What Are Terpenoids And What Do They Do?

February 16, 2021

By Daniell Marlow 

Most potheads aren’t too busy to stop and smell the flowers. A big whiff of weed can re-invigorate your lungs, and even give the sniffer a bit of a contact high. Why does weed smell so good, though?

The answer is a class of chemicals called terpenes. Terpenes are a chemical compound found in a wide-array of organic life, and can account for distinctive fragrances. As flavor and aroma are closely associated phenomena, terpenes can account for both. Although most plants usually contain one specific aroma, they can have hundreds of different terpenes. Certain cannabis strains contain more than 120 terpenes, mostly around the plant’s buds.

If you observe a cannabis plant closely, you’ll notice the crystalline hairs covering the plant’s buds. The buds are what you smoke when you smoke flower, and good bud is very sticky and hairy. These hairs are known as trichomes and they produce terpenes, terpenoids, flavonoids, and cannabinoids, the compounds largely responsible for marijuana’s effects.

Terpenes vs. Terpenoids

Many people often use the terms 'terpenes' and 'terpenoids' interchangeably. However, they don't precisely denote the same thing.

Terpenes are hydrocarbons (compounds that comprise carbon and hydrogen), whereas terpenoids are hydrocarbons that have been chemically modified by various methods, such as oxygenation. Basically, terpenoids are modified terpenes. Some terpenes are modified by heat and other by chemical processes, both naturally and in the lab. But since most marijuana products mention terpenes instead of terpenoids, and since terpenoids are just a class of terpenes, we will simply discuss terpenes in this article. 

The Entourage Effect: Terpenes Working Together

The primary function of terpenes is giving a plant its distinctive flavors. When you consume cannabis, terpenes are the compounds that determine how extracts from the plant smell and taste. In addition to their flavor-enhancing abilities, terpenes also deliver specific therapeutic effects. Terpenes work synergistically with cannabinoids to provide compounded therapeutic benefits known as the entourage effect.

The entourage effect is the theory that cannabis users achieve optimal benefits by consuming products containing a maximum number of compounds from the plant. You’ll mostly experience the entourage effect when you use full-spectrum cannabis products that contain a wide range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. That’s why buying weed that’s just high in THC but not much else isn’t as good of a deal as it sounds. While THC and CBD are great and all, terpenes are the unsung hero of marijuana’s best effects.

Top 6 Most Common Terpenes and Their Effects

Now, choosing the best terpenes comes down to understanding which strains have the most of which types. The following are the most common terpenes in cannabis, along with their distinct effects and strains where they occur.

  1. Myrcene: it's the most common terpene in cannabis and is mainly present in Mango Kush, Granddaddy Kush, Cherry Pie, OG Kush, and Blue Dream strains. The terpene comes in diverse aroma, including cardamom, cloves, earthy, musky, and herbal. 

It produces sedative effects, making it an excellent compound for people struggling with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. In addition to cannabis, you can also find myrcene in plants like basil, thyme, lemongrass, and mangoes.

  1. Limonene: As the name suggests, limonene is a lemon-scented cannabis terpene that’s renowned for its relaxing effects. Besides its anti-anxiety effects, limonene also packs anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.

Some of the cannabis strains rich in limonene include Super Lemon Haze, Jack Herer, Wedding Cake, White Fire OG, and Sour Diesel. Besides cannabis, you can also find limonene in most citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruits.

  1. Pinene: Pinene is the most common terpene that’s widely available in forest trees, especially conifer trees like pine, and basil, dill, rosemary, etc. It comes in two forms, namely alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Alpha-pinene carries the aroma similar to that of pine needles, whereas beta-pinene smells like dill.

Pinene is famous for its anti-inflammatory effects and can help with inflammatory conditions like asthma and arthritis. In cannabis, some of the strains that contain pinene include Chem Dawg, Strawberry Cough, Critical Mass, and Snoop’s Dream.

