Terpenes are plant essential oils and they exist in all plants, flowers, and trees. The aromas of different plants are dependent on their terpenes. There are 200 individual terpenes found in cannabis. The terpenes are responsible for the smell, taste, and colour of cannabis.
There are many different varieties of cannabis plants and each variety has different concentrations of terpenes. The terpenes are what give cannabis varieties their characteristics.
Terpenes are the fragrant oils that give cannabis its distinctive flavors and smells, ranging from citrus to pine, to berry, and mint. These organic compounds provide aroma and flavor not only in cannabis but also a variety of other organisms, including herbs, fruits, and plants. And they do more than simply provide scent.
Terpenes are secreted in the flower’s sticky resin glands, the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD. They are formed inside cannabis trichomes and increase in production with light exposure. Like those cannabinoids, terpenes can provide therapeutic benefits. In fact, terpenes and cannabinoids are believed to work together through a process known as the entourage affect. In this way, certain terpenes can moderate how much of the psychoactive THC is absorbed by the body, thereby controlling potency.
Over 100 terpenes have been identified so far, and every strain has a unique profile. The most common are Limonene, Humulene, Pinene, Linalool, Caryophyllene, and Myrcene. These different compounds can provide varying medical benefits used to manage pain, alleviate stress, and treat inflammation and muscle spasms.
Terpenes are produced by many different plants and are similar to essential oils. They have a strong aroma which is intended to deter pests such as insects or grazing animals. There are as many as 20,000 different terpenes throughout nature, with up to 200 found in the cannabis plant alone.
Like many plants, cannabis uses terpenes as part of its defense against insects and herbivores. They are produced in small glands called trichomes, which is also where cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are synthesized.
These glands appear as a frosty, white coating on the buds and upper leaves of cannabis plants. If you were to look at these trichomes under a magnifying glass, you might see that they have an almost mushroom-like shape, with a small round head being supported by a narrow ‘stalk.’
As a cannabis plant matures, these trichomes turn from clear to milky white, and eventually to yellow or brown. Marijuana cultivators often use these trichomes as a way to determine when their plants are ready to harvest, with the milky white stage considered the optimal time.
Around 10% of these trichomes are made up of terpenes, with the rest comprising cannabinoids and other compounds such as flavonoids. The specific terpene and cannabinoid composition will vary depending on which strain you choose and its growing conditions.