroma: herbal, spicy, woody, peppery
Boiling Point: 266°F or 130°C
Common Effects: anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, may help with anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal issues
Note: some of the prominent terpenes in cannabis
Found In: cannabis, pine trees, evergreen trees, rosemary, basil, parsley
Boiling Point: 311°F or 155°C
Common Effects: anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, improves airflow to lungs, alertness, memory retention, may help protect against ulcers
Notes: has been used for centuries in herbal medicine
Found In: cannabis, lemons, oranges
Boiling Point: 348.8°F or 176°C
Common Effects: energizing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antidiabetic, anticancer, antifungal, antibacterial, boost immune system, alleviate heartburn/acid reflux symptoms, stress relief, elevate mood (increases serotonin levels in brain)
Notes: second most abundant terpene found in cannabis, used in cleaning supplies & fragrances, safe to take as a supplement, may protect body from a range of disorders
Found In: cannabis, lavender, rosewood, bergamot, coriander, rose, jasmine
Aroma: floral, citrus
Boiling Point: 388.4°F or 198°C
Common Effects: calming, reduce anxiety, relaxing, stress relieving, sedating, may be anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, neuroprotective, an antidepressant, anticancer, reduce pain & nausea after surgery, antifungal, combat insomnia
Notes: can help balance anxious side effect sometimes produced by THC
Found In: cannabis, hops, clove, ginger, basil, sage, black pepper, ginseng, coriander
Aroma: hoppy, woody, earthy
Boiling Point: 222.8°F or 106°C
Common Effects: anti-inflammatory when used with beta-caryophellene, appetite suppressant, anti-bacterial, may prevent allergic reactions, prevent asthma, be anticarcinogenic, relieve pain
Notes: key component of hop plant