What are Terpenes? – A Guide to Cannabis

13th September 2019

When reading about CBD and Hemp products, most people will have come across the terms ‘terpenes’ or ‘terpenoids’. You may have heard that terpenes can enhance the effects of the cannabinoids found in Cannabis plants. But what are they?

What are they?

Terpenes are naturally-occurring hydrocarbons, found in many plants. The terms ‘terpenes’ and ‘terpenoids’ are often used interchangeably. However, they are not technically the same thing. Terpenoids are actually the compounds formed when terpenes undergo some kind of chemical modification, such as drying or heating.

Functions of Terpenes?

These chemicals can give plants and their extracts a number of different properties. For many plants, terpenes are used as a defence mechanism, usually through their scent, which can repel herbivores. Terpenes can also attract parasites and predators of these herbivores.

In addition to protecting plants, terpenes have been found to have a number of medicinal and therapeutic properties. They are most likely the reason that humans have used plants in traditional and modern medicine for thousands of years.

So, what are the different terpenes, and what do they do?

Most Common Cannabis Terpenes

There are a number of terpenes found in Cannabis plants. Different combinations of terpenes are a factor of the large variety of Cannabis ‘strains’.


Given it’s name in honour of the pine needle, which this terpene is also found in, α-pinene is said to have a distinct pine aroma. α-Pinene is thought to induce alertness and memory retention, as well as potentially counteracting some effects of THC.

α-Pinene is sometimes thought to have potential as a treatment for asthma, pain, inflammation, anxiety and cancer.

This terpene is also found in rosemary, dill, basil, parsley and pine needles.


Another terpene honoured with a familiar name. Limonene is found in citrus plants, and has a distinct citrusy smell – it is one of the most used fragrances in cosmetics. Limonene is thought to elevate mood and reduce stress.

The reported medical potential of this terpene includes treatment for anxiety, depression, inflammation, cancer and pain.

Limonene is also found in fruit rinds (particularly citrus fruits), rosemary, juniper and peppermint.


This peppery terpene is described as having a spicy, woody aroma, similar to cloves and peppercorns. Caryophyllene is thought to have stress relief potential.

It has been found to have anti-anxiety and depression effects, as well as being a potential treatment for pain and ulcers.

Caryophyllene is also found in black pepper, cinnamon and cloves.


Myrcene is said to have a herbal and earthy smell, with notes of cloves and cardamom. This terpene has a relaxing and sedating effect.

It is thought to be an effective anti-oxidant, and have the potential to treat insomnia, pain and inflammation.

Myrcene is also found in hops, thyme, mango and lemongrass.


One of the primary terpenes also found in hops, Humilene has a hoppy and earthy aroma. It is thought to be an effective anti-inflammatory.

Humulene is also found in hops, cloves, basil and coriander.


Linalool has an unmistakable floral scent and is credited with mood enhancement and as a sedative.

This terpene is another thought to have potential medical value in the treatment of pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression and inflammation; as well as neurodegeneration.

Linalool is also found in lavender.


This terpene is found in a number of other plants, including lilacs. It is said to have a piney, floral and herby aroma. It also has a sedating effect.

Terpinolene is thought to battle fungus, bacteria and cancer and be an effective anti-oxidant and sedative.

It is also found in tea tree, lilacs, cumin, conifers and nutmeg.


Ocimene’s aroma is described as sweet and herbal, and it is found in a number of herbs.

It is said to have potential as an antiviral, antiseptic, anti-fungal, antibacterial and decongestant.

Ocimene is also found in mint, basil, parsley, pepper, mango, orchids and kumquats.

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