Discover Terpenes: Part 2 – Prominent Cannabis Terpenes & Their Effects

Terpenes are tiny molecules that give plants their distinctive smells- especially the potent mixes of cannabis terpenes. The prevailing theory is that plants produce terpenes to help them survive their environment. By some marvelous evolutionary process, terpenes and human bodies can work together, and we can use terpenes to live better. 

Terpenes are available across the plant kingdom as beauty products, aromatherapy aids and in foods. Anyone can incorporate terpenes into their life without cannabis. Cannabis, however, creates more terpenes simultaneously than any other plant we know of, and cannabis plants mix those many and varied terpenes to create exotic and individual essential oils. 

In Part 1, we took a general look at terpenes and how they make a difference in your cannabis experience. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at seven of the more common cannabis terpenes and what they individually offer therapeutically. Then we’ll tie it together to help make you a better consumer.

The many “anti’s” of cannabis terpenes

A limonene heavy cannabis strain alongside some lemons.

When we choose cannabis it’s usually for the cannabinoids. Recreationally, it’s THC that gets you euphoric and CBD that tempers euphoria to manageable levels. 

Medicinally, cannabinoids perform a multitude of signaling actions to: 

  • control pain 
  • reduce inflammation 
  • ease emotional stress 

It turns out those tiny, fragrant terpenes do the same types of actions in your body that cannabinoids do, and in so doing they make it easier for cannabinoids to signal more efficiently. 

Looking over the many ways major cannabis terpenes interact with the body we find a long, impressive list of “anti’s”- things terpenes do to keep all the things you don’t want to happen in your body from happening.

A table on the various effects of cannabis terpenes.

Major Players

While the individual terpenes have characteristics that distinguish them one from another it’s important to remember that with cannabis the variety and unique combinations of terpenes will create an entourage effect, intermingling inside the body to influence each other, creating new expressions. 

The higher the concentration of a particular terpene in a cannabis plant, the more likely you’ll find its major characteristics expressed. I’m only hitting broad points here, and we’re only looking at 7 of the top 30 or so terpenes expressed in most cannabis strains. The study of terpenes in cannabis could happily absorb a lifetime.

Let’s take a closer look at how terpene expressions in cannabis can make a big difference in how you experience your cannabis product. 

Note: It’s with caution that I suggest any strains. Every plant produces a unique oil, and without testing, it’s nearly impossible to determine what terpene is really dominant. The strains listed have typically expressed the terpene highlighted. That’s all we can really say.

ACDC is a strain that's high in the cannabis terpene myrcene.
ACDC: The bountiful presence of both myrcene and CBD make this a sound choice for relief from anxiety, inflammation, and pain, as well as calming the neural storms of seizure disorders.  A good choice to mix with a high-THC strain to create balance and diversity.

The dominant terpene in hops, high levels of myrcene also dominate cannabis. It has a musky fruitiness, and it’s the terpene most responsible for that skunky smell many of us associate with weed. 

Myrcene melts away stress and tension that contribute to pain. In most cannabis strains with high levels of myrcene, it’ll give you the ultra-relaxing body stone we call “couch lock.”  You’ll find it more strongly expressed in strains noted as indicas, and it often makes a big showing in many CBD-rich strains. 

  • One of myrcene’s more important contributions to the entourage is its ability to help cannabinoids and other terpenes get through the Blood-Brain Barrier and into the bloodstream more efficiently. Faster uptake = faster onset of relief. 
  • Myrcene eases your emotional stress and melts the tension from your muscles. Restorative sleep becomes a possibility again. 
  • The ability to relax skeletal muscles makes cannabis strains high in myrcene a good choice for topicals and massage oils. 
  • Myrcene increases the effectiveness of sedating drugs, allowing you to rely less on pharmaceutical drugs and more on your body’s natural inclination to relax and sleep. 
  • Myrcene is prized for its ability to relieve pain. Like THC, it sits pain in a distant corner and keeps you from noticing it while you live your life. 
  • Myrcene works particularly well when matched up with THC. After making it easier for THC to get into the bloodstream, myrcene also increases blood flow to inflamed areas. Once THC has arrived it can signal pain relief and call in specialized immune cells.
  • Skeletal muscles respond particularly well to myrcene’s relaxing power. Relaxed muscles allow more blood flow. More blood flow means wider distribution of cannabinoids and terpenes. 
  • Myrcene helps reduce muscle spasms and helps the body react positively to spasms that do occur. 

