What are Cannabis Terpenes?

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The increasing popularity of recreational and medical cannabis has led to a greater understanding of what makes it work. The hydrocarbon compounds called “terpenes” are what make cannabis effective for both types of users. Terpenes also give marijuana its distinctive flavor and odor. When the drug was illegal, all anyone knew was that it made you high. Now, it’s legal in one form or the other in over half of the U.S. Knowledge of cannabis has become more mainstream and terpenes are at the heart of the conversation.

What Are Essential Oils?

The popularity of essential oils has been on the rise over the last decade, too. Their use goes back to biblical times, along with uses by the Egyptians dating thousands of years ago. Today, people use essential oils in place of chemical drugs and cleaners. They prefer using natural products that aren’t toxic.

Essential oils are compounds found in various types of plants. The oils contain the scent and flavor, or “essence” of the plant. These aromatic compounds have unique medicinal benefits that can have positive impacts on the human body.

They have been used throughout history in alternative medicine and aromatherapy. Depending on their use, they are either inhaled or diluted and rubbed onto the skin. Many people believe essential oils benefit your health in a number of ways, although research on the effects is limited. Performing blind studies is virtually impossible due to the aroma of the oils.

Currently, there are more than ninety types of essential oils on the market, each with a unique essence and health benefits. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Peppermint – boosts energy and aids in digestion
  • Lemon – enhances mood, aids in digestion, alleviates headaches
  • Rose – improves mood and reduces anxiety
  • Jasmine – helps with depression, improves libido
  • Lavender– reduces stress
  • Chamomile – improves mood and reduces anxiety
  • Sandalwood – reduces anxiety and improves focus
  • Tea Tree – boosts immunity and helps fight infections
  • Ylang-Ylang – used to treat headaches, reduce nausea, and aid with skin conditions
  • Bergamot – reduces stress and helps with skin conditions including eczema

There are two groups of essential oils: hydrocarbons and oxygenated compounds. The latter group includes a range of compound types including esters, alcohols, ketones, and oxides. It is the hydrocarbons that are made up primarily of terpenes. Although terpenes are sometimes called essential oils, they are actually active substances within the essential oil. Oxygenated compounds have health benefits too, but it is the hydrocarbons with terpenes that inhibit toxins from accumulating and help discharge them from the liver and kidneys. Terpenes are the compounds that give essential oils their aroma, flavor, and health benefits. They also produce the “high” that recreational users want from cannabis, along with its health benefits. It is the exceptionally high content of terpenes in cannabis that make it so effective.

Terpenes function in nature to deter parasites and predators. They protect the plant from things like bacteria and fungi. The general formula of terpenes is (C5H8)n.It is the “n” that determines the number of isoprenes, making the difference in which type of terpene it is and the benefits it provides. A terpenoid is a terpene that is chemically altered.


Cannabinoids are another type of chemical compound that occur in cannabis. When described as phytocannabinoids, it simply means that they come from plants. These compounds also occur in the human body. Cannabis plants contain more than 500 components, with more than 100 classified as phytocannabinoids. Of these, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the best-known. That’s because of its psychoactive qualities. The more THC in the cannabis, the more of a “high” it produces. THC also works as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pain reliever.

On the other hand, cannabidiol (CBD) contributes to the medical benefits of the plant. CBD is the most abundant cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. It acts as an anticonvulsant, reduces anxiety, treats psychotic disorders, is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and relieves spasms.

The benefits of CBD for medical treatment have led to the popularity of CBD oil. The oil is legal in all thirty states that allow medicinal or recreational marijuana. The one medical condition with the greatest amount of research supporting the oil’s effects is epilepsy. But the research to support its effects is still ongoing. Many users also report improvements with inflammatory conditions including arthritis. CBD oil is used in creams and gels, taken in capsule form, or applied as an oral spray.

Some people experience mild side effects such as nausea or trouble sleeping with CBD oil. However, most tolerate it well and prefer it to taking chemical medications that cause worse side effects. Drugs like NSAIDs, which are often used to treat chronic pain and inflammation, can cause damage to your organs with continued use.

THC has been highly researched since 1964, after the cannabinoid was isolated and synthesized. In 2011, neurologist and researcher Ethan Russo published a paper describing the entourage effects produced by cannabis and terpenes. Previously, researchers believed THC was the only psychoactive chemical that was important in cannabis. Russo’s research showed how other cannabinoids and terpenes help to increase or decrease its effects along with other chemicals in the body.

THC and the ECS: How Cannabinoids and Terpenes Work

THC and other cannabinoids work by binding to the receptors in your brain. Terpenes change how the cannabinoids work. Two products with the same type and quantity of cannabinoids can work differently. This is due to the terpene activity.

One example of the terpene effect is that of recreational marijuana users who eat a ripe mango prior to smoking. Many swear that the mango greatly increases the effects. Experts believe it is the terpene “Myrcene” in the fruit that works with the THC to change the way the marijuana affects the user.

In contrast, adding a different terpene, limonene, has a stimulant effect. Just as different essential oils have different effects, so do the different terpenes.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is your body’s biological system that allows it to enjoy the benefits of cannabis. The system includes cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoid molecules, and their metabolic enzymes. The body uses the ECS to maintain homeostasis. That means the regulation of biological conditions with a narrow range. For example. it keeps your body temperature within a range of 97°F to 99°F.

