Terpenes in Cannabis

The unique odor and flavor profile of a cannabis plant can be attributed to specific chemical compounds called terpenes. Like THC and other sought-after cannabinoids, the majority of the terpenes are found in a cannabis plant’s trichomes (the mushroom-like structures that cover the leaves and flowers of a female cannabis plant). In nature, all species of plants create terpenes. Plants create terpenes to attract pollinators, to repel hungry animals or pest insects, and/or to attract beneficial insects or predatory animals for protection. In most plants, including cannabis, the concentration of terpenes increases as the plant matures. In other words, when the plant gets closer to its reproductive stage, more energy is used to attract pollinators or to protect itself. As a cannabis plant reaches the end of its flowering stage, the terpenes are at their maximum content.

Terpenes Found in Cannabis

In most cases, it is not a single terpene, but a combination of multiple terpenes that contribute to a cannabis flower’s unique odors and flavors. Each terpene lends different characteristics to the cannabis plant’s overall flavors and odors. The following are just a few of the sought-after terpenes produced by cannabis plants. 


Pinene is a terpene many are familiar with because it is associated with the fragrance of pine trees. The pine tree, or “piney”, smell found in some cannabis varieties is attributed to pinene. It is also believed that the terpene pinene is responsible for the “skunk” smell found in certain cannabis plants.


Limonene is another fairly recognizable terpene. This citrusy terpene is also found in the rind of citrus fruits. A strong citrus smell in cannabis flowers is most likely created by the presence of limonene.


Terpineol is a terpene with a lilac, citrus, or apple blossom odor. Terpineol is found in low concentrations in the essential oils of many plants, including cannabis. 


Pulegone is a terpene with a minty odor and flavor. It is usually found in very small quantities in cannabis plants. 


B-Caryophyllene is the terpene normally associated with a peppery odor. A cannabis strain with a spicy or woody-spice odor is most likely exhibiting its B-Caryophyllene content.


Myrcene is the most prominent terpene found in most marijuana varieties.  Odors associated with myrcene are citrus, nutty, earthy, and clove. The specific odors will vary due to slight changes in the overall make up of the essential oils.

The fact that terpene production can be altered by atmospheric conditions and particular products and/or techniques further illustrates how every cannabis garden will produce a slightly different result. Even when two cannabis horticulturists grow the exact same strain, there are usually slight differences between the finished products. These subtle differences can be attributed to each crop’s unique terpene profile. As more knowledge is gained regarding the medicinal properties of terpenes and techniques for increased production are fine-tuned, the medicinal and recreational potential of cannabis will only continue to expand.

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