Combine myrcene with other cannabis terpenes and cannabinoids and you get more bang for the buck:

Caryophyllene + Myrcene + Pinene = less anxiety

CBD + Limonene + Linalool = hope for clearing skin conditions

CBD + Myrcene = less pain and inflammation, fights cancer

CBG + Myrcene = enhanced anti-cancer 

THC + Myrcene = less pain, relaxed muscles, less emotional stress, better sleep

In simple language:

Cannabis + Myrcene = Less stress * Less pain * More sleep

Strains high in myrcene: ACDC (high-CBD), Bubba Kush, Chem ‘91, AK-47, Purps, Grape Ape

Blue Dream is high in the cannabis terpene pinene.
Blue Dream: High in pinene balanced with myrcene followed by secondary terpenes caryophyllene and limonene make this a popular choice for gastrointestinal distress and a go-to for nausea. A clear and pleasant euphoria tame enough for daytime microdosing.

Pinene is the most common terpene on the planet, and it’s the cannabis terpene that wakes your brain up, but it doesn’t show up very often as the dominant terpene in strains. It’s much more likely that pinenes will be the second or third most represented terpene. B-Pinene causes many of the same expressions as a-pinene

  • Pinene improves memory and keeps you alert by inhibiting the metabolic breakdown of the stimulating brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Your experience will be more clear-headed, and your memory won’t be compromised by THC’s intoxicating effects. 
  • Instead of your brain fogging up, pinenes inspire focus.
  • Because pinene acts as a bronchodilator, you’ll actually feel the smoke expanding in the lungs.  This makes it easier for cannabinoids and other terpenes to be absorbed. 
  • A-Pinene is highly bioavailable, and it makes cannabinoids more bioavailable too. You’ll get higher faster, and you’ll also feel the effects of your cannabis medicine faster. 
  • Your sense of personal energy increases.
  • As your mind lets go of stress, you’re left feeling satisfied with your contributions to life. 

Cannabis + Pinene = Clear-minded * Energetic * Alert * Satisfied

All-in-all a great addition to a regimen. 

Note: Pinene is a solvent, and its presence in most cannabis strains makes it important to avoid storing cannabis in plastic bags. 

Strains high in pinenes: Blue Dream, New York City Diesel, Harlequin (high-CBD)

Beta-caryophyllene is a predominant cannabis terpene in Royal Cookies.
Royal Cookies: A generous helping of the cannabis terpene caryophyllene, backed by its inflammation-fighting helper humulene and further brightened with limonene to protect the brain and gut. You’ll get pain relief without sleepiness. Low levels of myrcene with just a touch of linalool can make them intensely stimulating.

The peppery tones of Beta-caryophyllene are generated in cannabis plants to repel grazing animals, which may explain its abundant presence as a cannabis terpene. This is great news for us because this marvelous molecule is a powerhouse that may one day be considered a true cannabinoid. 

It’s the only cannabis terpene known to activate the human endocannabinoid receptor CB2, the major receptor of the immune system. It’s your immune system doing most of the work to keep inflammation at bay. 

Its molecular size helps it survive processing better than monoterpenes, which are so light that they float away at the simplest provocation, so it’s usually higher in extracts where myrcene will be higher in buds. Beta-caryophyllene tends to show up more strongly represented in colorful buds with the range of blues and purples. Growers have been answering the call and color is on the increase in strains like Cookies and Punch that are becoming so popular in today’s cannabis marketplace.  

Caryophyllene is usually joined by humulene, another anti-inflammatory, giving you a double punch for pain management. 

