What Terpenes Are — and Why You Should Know Them

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It’s a good time to be a cannabis enthusiast. New markets are opening, producers are honing their craft, and dispensary shelves are stocked with dozens of strains — each with their own distinctive flavor and aroma.

This variety is due to terpenes.

Terpenes are the organic hydrocarbons secreted by the cannabis plant’s resin glands. The “dank” scent that’s associated with cannabis? That’s the terpenes you’re smelling. Found in all plant life, there are over 20,000 terpenes, and the cannabis plant alone has hundreds of them.

Terpenes in Extracts

Terpenes combine with the cannabinoids (THC & CBD) in a concentrate and escort them across the blood-brain barrier. Then they hit the receptors in your body’s endocannabinoid system, and that’s when the effects are triggered. Terpenes work in concert with cannabinoids in a molecular phenomenon called the “entourage effect.”

While it’s THC that provides the psychoactive boost, the nuances of a cannabis high largely depend on a strain’s terpene profile. With thousands of possible combinations — depending on how they interact with cannabinoids and register in your endocannabinoid system — terps gives a strain its “personality.” Some terpenes will help you focus, others will mellow you out. And they have health benefits, too — terpenes have been shown to provide pain relief, counteract insomnia, and reduce anxiety and inflammation.

So when you’re picking strains, don’t look to a product’s THC content or whether it’s derived from an indica or sativa plant — see if you can find out what terps it contains instead.

The Top Terps

Wake up and smell the terpenes.

Pinene: You’ll smell this one when hiking through a pine forest. Has anti-inflammatory effects, and can make the consumer more alert.

Myrcene: Has earthy and musky notes. Has sedative effects once consumed. Also found in basil and lemongrass.

Limonen: Gives buds a citrusy smell. Has been shown to enhance mood and relieve stress.

Humulene: Has an earthy aroma. Also found in hops. Strains with a high concentration of humulene can suppress appetite.

Linalool: This one has spicy, floral notes, and it’s also found in mint and cinnamon. Linalool has sedative properties and counterbalances some of the “anxious” side effects some people experience when consuming THC.

Caryophyllene: Gives off a peppery, spicy aroma. Found in basil and cloves, and is used as an ingredient in anti-inflammatory topicals and creams.

Terpineol: A smoky, woodsy smell and a minty taste. Found in perfumes and fragrances. Also reported to have antioxidant properties.

Know the Terps, Know the Process

Detailed knowledge of terpenes is key to extracting flavorful, naturally-balanced concentrates, and skilled extractors know how to preserve them throughout cultivation and extraction.

Skilled cultivators can preserve the native terpene profiles of the cannabis plant.

Cannabis newcomers looking to optimize their experience will benefit from doing some homework before they head to the shop. Extraction is a complex procedure, and shortcuts are often taken. Some companies use additives and cutting agents in their extracts, and while these products will probably be cheaper, they’ll have a synthetic taste and aroma. Not to mention that some cutting agents can be harmful when they’re heated up by a vape battery.

Experienced vape connoisseurs will look for concentrates derived from organically-grown flower and produced via a CO2 extraction process. Some brands use toxic compounds like butane or propane as a solvent, since they’re cheaper. But as CO2 is a naturally-occurring compound, using it results in a full-spectrum extract — a rich, pure oil with its native terpene profile intact. This gives you a smoother taste and a more enjoyable high.

There are a lot of strains out there. But it’ll be easier to choose one best-suited for you if you know your terps — and know the process, too.


Northern Standard produces cannabis extracts using a proprietary CO2 extraction process. No additives, cutters, or fillers are used in order to preserve the rich, complex flavor profile of the cannabis plant.

Terpene and cannabinoid test results are reported on the back of each product. Northern Standard is currently the only company that does this.

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