  1. Linalool: You’ve likely used lavender-based products at some point. In addition to their floral aroma, these products are also known for their calming and relaxing abilities, and those effects are attributed to the terpene linalool. Thanks to its sedative properties, you can use linalool to relieve conditions like stress and insomnia.

Other therapeutic effects of linalool include strengthening the immune system, pain management, and reducing inflammation. When looking for this terpene in cannabis, you might want to look in the direction of strains like Kosher Kush, Amnesia Haze, and Do-Si-Dos. Besides cannabis and lavender, linalool is also relatively abundant in birch bark.

  1. Caryophyllene: One of the best things about caryophyllene is that it comes in a cocktail of aromas, ranging from peppery to spicy, woody, and even cloves. Caryophyllene is also the only terpene that also doubles up as a cannabinoid, binding to the same receptors as CBD. Therefore, it plays a significant role in anxiety relief, pain management, alleviation of inflammation, etc.

Caryophyllene also packs powerful antioxidant properties and can be used as an immune-booster. The terpene is abundant in strains like Super Silver Haze, GSC, Purple Punch, and Original Glue. Other plants that contain caryophyllene include black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and hops.

  1. Terpinolene: Terpinolene is one of the most dominant terpenes, which is believed to be prevalent in one out of ten cannabis strains, including XJ-13, Chernobyl, Ghost Train Haze, and Jack Herer. Like caryophyllene, terpinolene comes in a range of aromas, from piney to floral and herbal.

In terms of its therapeutic effects, terpinolene carries antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer properties. It also has uplifting effects, hence it is a perfect remedy against anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Tea trees, nutmeg, conifers, cumin, apples, and lilacs are other plants full of terpinolene.


Resources for Researching Terpene/Strain Info

While the subject of terpenes in and of itself may be interesting, all of this knowledge is wasted if not put to good use. What good is it to know the difference between linalool and caryophyllene if you can’t find out which terpenes are in which strains? We’ve pooled together a list of resources that will be helpful in your search to figure out which terpenes are in which strains.

  • Leafly - Leafly has short guides for most marijuana strains. While they don’t always explicitly tell you which terpenes are present in a strain, you can often figure out which terps are present by the described aromas, flavors, and effects. 
  • Allbud - Allbud is a simple and reliable resource for marijuana information. Like Leafly, they also don’t explicitly detail the terpenes, but they do explicitly list flavors and aromas, which is very helpful. Also, they have a fairly accurate indica/sativa sliding scale. 
  • Hytiva - Hytiva has the smallest encyclopedia of strains out of the options listed, but they tend to have more specialized information available for those strains they do have. If a strain is listed on Hytiva, they will often explicitly describe it’s terpene make-up, which is extremely helpful for terp seekers.
  • Monroe Blvd - Shameless plug here, but it’s true. This list of strains and terpenes is one of the most comprehensive and compact currently available. 

Between these four /resources, most marijuana strains are documented, terpenes and all.


Terpenes, it turns out, are just as important as CBD and THC when it comes to good marijuana. What’s not to love about the chemical? It both makes food smell better while also providing the smell. Cannabinoids can’t stand up to that.

To be an informed consumer, you need to know a little about terpenes. While you’ve read this article, there is a good chance your budtender has not. Budtenders don’t necessarily learn about terpenes as part of their training, so you need to show up prepared. In addition, most manufacturers don’t print terpene contents on the label. It is incumbent upon you to know what you’re buying.

One suggestion is to keep personal notes on the different strains you smoke. This will help you determine precisely what you do and don’t like, while also transforming you into a veritable cannabis connoisseur. With the information provided here, you are already well on your way. Whatever your favorite flavor is, one thing is for certain: everyone loves terpenes. 

About the Author

Daniell Marlow is a LA-based freelance author. A true bro at heart, I write about weed, sports, and television. You can find more of me on ScreenRant, my blog, or Twitter.