  • Caryophyllene tamps down inflammation, internally and externally. It’s good for edibles and topicals.
  • It helps other components in topicals absorb into the skin. 
  • Beta-caryophyllene’s strong anti-inflammatory effect makes it a great choice for arthritis treatment.
  • As a strong protector of the gut system, caryophyllene can be particularly valuable for the treatment of gastrointestinal concerns like IBS.  
  • Strains high in Beta-caryophyllene tend to be low in myrcene, which means the high will be almost pure THC. It can be intense for sensitive consumers. Start low and go slow. 
  • Its ability to activate CB2 receptors means Beta-caryophyllene can have a positive effect on your immune response. This makes it attractive for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

All disease involves inflammation. Colorful cannabis flowers that span a range of purple tones suggest a richness of Beta-caryophyllene and deserve consideration for any cannabis regimen. 

Cannabis + Beta-caryophyllene = Less pain * Relaxed * Healthier everything

Strains high in Beta-caryophyllene: Cookies (all variations), Haze, GG#4

Limonene is a predominant cannabis terpene in Tangerine Dream.
Tangerine Dream: This high-limonene strain’s colorful buds reflect the caryophyllene that comes balanced with pinene lifting the mood, followed by a train of calming linalool and the balance of ocimene, blending into nearly perfect daytime medicine of relief without sleepiness.

The predominant terpene in the citrus family, limonene clears the brain and opens it up to creative potential and wonder. You’ll find this energizing cannabis terpene dominant in strains identified as sativas, and its presence will light up the eyes of most sativa lovers, who anticipate extreme and soaring euphoria. 

Limonene as a cannabis terpene is more bioavailable than speedy pinene, generating up to 70% uptake into the pulmonary system. It quickly appears in the bloodstream upon inhalation. 

  • Limonene activates the adenosine receptors, which causes the aorta and coronary artery to allow more blood flow. More blood flow = faster distribution of cannabis components. 
  • Limonene improves cell permeability, making it easier for terpenes and cannabinoids to slip through the skin and mucous membranes. Things get absorbed faster. This speeds up the effects of the other components, like THC and CBD.
  • Simply inhaling limonene over time will reduce depression.  Cannabis strains high in limonene can be useful in treating bipolar and borderline personality disorders
  • Limonene influence in cannabis will have you feeling alert and creative, at the right dose. Get too indulgent and there can be an edgy or restless feeling from the THC limonene is making more available. 
  • A strong limonene expression in a strain encourages soaring euphoria. 
  • Limonene protects the lungs by blocking the carcinogenic effects of one of the ‘tars’ found in combusted cannabis. 
  • Limonene can relieve heartburn, and a strain high in limonene is worth a try if you have acid reflux concerns. 
  • A potent anticonvulsant, limonene presence can be therapeutic for the treatment of seizure disorders. 

Cannabis + Limonene = Alert * Creative * Happy

Strains high in limonene: OG Kush, Tangerine Dream

This Dark Devil has both beta-caryophyllene & linalool.
Dark Devil Auto (Sweet Seeds, homegrown): Purple cannabis flowers suggest higher levels of valuable Beta-caryophyllene, and many have fruity, grape, or berry tones. Add a snap of limonene, as in the Dark Devil Auto and you’ll get a more invigorating, energetic buzz than most purples offer.

Linalool is an invaluable antidepressant. Low levels of the chemical neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain may cause depression, anxiety, and sleep trouble. Linalool improves the transmission of your brain’s serotonin receptors and will calm the anxious brain faster and more efficiently than any other cannabis terpene. 

It doesn’t show up often, if at all, as a dominant cannabis terpene, but the higher up the chain it rises the better your chances of feeling relaxed and finding a sounder sleep. 

