Ask any cannabis connoisseur, and they’ll agree that no two strains are the same. From a hint of blueberry to a pungent earthy aroma, a zesty citrus zing to a slight diesel-like after-taste, the flavor body of cannabis adds considerably to the cerebral experience.
But what exactly causes the distinct difference in taste and aroma from one bud to the next? One word: terpenes.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are oils secreted by the same pot plant glands that produce THC and CBD during flowering. Over 100 terpenes have been identified so far, each with its own unique flavor, smell, and medicinal properties.
Like the sweet, fruity taste of Pineapple Twist? That’s the terpenes. Love the skunky smell of Sour Diesel? That’s the terpenes.
In fact, terpenes provide a wide range of tastes and smells, including the more common citrus, berry, mint, and pine. Check out the flavor wheel below to see all the tastes and aromas that terpenes have to offer.
Terpenes are a groovy feature of the cannabis plant, but they’re not unique to sativa, indica, and ruderalis. All plants produce terpenes. That’s why all the flavors and aromas on the wheel of terpenes above are named after plants.
So, for example, the terpenes that give cherry its unique flavor can, with the right breeding, be produced in your favorite fruity cannabis strain (Cherry OG, for example). What’s more, combinations of terpenes can yield novel smells and tastes like skunk and diesel fuel (two decidedly non-plant aromas).
But the awesomeness doesn’t stop there. Terpenes also create an entourage of health benefits and help fully expose and express the ganja’s unique aromatic and euphoric character.
So whether you’re struggling with anxiety, cancer, depression, insomnia, nausea, lack of appetite, muscle strain, asthma, breast cancer, stress, gallstones, or some other ailment, there’s probably a terp to treat it.
The Chemistry Of Terpenes
“Terpene” is the common term for a large class of chemical compounds that affect flavor and smell (kind of like the terms “fruit” and “vegetable”). But the terpene molecules can be further subdivided into two types:
Monoterpenes — such as myrcene, limonene, and terpinolene — are “light” terpenes (think weight). These light terpenes are responsible for the more floral scents (like geranium, rose, jasmine, kiwi, and apple) that the cannabis plant gives off.
Sesquiterpenes — such as caryophyllene and humulene — are “heavy” terpenes (again, think weight). These heavy terpenes are responsible for the more pungent scents (like skunk, musk, patchouli, tea tree, diesel fuel) and sandalwood that the cannabis plant gives off.
Because they’re lighter, monoterpenes evaporate faster after the live plant is cut from its growing medium. A University of Mississippi study showed that dry curing and decarboxylation can reduce monoterpene count anywhere from 55-85%.
This reduction in monoterpenes means that the heavier sesquiterpenes that remain behind more readily influence the flavor, aroma, and medicinal impacts of the resultant product (be it shatter, wax, oil, or bud).
So, for the most part, decarboxylated cannabis products are going to skew more toward the pungent end of the aroma because the monoterpenes have already evaporated.
Types Of Terps
As its name suggests, this terpene is a zesty citrus twist of flavors. It is found in tropical marijuana varieties like Pineapple Express and Jack Herer. Both these citrus strains are known for their depression-fighting qualities because of their high limonene count.
This terpene can also treat bronchitis, combat cancer, and assist with weight loss. Limonene is a typical terp used in medical creams and skin ointments. If you’re looking for a magical drop of marijuana medicine, this is the terp to keep an out eye for.
If you’ve ever fallen asleep after smoking a spliff of Blue Dream, then you’ve been lullabied by Myrcene. This terpene is well known as an anti-insomnia warrior. In fact, it is anti- a lot of things: antibacterial, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and anti-spasmodic.
Unsurprisingly, because of its sedating side effects, this terp makes a perfect marijuana pain reliever. Mother Nature manufactures myrcene in mangos, bay, thyme, parsley, sweet basil, and hops.
Ever heard the urban legend that munching a mango before smoking increases the high? This terpene is responsible for that popular pothead tale.
Along with Myrcene and alpha-humulene, beta-pinene is one of the terpenes that make beer and weed such a perfect pairing. Taking a puff full of its deep pine-like pungency will complement the taste of your favorite ale or lager.
To imagine the flavor, think of a winter’s stroll through the woods on a drizzly late afternoon. The scent that comes to mind is the same smell that’ll scintillate your olfactories when smoking this terpene.
But more than just pleasing your nose and palate, this terpene also has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and asthma-combatting properties.
Delta 3 Carene
In need of an anti-inflammatory? Keep the medicine cabinet closed and pack a bowl of wholesome self-medication instead. Delta 3 Carene is a terp known for its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties.
If you’ve hurt yourself to the extent of an involuntary tear or two, don’t worry. Delta 3 Carene dries tears (and other body fluids) right up — taking just one hit will have you manned up in no time.
Other than in a variety of cannabis strains, this earthy-flavored terp can also be found naturally in rosemary.
Looking to up your Bear Grylls skills? Then Alpha Bisabolol, with its wound-healing abilities and natural deodorant replacement capabilities, is the terpene for you.
Surprisingly, this is also the floral, herb-like terp that gives chamomile its soft, fragrant flavor. But if, come 4:20 tea time, you prefer a bowl to a cup, then delight your senses as you light up a Alpha Bisabolol scented strain, such as Master Kush, Pink Kush, and Rockstar.
