What are terpenes?

“The nose knows” – so goes the saying. While “terpenes” (the compound that gives cannabis its smell) are fairly “new” when people talk about cannabis, enthusiasts have known for a long time that if you find a smell you like, odds are you’re going to enjoy the effects. Obviously, this isn’t foolproof. Enter the science of terpenes.

Things to remember

Before we begin, there are four important things to remember about terpenes:

  • Your mileage may vary: just because a terpene generally affects people in a certain way does not mean that they will affect you in that way, nor will quantities themselves determine their potency;
  • Entourage effect: in the case of terpenes, the whole is much greater than the sum of their parts, so you’ll want to look for a couple of terpenes that play together nicely;
  • Terpenes are not specific to cannabis: terpenes are naturally found in lots of foods and spices;
  • Terpenes have different boiling points: terpenes need to be heated to a certain degree (between 311˚ F to 390˚ F) in order to reach boiling point; however, heating them too much burns the terpenes off: smoking cannabis – typically at 1112˚F – will burn off a lot of terpenes, as opposed to vaporizing which allows you to control the temperature.



Boiling point: 334˚F

Also found in mango, citrus fruit, bay leaves and thyme, myrcene is often times associated with calming effects. The smell is musky, reminiscent of cloves, citrusy/herbal or… skunky. Smell familiar?


Boiling point: 246˚

Also found in pepper, cloves and oregano, caryophyllene has a peppery flavour. The smell is peppery, with hints of wood.


Boiling point: 388˚F

Also found in lavender, citrus, rosewood and bitter orange, linalool tends associated with calming effects. The smell is floral, citrusy and a touch spicy.


Boiling point: 312˚F

Also found in pine needles, conifers and sage, pinene tends to be associated with alertness. The smell is minty or piney.


Boiling point: 388˚F

Also found in hops and coriander, humulene is purported to suppress appetite. The smell is woody and earthy.


Boiling point: 350˚F

Limonene: Also found in lemon rind, juniper and peppermint, limonene is often associated with stress relief. The smell is very citrus-y.


Boiling point: 363˚F

Also found in allspice, as well as citrus and juniper essential oils, terpinolene is often associated with uplifted moods. The aroma is sweet and spicy, with hints of pine.


Terpineol boils at 424˚F
Boiling Point: 424˚F

Also found in cloves, lilacs and lime zest, it is often present in conjunction with pinene; the latter masks the smell of the former. In mice, it was shown to decrease motility.

These are the eight most known terpenes found in cannabis. There are hundreds of terpenes to be found in cannabis: as the science progresses, how the terpenes interact between each other and how they affect the other compounds found in cannabis are bound to change the way we look at – and smell – cannabis.

The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice on any subject matter or as encouragement to consume cannabis. If you want to explore the possibility of using cannabis as a medical product, please contact your physician.


The Leafly Team. The Leafly Guide to Cannabis. New York: Twelve, 2017. Print.

Icons made by Smashicons, Freepik and dDara from www.flaticon.com; licensed by CC 3.0 BY

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