  • Linalool is a critical raw material to your body’s production of Vitamin E, a necessary aid to a healthy endocannabinoid system. 
  • Linalool boosts the immune system, and may significantly reduce the inflammation of lung tissue caused by smoking cigarettes or cannabis. 
  • Although mildly psychoactive itself, linalool will lessen feelings of psychosis and anxiety that THC may create. 
  • Linalool is a strong anticonvulsant. 
  • Its anti-inflammatory contributions combined with its calming nature make linalool an attractive option for treating Alzheimer’s and dementia. 
  • Linalool helps topicals absorb into the skin and has been shown to greatly enhance the healing of acne and burns 

Cannabis + Linalool = Calm * Relaxed * At Ease

Strains high in Linalool: Bubba Kush, Grandaddy Purple, The Purps

This Super Lemon Haze is rich in terpinolene.
Super Lemon Haze CBD: Terpinolene adds an invigorating note enlivened by the inclusion of uplifting limonene as CBD goes to work reducing inflammation and stress.

Terpinolene is one of the cannabis terpenes that lend a citrus aroma to cannabis flowers, and its sweet floral perfume is one of my favorites. The rare snap of lime in the signature makes my eyes light up. Its stimulating effects are a hallmark of sativa influence in a cannabis strain, typically paired with the balancing potential of ocimene. 

  • Terpinolene works as a Central Nervous System depressant, and will actively counteract anxiety and emotional excitement. 
  • A combination of high terpinolene and low myrcene can result in an electric high, much more energizing than some can handle. 
  • As an example of how cannabis terpene characteristics can change in the soup of cannabis oil production, terpinolene as a stand-alone is noted to be sedative. In sativa strains what may be happening is the synergy of cannabis terpenes has the energetic terpinolene relaxing the nerves and decreasing anxiety, which is not the same thing as being sedated.

Cannabis + Terpinolene = Stimulated * Invigorated * Focused

Strains high in Terpinolene: Jack Herer, Trainwreck

Ocimene is one of the many cannabis terpenes in Carnival.
Carnival (Ministry of Cannabis, homegrown): Highest in Terpinolene, Carnival’s secondary terpenes are a balance of caryophyllene and ocimene, followed by a rich lineup of lower-volume terpenes similar to Jack Herer that help create a soaring, creative and highly-motivated euphoria with no ending crash. High THC presence sets pain in its place, far from your concern.

Another fruity, sometimes citrusy contributor to the perfume, I think of ocimene as the great balance of the buzz among cannabis terpenes, because it holds the experience in a delicious spot of not being too stimulating or too sedating. It won’t show up as a lead player as a cannabis terpene, but the strains it does show a greater presence in, inspire hyper-focus. 

  • Many strains high in ocimene have little, if any crash when the euphoria begins to wear off. 
  • The many anti-pathogen offerings of ocimene make it attractive for immune support. 

Cannabis + Ocimene = Balanced * Uplifted

Strains high in Ocimene: Dutch Treat, Green Crack, Clementine 

Keeping track 

Pinene has many of the scent characteristics of pine.

You’re not going to remember what you used, when you used it, why you chose that cannabis product at that dose, and how much relief it offered unless you make some attempt to track your use. A simple notebook with the basic facts will be invaluable as you search through the wide world of products available today for your favorite cannabis terpenes. 

I suggest a simple notation of :

  • date
  • time
  • strain or product used
  • dose
  • reason for the dose
  • anything else you found relevant to remember
  • subjective results

Your notes will help you fine-tune your cannabis terpene choices and keep you from sending resources down the wrong path. They’re also a lot of fun to read later. 

Wrapping it up

We made it!  You can see why I stopped at seven cannabis terpenes, and stayed with highlights. The information pertinent to terpenes and cannabis can easily be overwhelming. My hope is that I’ve awakened an interest to continue your own studies of the cannabis terpenes in the strains you find to suit your body and your social needs best. Then you can find other strains that show the same types of profiles and experiment, or try something different. 

As you can see, cannabis terpenes make a significant contribution to your experience and the level of relief you’ll find when using cannabis. Ask the trained staff at your dispensary for information on the cannabis terpenes in the products you’re considering. 

We’d like to hear your thoughts on cannabis terpenes and how you’ve used terpene knowledge to improve your choices and improve your quality of life. Leave your comments and questions below and we’ll all learn more about this fascinating subject together.