This terpene fights bacteria, heals wounds, and soothes inflammation.
Picture yourself with sticky chin and sugary fingers as you delightfully devour a pillow of cotton candy while standing in a field of endless purple lavender. This florally sweet sense sensation is what you can expect from Linalool.
Not only can this sugar-and-spice-flavored terpene be found in your favorite weed, it is also in certain species of fungi, mint, flowers, and cinnamon.
Feeling a little blue or frazzled around the edges? The chilled effect of Linalool is great for treating anxiety and depression. It can also clear up acne — that’s a win for your sense of wellbeing and your skin too.
Body going through the wars? Then take a time out and settle down for some serious couch-lock time with Borneol. This terpene is known to act as an effective pain reliever and bronchodilator, as well as having antiseptic and anti-insomnia qualities.
Dose yourself with a dope variety like K13, which contains high levels of this minty, camphor-like terpene. Interestingly, this terp is also what is commonly used in acupuncture practices.
To imagine what hops-flavored Caryophyllene tastes like, bring to mind your favorite brand of beer and brew mentally on that for a while. This terpene is found in full power in popular pot strains, like Chemdawg.
Because of this particular strain’s sky-high levels of Caryophyllene, it is a marijuana magic worker for depression, PTSD, anxiety, migraines, muscle and joint stress, and nausea. This is one potent medicinal terpene as prescribed by Dr. Mary Jane herself.
Ever found yourself wondering why koala bears always look so dopey and pondered where you could get some of that? Their lazy nature is a direct result of their eucalyptus-rich diet.
Eucalyptol is the primary terpene found in the eucalyptus leaves that koala bears are so fond of munching all day long.
This spicy terpene is more often used in cooking, but medicinally it can also be applied to gums or skin and can be found in cough suppressants and mouthwashes. To get your own dose of eucalyptol, light up a joint of Silver Haze.
This forest-fragranced terp smells like an earthy mix of pines and cloves. It’s often found in soaps and perfumes because of its olfactory-pleasing sensation.
Not surprisingly then, its woody scent appeals also to the seasoned pot smoker and can be savored when smoking varieties such as Jack Herer and other Jack crossbreeds.
Studies have found cannabis-extracted terpineol to have antioxidant properties that carry an array of health benefits as well as being a trusted cancer-fighting ally.
In need of a bit of brain stimulation, or just an extra cerebral zing? Cineole is the terpene for the job.
This luscious mix of spice and mint will get your neurons up and firing while possibly sparking memories of your pop’s Old Spice aftershave in the background. You’ll feel revved up and ready to go in no time.
On the medical marijuana side, Cineole is the perfect pot partner for your anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-nociceptive needs.
Taking Care Of Your Terpenes
To fully reap the rewards of your marijuana’s terpenes, you’ll need to take extra care to keep the flavor fresh. Packaging weed properly is a vital step to terpene upkeep.
Plastic, especially the plastic sandwich baggies that most marijuana users keep their cannabis in, are positively the worst way to preserve your weed. Plastic baggies do absolutely nothing to keep light, air, heat, cold, or moisture out of your marijuana.
And sealable plastic baggies aren’t much better.
That’s because plastic is a horrible material for keeping pot fresh since it has a static charge that will pull precious terpenes and trichomes from the plant matter onto the plastic, creating a fine, sticky, powdery mess that you’ll never be able to get out of the bag into your bong.
It may be quick, easy, and convenient (not to mention feel a bit nostalgic) to store your weed in a plastic baggie, but it won’t do anything to preserve the flavor profile and the medicinal benefits that you’re looking for.
Glass is a good and safe packaging option because it’s much less air permeable (meaning it keeps air out) and it doesn’t secrete any harmful chemical compounds that could put your terpenes under attack.
When you visit your local dispensary, we highly recommend bringing your own empty glass jars for your budtender to fill rather than ruin your weed or the environment with plastic baggies.
Honest Marijuana Packaging
At Honest Marijuana, we’ve revolutionized pot packaging. We put all our buds in resealable cans to preserve the freshness and flavor profile longer.
We even take the extra step of preserving the flowers with nitrogen before sealing the containers. This keeps the cannabis fresh longer and ensures that you see, smell, and taste everything exactly the same way we do at the growery.
Be sure to house your weed in a safe and cozy environment. Too much moisture could cause a community of mildew to assemble. Not enough moisture and your bud will dry out and won’t taste like anything but sticks and twigs.
Keep terpenes optimal by storing your jars or resealable containers in a cupboard or similarly dark and cool area. Your containers should be fit snug with buds — any extra space will let in unwanted saboteurs like humidity, heat, and mildew.
Get To Know Your Terpenes
Being able to identify that faint forest aroma or deep berry burst as a particular terpene in your weed will add a much rounder edge to your smoking experience.
If you’re a home grower, upping your terpene knowledge will also give you more control over how your cannabis crop turns out. You can manipulate your baby pot plants to yield exactly the flavor you’re after.
More than just adding to the sensory indulgence, knowing your terps will also give you a deeper appreciation for the medical benefits that you inhale with each puff.
So far, medical marijuana research has focused more on the composition and effects of chemicals like CBD and THC, but terpene research is slowly lighting a trail. You can expect to hear a lot more about these medical and flavorful wonders in the future.
In the meantime, though, just sit back, relax, and take a toke of your favorite terpene.