You Don’t Know Cannabis Unless You Understand Terpenes

Written by Zack Ruskin
December 30th, 2020

Sometimes it truly feels like the cannabis industry is speaking in code.

Between the scientific terminology, the culture-approved slang terms, and the advent of new consumption forms like dabbing; there really is a massive volume of potentially unfamiliar words being employed today within the world of weed. While some may be niche or more necessary to know only to those in certain circles, others are actually fundamental building blocks to the entire cannabis experience.

Arguably the best examples of the latter are cannabinoids and terpenes. At the onset of legalization, much of the focus was solely on mainstay cannabinoids like THC and CBD, with other, so-called “minor” cannabinoids such as CBG and CBN, later joining the party.

Lately, however, the attention of both researchers and the industry has turned to terpenes. Often (and correctly) attributed with providing cannabis strains with their scent, taste, and coloring, terpenes can be clinically defined as “the aromatic compounds that determine the scent of numerous different flowers and herbs.”

Beyond being the star behind the specific taste and flavor combinations of your favorite strains, the terpenes in cannabis are also responsible for a diverse array of functions in the cannabis plant. Additionally, when properly consumed, terpenes can also produce a range of therapeutic and mood-altering effects in humans.

Again, this isn’t limited to cannabis — just think of the relaxing properties you enjoy by using aromatic oils in your home — but in looking specifically at weed, there’s just no way around it: terpenes are a very big deal.

Ready to learn more? Check out the guide below to quickly gain a better appreciation for this vital component of the cannabis plant.


As noted above, terpenes are, by scientific definition, aromatic compounds. Biologically, one purpose of terpenes is to both attract pollinators and repel predators by means of informing the cannabis plant’s color, pigmentation, and flavor. They do this work via the resin glands found in the trichomes of female cannabis plants.

In total, there are over 150 different terpenes in cannabis alone, though many of the terpenes included in that count only appear in trace amounts. Regardless, notable amounts of specific terpenes are a major factor in defining a given strain’s signature characteristics. For example, in Glass House’s Cherry AK, terpenes are to credit for its incredible notes of mint, sweet cherry, and earthiness.

But far from being hardwired into a plant’s final form, many terpenes are quite volatile, which means cultivators must consider a wide range of factors — like whether the plant is grown outdoors or indoors as well as its light exposure levels, temperature, and more — to ensure ideal terpene levels remain when it comes time to harvest.


Smoking weed that tastes like a pine tree or a fresh grapefruit is amazing but it’s only part of the story when it comes to why terpenes are considered to be a pivotal piece of the pot puzzle.

Beyond the potential aromatic benefit terpenes represent, preclinical studies (research conducted either on animals or on in-vitro subjects) have revealed a host of potential medicinal benefits associated with terpenes. Of the ways in which we believe terpenes may benefit human health, there is research showing that terpenes like caryophyllene and camphor may possess the ability to aid in the killing of viruses.

There are also a number of terpenes which have exhibited antimicrobial activity, while limonene in particular is showing promise as a possible anticancer and antitumor agent. In addition to that, a whopping 25% of all antidepressant drugs sold today are formulated using herbal extracts that contain terpenes. Whoa!

Another notable medicinal benefit that terpenes can provide is pain relief.

In this case, researchers believe it’s possible that terpenes may relieve pain by mimicking the analgesic effect of cannabinoids. This may also be part of what’s come to be known as the “entourage effect,” a concept that suggests cannabinoids and terpenes work most effectively when consumed together. It’s an area in need of more study but as we learn more, it could represent a truly fascinating development in our understanding of cannabis and the way it interacts with our bodies.


There are over 150 terpenes found in cannabis alone, but fortunately, you don’t need to have them all memorized to be an educated consumer. Instead, there’s a hearty handful of terpenes you’ll see namechecked again and again on the jars and labels on dispensary shelves. Prized both for their natural abundance and for the attributes and effects they offer, terpenes like myrcene, caryophyllene, and limonene are all easily among the most popular of the bunch.

Myrcene: This terpene is also often found in hops and lemongrass, which is why you may have randomly thought of a favorite beer the last time you took a puff of a myrcene-rich strain. Also found in mangoes, myrcene is reputed for its notes of musk and spice. To try a few of Glass House’s favorite myrcene-rich strains, try our Bubba Diagonal or Super Silver Haze.

Caryophyllene: Known for giving some cannabis strains a bit of peppery bite, caryophyllene can also be found in oregano, rosemary, black pepper, and cloves. In terms of effects, it’s all about relaxation when it comes to strains high in caryophyllene. From the Glass House strain library, get your caryophyllene on with our Flo White or GG4.

Limonene: Ok, limonene is an easy one because all you need to do to remember it is to think of limes! That because limonene is closely associated with citrus and fresh fruit flavors. Some also find limonene’s fresh zest can spark a boost of focus or serve to elevate one’s mood. To see what the fuss with limonene is all about, we recommend Glass House’s Mac 1 or R*ntz.

Read, How to Talk to Your Family About Cannabis.

Written by Zack Ruskin