Ethan Russo showed through his research that cannabinoids and terpenes work together to boost and modulate the effects of one another on the ECS. Through something known as the “Entourage Effect,” terpenes help cannabinoids like THC pass through the bloodstream by lowering the blood-to-brain barrier. In some cases, it makes you feel more of the effects associated with a cannabis strain. In others, it makes you feel less. The entourage effect refers to the way the cannabinoids and terpenes play off each other, work together, and either enhance or downplay the effects of the cannabis.

Tempering a high might not sound appealing to the user who wants the best possible high. But to the medical patient, it can make it a more relaxing experience with greater medical benefits. Shoppers already have more options for buying brands and strains with the effects they want. As we continue to learn more about the various components of cannabis, customizing the user experience should be even easier.

As we gain more knowledge about the way terpenes work, cannabis connoisseurs are gradually learning to look for products with higher terpene levels. It also helps to know a little about the different types of terpenes and what they do. Some have a relaxing effect, while others give you a boost of energy.

Myrcene – We’ve already talked about the presence of Myrcene in mango and the effect of eating the fruit before using cannabis. It is also the most common terpene found in cannabis. The aroma of Myrcene is comparable to that of cloves. it has anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relief), and anti-bacterial properties. The terpene has sedative, calming and relaxing effects that medical patients like. Sometimes it’s called the “couch-lock” terpene because of its highly-sedative effects. It also increases the psychoactive effects of THC for a better high for recreational users.

Limonene – Limonene is the second most common of all the terpenes in cannabis. It has a citrus smell and is known for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. The terpene is highly-energetic and is useful in treating depression. Some research shows the limonene has anti-cancer properties that may help reduce or prevent tumor growth. Some products with limonene are designed to treat anxiety and depression. It also has potential benefits in promoting overall well-being and sexual health.

Linalool – This terpene has a fresh, floral scent that produces a calming effect. Its qualities make it ideal for treating anxiety. It is believed to have pain-relieving and anti-epileptic properties as well. Researchers are also looking into linalool as a potential cancer treatment.

Caryophyllene – It lacks the sweetness of other terpenes, instead, having the spiciness that you might expect to find in cooking spices. This terpene has strong anti-inflammatory and pain-relief properties. It’s found in black pepper, cloves, and other similar spices.

Nerolidol– Nerolidol is found in ginger, among other spices, and is often used as a flavoring for food and in perfumes. The woodsy, earthy aroma resembles that of tree bark. Nerolidol might be anti-fungal and it has a sedative effect. It is a useful treatment for malaria.

Pinene – It’s probably no surprise that this terpene comes from pine and fir trees. But it’s also found in some herbs such as sage and rosemary. Pinene has local-antiseptic properties and it’s an anti-inflammatory. It also has a positive effect on memory.

Terpineol – This terpene has the smell of lilacs and lime blossoms, which makes it a popular choice for use in perfumes and cosmetics. This is another of the terpenes that causes a relaxing effect. Most cannabis strains with a high level of terpineol also have lots of pinene.

Humulene – This terpene is the main constituent of hops. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties and is a hunger suppressant. Just the opposite of what you’d expect from any cannabis strain!

What About the Color?

If you’ve ever wondered what gives cannabis its purple or green color, it’s none of the components we’ve talked about here! Flavonoids are the compounds responsible for the colors. There are more than 6,000 types of flavonoids. Researchers have identified about 20 in the cannabis plant. In spite of their name, flavonoids don’t have anything to do with the taste. They do, however, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health properties that contribute to your health.

If you prefer eating your cannabis instead of smoking, you need an even greater understanding of the strains. Terpenes are highly sensitive to heat, making them vulnerable to the cooking process. If you’re going to create your own edibles, make sure you research the strains you’re using for the best cooking temperatures. A better (and safer) option is to purchase ready-made edibles with the qualities you want.

Choosing Terpenes by Aroma

Terpenes add spice and flavor to a lot of the foods we eat. When choosing a strain of cannabis, the smell of terpenes can help guide you. Many experts advise letting your nose be your guide. If you know that you prefer citrusy over woodsy or vice versa, this guide will help steer you in the right direction. Of course, buying your cannabis online means not being able to smell the products. That’s one reason to be selective; not only about the strain of cannabis you buy, but also the store you buy from.

Now you know that strains matter and the terpene content determines how well cannabis works. Whether you want cannabis for recreational or medical needs, you want quality. Even if you’re new to cannabis use, there are some brands out there that aren’t. When you purchase from the right companies, you can count on getting top quality. Some of the best brands on the market include:

  • NUG
  • Raw Garden
  • Upnorth
  • Loudpack
  • Team Elite Genetics
  • Cream of the Crop Gardens
  • Heavy Hitters
  • High Garden
  • 710 Labs
  • CRU Cannabis
  • Centurion
  • Pistil Point
  • Connected Cannabis Co.
  • AlienLabs
  • Clout King
  • Los Angeles Kush
  • North Country Pharms
  • Gold Seal

The next step is to find a store that is just as devoted to providing quality service and timely deliveries as they are to offering the leading brands.

At Left Coast Collective, we strive to bring the three Qs to our customer base: Quality of Product, Quality of Service, & Quality Delivery Time. We carry the brands that our customers have come to trust. Contact Left Coast Collective to learn more about what makes us San Diego’s premier cannabis store!

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