What Are Cannabis-Derived Terpenes?

Cannabis-derived terpenes are aromatic compounds found naturally in the cannabis plant, responsible for giving each cultivar its smell and flavor. Terpenes in cannabis and all plants (and some animals) evolved as natural defense mechanisms to protect against pests and parasites and help attract food.

cannabis leaf with tinctures on a pink table

When you see the phrase "cannabis-derived" terpenes on a product, the label refers to the fact that the terpenes in the product were extracted from cannabis. This distinction is crucial when examining concentrates or edibles, as the extraction process used to create these products often remove terpenes from flower. 

However, terpenes are an essential part of each cultivar's unique experience, responsible for much more than aroma and flavor. Research has shown that cannabis-derived terpenes have their own benefits and even work with THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids to produce unique highs.

Read on to learn more about cannabis-derived terpenes, how they differ from botanical or synthetic terpenes, and why they're such a crucial part of the marijuana consumption experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Terpenes are aromatic compounds that play an important role in the smell, flavor, and high of each strain
  • Cannabis-derived terpenes work with cannabinoids to produce unique effects
  • Cannabis-derived terpenes come from cannabis and botanical terpenes come from other plants
  • Synthetic terpenes are lab-produced but provide more consistent effects

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are organic compounds in all plants that give them unique smells and flavors. Whenever you smell tart lemons, roses, or pine needles while wandering in the woods, terpenes are responsible for these scents.

Tens of thousands of terpenes exist in nature, of which many are extracted and turned into essential oils. These essential oils mix into everyday household products, perfumes, skincare, and candles, to name a few.

In cannabis, terpenes play the same aromatic roles, producing the nearly limitlessly unique smells of different strain varieties. However, terpenes do much more in cannabis than make a strain smell like cheese, skunk, or spice. 

These compounds have been shown to work together with other cannabis compounds to produce the unique effects individuals experience when they smoke or consume. Terpenes are responsible for the energizing effects of sativa strains, the couch-lock or bliss-out euphoria of indicas, and nearly every experience in between.

How Cannabis-Derived Terpenes Work 

According to one research article, cannabis has one of the most diverse arrays of terpenes in any plant worldwide. When you consume full flower, terpenes and cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBN, and others enter the body and work synergistically. These compounds have unique individual effects, but the ensemble of cannabis' parts drives a rainbow of psychoactive experiences and medical benefits that they otherwise couldn't create alone. This phenomenon is known as the Entourage Effect.

THC and CBD produce consistent experiences, but alongside a cannabis product's cannabinoids, its terpene ratio will give you the best understanding of its effects. For example, a strain with high amounts of THC will produce psychoactivity, but if more elevated levels of beta-caryophyllene are present - it could enhance the perceived potency of the high. Cultivars with high amounts of limonene - a terpene found in lemons - are known to increase alertness and focus, even with higher levels of THC.  

During the extraction process for most concentrates, cannabinoids are stripped from other plant matter - including terpenes - and isolated into wax, shatter, or tinctures. Cannabis-derived terpenes can be added to these products to reintroduce the benefits of the Entourage Effect back into these items. Live resin products, too, use different extraction processes to preserve many of the natural terpenes and retain the complex aromas, flavors, and effects of the source strain.

Common Cannabis-Derived Terpenes

Myrcene

Myrcene is the most abundant terpene found in cannabis and naturally occurs in thyme, hops, and mango. Research has shown that myrcene contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and can cause drowsiness. When combined with THC and CBN, myrcene helps produce the sleep-deepening effects for which some cannabis is known.

Beta-Caryophyllene

Beta-caryophyllene is responsible for the peppery spice of some cannabis strains found in cloves and pepper. As mentioned above, it seems to enhance the psychoactivity of high-THC strains, but the terpene also features neuroprotective, pain-relieving, and anti-anxiety properties. 

Limonene

Limonene is a citrusy, tart-smelling terpene commonly found in rosemary, citrus rinds, and juniper berries. Found in many sativa cultivars, limonene produces more energizing and focused effects, especially when combined with pinene. However, in smaller amounts, limonene can actually help fight insomnia.

Linalool

Lavender and jasmine feature high concentrations of linalool, which produces a refreshing, floral aroma. In cannabis, linalool helps alleviate anxiety and features anti-depressant and anti-bacterial properties. Linalool and myrcene are commonly found together in more indica-leaning cultivars as helpful relaxation aids.

Pinene

Pinene, sometimes called alpha-pinene, is named for its pine-tree aroma and is found in dill, pine needles, basil, and rosemary. Research has shown that pinene can contribute to alertness and even counteract some of the paranoia that can occur with too-much THC. 

Terpineol

Terpnieol is another terpene commonly found in cannabis, producing a light, lilac-like aroma that's found in tea trees, pine, and peaches. When combined with other cannabinoids like CBD, terpineol has been shown as a valuable tool in managing seizures, thanks to both's anticonvulsant effects.

Humulene

Humulene exudes an earthy, spicy aroma found commonly in hops and cloves. The terpene's pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties work together with higher THC strains to produce the more potent physical effects commonly found in hybrid strains.

Cannabis-Derived vs. Botanical Terpenes

Technically speaking, terpenes are the same whether they're sourced from the cannabis plant or another botanical source. However, most who value the "natural" aspect of cannabis will prefer the terpenes the plant produces based on its environment, growth factors, and genetics. Vape pens or concentrates with cannabis-derived terpenes come from cannabis or hemp plants, though there's no guarantee the terpenes in your concentrate come from the same cannabis plant from which its THC was extracted.

Botanical terpenes, however, come from other plants. Limonene sourced from lemons, for example, may add a refreshing aroma to your shampoo or a lemony flavor to your vape cartridge. The terpenes are the same, regardless of their source.

The key difference between cannabis-derived and botanical terpenes lies in the ratios. Terpenes added to a mixture later will only partially capture the intended effects and flavor profile of the source strain. Live resin, for example, is created by extracting the cannabinoids and terpenes from the original, fresh cannabis plant and preserving its unique experience. 

When extraction artists introduce botanical terpenes later in the process, they'll be quite different from what the plant would produce naturally.

Cannabis-Derived vs. Synthetic Terpenes

On the other hand, synthetic terpenes are compounds created in a lab to mimic naturally occurring terpenes. One benefit of manufacturing terpenes to dadd to concentrates is that the ratio of each compound can be easily and accurately replicated, creating a consistent experience. These synthetic terpenes are also useful for studying the scientific effects of terpenes, as they're made in a lab and not sourced from cannabis, which is still a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States.

Another benefit of synthetic terpenes is that they can be produced without having to factor in the risks of temperatures, sunlight, soil, and other growing conditions that can impact the final flavor profile. As such, those who want consistent flavor every time may choose to go synthetic instead.

The Bottom Line

These fascinating compounds play a significant role in what makes the thousands of cannabis strains on the market smell, taste, and create unique experiences. Combined with THC, CBD, and other components, terpenes are responsible for energetic highs, soothing relaxation, and everything in between. Beyond this, cannabis-derived terpenes have their own medical benefits, though much more research is required to understand the full extent of their potential. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do terpenes get you high?

On their own, terpenes are aromatic compounds and do not get you high when consumed. When combined with cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes shape the high that is experienced and are what create sativa-like or indica-like experiences.

 

Reading next

man eating a slice of pizza
woman sleeping in bed