Who wants to live a flavorless life? Who would sacrifice the pleasures of fragrance, the sense most tied to memory? Not to leave out the equally cherished senses of touch, sight, and sound, but today we’re talking about terpenes which rule over taste and smell. Rarely will we find such a complex bouquet as that found in cannabis, not to mention the seemingly inexhaustible parade of flavor profiles. These are thanks largely to the terpenes at play in the chemical make-up of the plant. You’ve no doubt heard plenty of terp talk about the importance of cannabis terpenes. But since it’s easy to get lost among the caryophyllenes and delta 3 carenes, we’re going to take a discerning look at cannabis-derived terpenes today to demystify these miraculous chemical compounds as much as modern research will allow. 

What Are Terpenes? 

Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds mostly found in flowers and plants including cannabis. In fact, the concentration of terpenes in weed is so saturated that the word is often mistakenly considered to be exclusive to cannabis. However, the fragrance of pine trees, lemons, bell peppers and rosemary (just to name a select few) can all be attributed to specific combinations of terpenes. 

Defense is the primary reason for the natural development of terpenes. Plants (not just cannabis) adapted over time to produce strong fragrances as a means of fending off predators while simultaneously attracting symbiotic relationships with bees and other pollinators. You may have heard of a cultivation technique in which stress is intentionally applied to cannabis plants. This is partly a method intended to promote richer terpene profiles in the yield. 

But pests aren’t the only influence on terpene production in a plant. A small army of factors can impact the plentitude of terpenes including weather, maturation time, and types of soils and fertilizers used in the plant’s cultivation. Even a factor as nuanced as the time of day can directly influence terpene production. That’s why lab tests illustrate so clearly that simply having the same strain from the same grower will not necessarily result in the same terpene profile. With cannabis-derived terpenes, skilled cultivators can more or less get the profile in the same ballpark.  

While the concentration of terpenes in weed strains can vary, the types of cannabis terpenes present in specific strains are reliable. We may not know the exact amount of limonene a strain will produce, but we will know that a certain strain will possess limonene as its dominant terpene. Currently, there are over 100 types of terpenes that have been discovered in cannabis with each strain following a unique terpene blueprint. But this is just what has been discovered so far. In 2014, research turned up that hash often produced its own unique terpene fittingly dubbed hashinene. It is believed that the actual process of making hash is responsible for the production of this rare and unique terpene. If hashinene is anything to go on, we still have a lot to learn about cannabis-derived terpenes. 

The Benefits of Cannabis Terpenes

Arguably, the most interesting aspect of terpenes extends beyond the cut-and-dry senses of taste and smell. It’s widely believed and, in some cases, supported by hard research that cannabis terpenes offer unique benefits and may even have an influence on how psychoactive effects manifest. Unfortunately, that old broken record refrain of “more research is needed pending federal legalization” holds true here. But with what we know, we can piece together enough information about terpenes in weed to make some pretty strong predictions about what kind of benefits you might experience and what effects you may feel. To give you a couple of examples, we’ll take a look at two popular Vacation Cannabis strains, Citrus Sunrise and Maui Punch, to analyze the potential of their primary terpenes. 

The Not-So-Secret Ingredient in Citrus Sunrise

Citrus Sunrise serves up a zesty sweet and fruity flavor, which may lead you to believe that its dominant terpene would be limonene. But lab tests will reveal that the sweet taste of this summery strain is actually thanks to a hefty helping of the terpene known as myrcene. Outside of cannabis terpenes, you’ll find myrcene naturally occurring in such diverse commodities as mangoes, hops, and lemongrass. Though the sweetness of Citrus Sunrise is a hallmark of myrcene, a scrutinizing pallet may also find nuances of an earthy, spicy flavor or aroma also indicative of this robust terp. 

What can you expect from myrcene? It’s actually one of the most commonly occurring strains in cannabis and you’ll find many popular strains boasting it as their dominant terpene including White Widow, OG Kush, and Grape Ape. It’s still not proven that the average content of terpenes in weed is enough to activate the health benefits of myrcene, but the musky terp has been linked to a series of distinct bonuses. Those suffering from sleepless nights may find that myrcene is an effective sleep aid due to its sedating nature. Perhaps as a result of its anti-inflammatory capabilities, myrcene has also been shown to effectively limit the growth of tumors(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4220615/) which could make it a potential terpene to explore for treating cancer. Those using cannabis for relief from chronic pain may be interested in myrcene’s use as a muscle relaxant. It’s even been found to help in the treatment of diabetes when paired with the monoterpene thujone. But since thujone is not one of the over 100 known cannabis-derived terpenes, you’re not likely to see these benefits from puffing on Citrus Sunrise. 

But even if you’re not really interested in the potential health benefits of myrcene, you may be enjoying its psychoactive symbiosis with THC. It’s been found that the high concentration of myrcene cannabis terpenes promotes relaxation and feelings of calm. In fact, myrcene can be downright sedating. When the myrcene terpenes in weed measure at least 0.5%, it inspires the couch-lock state that’s a hallmark of Indica-dominant cultivars. As if to underscore this fact, you won’t find a cannabis strain among the Indicas with less than 0.5% myrcene content. 

What Terpene Puts the Punch in Maui Punch? 

Now onto Maui Punch, our refreshingly fruity strain with a distinctly tropical twist that hits as smooth as the sea breeze of your favorite beach. At the heart of that carnivalesque flavor, you’ll find the terpene known as limonene, the second most common of the cannabis terpenes. Outside of cannabis, limonene is most commonly found in the rinds of citrus fruits. Most of the research done into limonene was conducted using a higher concentration of the terpene than you’d find in cannabis, so it’s difficult to determine if smoking limonene-heavy strains would offer any medical benefits. 

However, higher concentrations of limonene have been shown to offer a number of healing properties. Research suggests limonene as an effective anti-inflammatory. It’s also been found to limit the growth of cancerous cells and tumors and may even have the potential to suppress appetite.

The psychoactive link between limonene cannabis terpenes and THC is just as cloudy, though anecdotal evidence and sparse research suggests the tangy terpene interacts with THC in its own unique way. These effects include elevated moods and feelings of euphoria, anxiety relief, and the ability to improve the absorption of other terpenes. Limonene may even feel a bit like a terpene booster. 

Cannabis terpenes can provide a wide range of potential psychoactive effects, from improved clearness of mind and exacting focus to stress relief and sedation. Just how cannabis-derived terpenes interact with THC, not to mention concentrations needed to experience these effects, is a matter for further research. But if you only see the terpenes in weed as a source of flavor or fragrance, you’re likely missing a significant amount of what makes these compounds so interesting. There’s even a theory that terpenes are responsible for guiding the direction of psychoactive effects in cannabis. That’s flavor you can feel!