The diverse palate of cannabis flavors is impressive enough, but arguably the most fascinating characteristic of terpenes is their ability to interact synergistically with other compounds in the plant, like cannabinoids. In the past few decades, most cannabis varieties have been bred to contain high levels of THC, and as a result, other cannabinoids like CBD, CBC, and CBN have fallen to just trace amounts. This has led growers to believe that terpenes help account for the unique effects induced by each cannabis strain. Some refer to this as the ‘entourage effect.’
This synergy has a scientific basis in our body’s endocannabinoid system. THC binds to receptors concentrated most heavily in the brain where psychoactive effects take place. Terpenes also bind to these receptor sites and affect their chemical output. They can also modify how much THC passes through the blood-brain barrier. Their hand of influence even reaches to neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin by altering their rate of production and destruction, their movement, and availability of receptors.
The effects these mechanisms produce vary from terpene to terpene; some are especially successful in relieving stress, while others promote focus and acuity. Myrcene, for example, induces sleep whereas limonene elevates mood. There are also effects that are imperceptible, like the gastroprotective properties of Caryophyllene.
Their differences may be subtle, but terpenes can add great depth to the horticultural art and connoisseurship of cannabis. Most importantly, terpenes may offer incredible medical value as they mediate our body’s interaction with therapeutic cannabinoids. Many cannabis analysis labs now test terpene content, so any consumer can have a better idea of what effects their strain might produce. With their unlimited combinations of synergistic effects, terpenes will likely open up new scientific and medical terrains for cannabis research.
Most Common Cannabis Terpenes
Effects: Alertness, memory retention, counteracts some THC effects
Medical Value: Asthma, antiseptic
Also Found In: Pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, dill
Also Found In: Mango, lemongrass, thyme, hops
Also Found In: Fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper, peppermint
Effects: No detectable physical effects
Also Found In: Black pepper, cloves, cotton
*High Caryophyllene Strains: Hash Plant
Also Found In: Lavender
*Note: Not every batch of any given strain will have high levels of these terpenes as they are subjected to variable growing conditions. The only way to be sure is through a lab’s terpene analysis.