A crash-course on the vital compounds responsible for the irresistible sticky-icky aroma of the cannabis plant: Terpenes.

By: Skylar Rush

Did you know that CBD and THC—the most widely known and celebrated cannabinoids—are flavorless as well as odorless? Yea, that blew my mind too… 

What is it, then—you might be asking yourself—about the cannabis plant that gives off such a distinctive and captivating fragrance? 

Well…let’s sniff out the answer, shall we?

Picture yourself at an outdoor concert. Rhythms reverberate through the air, cold drinks never tasted so heavenly, dancing feet shuffle in the grass as people from all walks of life gather together for an evening of live tunes and fun. Through the sultry smell of funnel cake comes an aromatic waft of piney smoke that’s too sweet to come from a cigarette. 

No, it’s not the huddled group of music fans with hippie panchos sending up smoke signals; it’s the smell of terpenes at work.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds present within various plants that produce distinctive scents and serve myriad purposes within the plant world, like signaling pollinators and fending off predators. Climate, soil type, exposure to sunlight, and moisture content all effect which terpenes can develop in a particular cannabis plant. 

Different strains of cannabis contain different terpenes, and at different levels of concentration; which is why we associate quality flower with a strong “punch” to the nose. More interestingly, these terpenes all provide their own unique mode of treating various ailments in addition to the therapeutic benefits of THC and CBD. So, we at Just Breathe have set out to identify a few of the most common terpenes and explain how they work. Enjoy!  

ALPHA-PINENE: Ever notice how you feel like you can breathe easier after a solid walk through the woods? This terpene is also found in pine needles and is a powerful bronchodilator—which means it widens the bronchi in your lungs and helps you to breathe easier. Alpha-pinene is great for treating asthma and general fatigue, and also holds antibacterial and antibiotic properties. 

BETA-CARYOPHYLLENE: A strong anti-inflammatory found in the Trainwreck strain of cannabis. This terpene is uniquely used for treating certain types of ulcers as well as irritable bowels because, unlike many other anti-inflammatories, beta-caryophyllene protects stomach lining instead of damaging it. 

LIMONENE: I’m sure you guessed from the name that this terpene is also found in lemons (as well as OG Kush). Limonene is a very heart-healthy terpene that assists in improving mood, heartburn, acid-reflux, and cholesterol levels. It boasts powerful antimicrobial properties, and has demonstrated anti-cancer properties in lab testing! 

MYRCENE: This anti-inflammatory terpene is found in the hops vine as well as indica-dominant strains of cannabis and works as a powerful sedative at high levels. You know that catchy play-on-words that helps in remembering the effects of indica vs. sativa? Well, you can thank Dr. Ethan Russo, who’s article published in the British Journal of Pharmacology details the effects of Myrcene on mice and humans. “Myrcene…” Dr. Russo writes, “may produce the ‘couch-lock’ phenomenon…decried or appreciated by recreational cannabis consumers.” 

BOOM! There you have it: indica = in-da-couch! Thanks, Dr. Russo! 

While these four terpenes tend to be the most common, over 200 unique terpenes have been identified in cannabis, and they all work together cooperatively to play important roles in the marijuana “entourage effect” (if this term is unfamiliar, see our blog post on full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate CBD). So, Just Breathe family, next time that scent hits your nose and turns your head, you know where it really comes from. 

Happy smelling!