Unlike the major cannabinoids, terpenes don’t require a hefty level in cannabis to make their presence known. Additionally, terps are common to all subspecies of cannabis, meaning that they don’t play favorites between sativas and indicas.
Here’s a brief overview of the terpenes that play a major role in the scent and flavor of our favorite strains:
Limonene. Perhaps the most desirable terp present in cannabis, limonene is also found in a wide range of tropical fruits, particularly those of the citrus genus. Limonene is most common in lemons, oranges and limes, as well as in cannabis resin. This terpene explodes in the air when a fruit is peeled or buds are grinded. Ironically, plants use limonene to repulse predators.
Limonene is the first-, second- or third-most-prevalent terpene in cannabis strains, and it’s a precursor for the synthesis of other cannabinoids. Limonene is easily absorbed by inhalation and quickly appears in the bloodstream. Since it’s known to affect the permeability of cell membranes, it allows more THC to reach the brain and increases the absorption of other terps.
Pinene. This terpene causes the familiar aroma associated with pine trees and their resins, as well as many other conifers and a few non-coniferous plants such as big sagebrush. Pinene is also found in many essential oils produced by plants, including rosemary, sage and eucalyptus. It constitutes the major component of turpentine, contributing to its odor and properties as a solvent.
Pinene easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and promotes alertness and memory retention, among other effects. It is also a bronchodilator, allowing the deeper inhalation of smoke or vapor and the greater absorption of cannabinoids and terpenoids.
Myrcene. One of the most prevalent terps in cannabis, myrcene not only provides hints of flavor and aroma, but it’s also a big contributor to the effects that a strain produces. Myrcene forms an important component of the essential oils of several plants besides cannabis, including lemongrass, bay, wild thyme, parsley, mango and hops.
Myrcene is used in the perfumery industry as an intermediate agent in the preparation of flavor and fragrance chemicals such as menthol, citronellal, nerol and linalool. In cannabis, myrcene has an aroma that has been variously described as hoppy, clove-like and earthy, with tropical, mango and minty nuances.
Linalool. This terpene has a floral scent reminiscent of spring flowers such as lily, but with spicy overtones; it is also prominent in lavender plants. Humans can detect its aroma at rates as low as one part per million in the air. In cannabis, trace amounts of linalool go a long way—combined with traces amounts of terpinolene and limonene, its effects become amplified and sweeter, much like candy.
Terpinolene. This terp has a medium-strength, herbal aroma that’s been described by judges as fresh, woody and piney, with a hint of citrus. Terpinolene’s flavor is sweet and lemon-lime-like, with a slight floral nuance. It is used as a flavor and fragrance agent, as well as in soaps, detergents, creams, lotions and perfumes.
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