From the skunky aroma of a potent cannabis plant to the pungent earthy tones when you smoke it, cannabis terpenes are responsible for the taste and smell of weed that we all know and love. The smell of a marijuana flower is often the first sign that it’s around – whether it’s because it’s growing somewhere close or because someone has sparked up a joint. And a lot of the time, the quality of a bud is rated by its smell and taste. Even though this has less to do with cannabinoids and more to do with terpenes, a pungent bud is often a sign of a good one.

Terpenes aren’t exclusive to cannabis – virtually every botanical in the world has terpenes, especially the aromatic ones. And many of the terpenes found in cannabis can be found in other plants. For example, linalool, a common terpene present in marijuana, is also found in high concentrations in lavender. This is why sometimes when you pick up a bud, you can smell notes of lemon, lavender, or cedar. Your nose is essentially recognizing the same terpenes (smells).

Terpenes are a world unto themselves. They aren’t just tastes and smells. They are just as bioactive as cannabinoids, and in fact, they play an extremely important role in natural medicine as a whole. When you think about aromatic bitters such as rosemary, thyme, peppermint, and chamomile, their therapeutic potential is derived almost entirely from their terpenoid components. 

In this article, we’re having a look at cannabis terpenes and how they work – especially in conjunction with cannabinoids. We’ll check out some of the most commonly found terpenes and which strains you can find them in.

Terpenes and the entourage effect

Terpenes are aromatic compounds produced by the female cannabis flower. More specifically, terpenes are found in the trichomes, which is also where cannabinoids are mostly located. Terpenes are volatile oils that don’t just contribute to the plant’s smell and taste, but also to its survival. While terpenes attract certain creatures to cannabis, they also deter creatures that are a threat to its survival. Another way you can think of terpenes are as cannabis’ very own essential oils.

Terpenes develop as a seasonal variable. That’s to say that the strain itself isn’t the only indicator of which terpenes are present, but growing conditions also affect which terpenes a plant produces and their concentration. This is why a single strain of cannabis might taste or smell slightly different if it was grown in a different area or under different conditions.

There was a time when many cannabis users thought that THC and THC only was responsible for the effect and potency of a bud. But we’re now learning that isn’t the case. Cannabinoids such as THC work synergistically with other compounds such as terpenes to produce the effect unique to that flower – and to give users therapeutic effects. This is known as the entourage effect

In the modern world, it’s becoming more and more important to users to know which terpenes they are consuming along with which cannabinoids. This is because medical marijuana users get just as many medicinal benefits from using terpenes as they do from using cannabinoids. For example, those who use cannabis to sleep probably search for strains high in linalool, whereas those who use cannabis throughout the day gravitate more towards strains high in limonene. 

How do terpenes work in the human body?

Terpenes have – and have always had – a wide variety of medicinal uses. As we briefly mentioned, cannabis isn’t what made terpenes famous in the practice of natural medicine. Rosemary, lavender, and thyme have been recognized for centuries for their medicinal uses, and primarily because of their aromatic compounds. 

Overall, terpenes can have a huge variety of different effects on a person. They can be used topically, as steam inhalation (as is the case with essential oils), or even ingested (such as smoking cannabis or ingesting essential oils). Their properties range from being antimicrobial to sedative to anxiolytic. The mechanism of action behind these properties are varied and complex. New research suggests that cannabis terpenes may increase serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters play a role in sleep, mood, and even appetite.

Linalool is a popular example of how complex the pharmacological actions of terpenes can be. It is present in a variety of cannabis strains, but particularly in Amnesia Haze and Lavender Kush. It has a range of effects from downregulating the sympathetic nervous system to inhibiting the production of inflammatory proteins

Linalool is just one example – but over 100 different terpenes have been identified in marijuana. Each terpene has different medicinal properties and affects the body in a slightly different way. Next up in this article we’re having a look at some of the more commonly found terpenes in cannabis and how they might contribute to the effects of a strain.

The most common terpenes in weed

A single piece of cannabis doesn’t ever contain only one terpene. There’s typically many – and as we start to go through them, you’ll notice the association between them and the spicy, floral, or earthy aromas of marijuana. We’ll make sure to mention some of the strains you can find them in so you can give them a try.


Myrcene – the mango terpene! Interestingly, some cannabis strains contain up to 20 times more myrcene than a mango. It has an earthy, citrus smell, and promotes a sense of relaxation. In one study on cannabis specific myrcene, this terpene was shown to create anxiolytic and stress relieving responses in people who consumed it via steam inhalation. 

The most well known strains for their high myrcene concentration are OG Kush, Blue Dream, Grandaddy Purple, and Grape Ape. Next time you find yourself smoking one of these strains, see if you can taste and smell the unique citrus aroma of myrcene.


Beta-caryophyllene is another terpene found in high concentrations in cannabis plants. It smells peppery and spicy, and is found in other common plants such as clove, rosemary, and hops. This terpene is especially interesting because when used topically, it assists substances across the cell membranes on the skin – making it extremely useful in analgesic topical preparations and preparations for skin diseases.  Beta-caryophyllene is thought to be analgesic and anti-inflammatory. 

A couple of common strains containing beta-caryophyllene are Girl Scout Cookies and Sour Diesel. 


It should all be very apparent by its name, but limonene is also found in high concentrations in the skins of lemons. It has a citrusy smell and is often used by aromatherapists for its energizing, uplifting qualities. It is thought to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even antiviral (which is probably why everyone puts lemon in their tea when they’re unwell!) 

Limonene is most often found in sativa strains. Some popular strains that are high in limonene include Lemon OG and Wedding Cake.


Have you ever picked up a bud and smelt the aromas of cedarwood and pine? Those smells are most likely caused by the high pinene content in those strains. Pinene is commonly found in woody pines and cedars and unsurprisingly, in cannabis too. In fact, this terpene is the most commonly encountered terpene in all of nature. Like many other terpenes, pinene is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, but also has the interesting property of improving short term memory loss. It might help to reduce the effects that THC has on short term memory.

Almost every strain of cannabis contains some pinene, but the ones that contain the highest are Cannatonic, OG Kush, and Pineapple Express.


Terpinene has an earthy, herbal aroma that you might smell around plants like eucalyptus and tea tree. Plants high in terpinene are often used as antifungals and antimicrobials, but this terpene also has antioxidant effects. In recent years, it has been investigated for its analgesic properties, but only in mice models. 

Lemon OG Kush, Blue Dream, and Orange Cookies are among some of the strains that you’ll find higher concentrations of terpinene.

Cannabis is more than just a sweet smell 

The world of cannabis compounds is enormous and we’re slowly learning that there’s more to cannabis than meets the eye. Hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids make up the complex chemical profile of weed – and we’ve only just scratched the surface of terpenes in this article. 

Terpenes are becoming more and more important to marijuana users for the medicinal properties, and weed growers are getting more and more excited to tout the terpene concentration in their plants. Whereas once, cannabis was all about THC, terpenes are now an important benchmark in what to expect from a strain of cannabis.

Sera has been a cannabis writer for over 8 years and is a natural medicine enthusiast. With a bachelor degree in naturopathy, she is passionate about all things plants, botany, and writing.