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What are terpenes and what do they do?

Ever wonder why some cannabis strains smell citrusy or skunky while others smell like berries or pine trees? It’s all thanks to terpenes: naturally occurring aromatic compounds that are responsible for the distinct flavours and aromas found across different cannabis cultivars.

Terpenes are the very same scents we associate with all sorts of fruits, flowers, herbs and spices, and other plant life, but in cannabis, some research suggests that terpenes can contribute to the psychoactive effects.

Known as the “entourage effect,” research suggests that the biggest contributors to how cannabis makes you feel comes down to these three things: THC, CBD, and terpenes. 


Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, is the most famous cannabinoid, known for its intoxicating effects. When shopping for cannabis consider the percentage of THC as an indicator of potency. The higher the THC, the stronger the strain.


Cannabidiol, or CBD, is known as the non-intoxicating cannabinoid but research has indicated that CBD can enhance or conversely tame the effects of THC. New users and those with low tolerance might find high-CBD and balanced (strains with equal proportions CBD and THC) a better alternative to high THC options.

Like all types of cannabis, the effects of CBD can vary depending on individual physiology and situational factors. Finding the right cannabis for you is a personal journey. 

Ask your health care professional about the possible medicinal benefits of CBD.


Getting back to terpenes, some cannabis strain names might hint at specific terpene profiles: Tangerine Dream, for example, boasts a sweet citrusy scent, and, Chocolope smells like, well, chocolate.

Researching the terpene profiles of cannabis strains you try can also help guide you towards a desired outcome. While the science isn’t exact, some associate terpene flavours with similar aromatherapeutic uses. If you find lavender products soothing, look for Linalool, if citrus fruits give you a little pep, keep your eyes peeled for strains that are high in Limonene.

Regardless of the potential effects, terpenes can help cannabis consumers identify the cannabis scents and flavours that appeal to personal preferences.

Common cannabis terpenes:

According to the OCS, the five most common terpenes found in cannabis are:

  • Myrcene: Also found in mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass, and cloves.
  • Pinene: This terpene shares the same scent as coniferous trees like fir, pine and spruce.
  • Limonene: Like its name suggests, this terpene smells like citrus fruits! Think oranges, lemons, mandarins, and grapefruit.
  • Linalool: Best known as the dominating scent of lavendar, this terpene can also be found in mint and cinnamon.
  • Beta-Caryophyllene: Commonly associated with black pepper, this terpene can contribute a spicy, woody aroma to cannabis.





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