What are Terpenes and Why do They Matter?

  • by Liz Pace
What are Terpenes and Why do They Matter?

You've probably heard the word 'terpenes' a lot, especially if you have any experience with cannabis. You may have a general idea of what it means, and you may even know that it has something to do with smell. But beyond that, most people don't know much about terpenes. Terpenes play an important role in how we experience different types of cannabis —and they can even make the difference between whether or not a plant will be effective for treating certain medical conditions. Let's dive into terpenes a little deeper so we can understand what they are and why they're such an important part of the cannabis experience.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are the fragrant oils that give cannabis its smell. They're found in many other plants and herbs and have a variety of effects on the body. Terpenes  interact with your endocannabinoid system, acting as an amplifier for cannabinoids.

Terpenes come from a chemical compound known as isoprene (a natural hydrocarbon), which is created when trees or leaves are cut or burned. When we burn cannabis, we get a lot of this terpene-filled smoke into our lungs.  What does this mean? It means that we can actually inhale these essential oils through smoking, vaping or eating food products made with hemp-derived CBD oil!

The human body processes terpenes like it does other cannabinoids, which means they can also interact with receptors in the brain. In fact, one study showed that a specific terpene — caryophyllene oxide — binds with the same receptor as THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces a “high” feeling.

Like cannabinoids, terpenes are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to have sleep-inducing properties. They’re also thought to help with anxiety and depression by dampening pain signals sent from the body to the brain.

Are terpenes medicinal?

Terpenes are medicinal and can help with a variety of health issues. You can use them to improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, manage inflammation, fight pain and fatigue, boost your mood, promote brain health and more.

Terpenes are aromatic oils that give cannabis, and other plants, their unique smell. They are also found in many herbs and spices like oregano, rosemary, and cinnamon. Terpenes can be used to make essential oils or used as a food additive. For example, pine trees produce terpenes that are added to foods such as ice cream and syrup for flavoring purposes; these terpenes give the ice cream its unique taste.

Do different combinations of terpenes result in different types of effects?

Terpenes interact with the endocannabinoid system and brain in a variety of ways. They can be thought of as “intermediates” that activate different receptors, creating different effects for users.

Some cannabinoids that bind directly to receptors — like THC does with CB1 and CB2 — while others require an intermediate substance like a terpene or enzyme to activate them first, such as CBD binding to TRPV1.

Are terpenes a part of what makes CBD effective?

Terpenes are the source of the smell and flavor of cannabis. They’re also a key part of what makes it effective at treating all sorts of ailments.

The human body has an endocannabinoid system, or ECS, which regulates many physiological functions including pain, mood, and appetite. Terpenes interact with this system by interacting through the same receptors as CBD or THC do—they just work in different ways.


The next time you’re looking for a CBD product to try, make sure its full-spectrum as this will include the terpene profile. Don’t be surprised if the CBD is more effective with this little-known chemical compound. There has been plenty of research done on terpenes and their potential effects, so you can be sure that there will be more information coming out soon about all their different benefits. 


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