What are Terpenes?

In this next segment of the Hemp Lab Series, Drew Ford dives into the best kept secret in cannabis: terpenes. Previously, he covered cannabinoids in hemp and some of their basic functions. The medical benefits of cannabinoids CBD, CBG, and CBN are the main focus in hemp. However, cannabinoids are only half of the story. The other half, and possibly more important than the cannabinoids, are the terpenes.



Just as cannabinoids are a family of molecules sharing similar traits, the terpene family is just a massive group of molecules. These molecules all originate from units of isopentenyl pyrophosphate.

They all start from the same precursor and are biosynthesized into the different molecules making up the family. Terpenes (and terpenoids) are produced naturally in the hemp and cannabis plants. There are as many as 120-200 unique molecules in a hemp plant, for example. Terpenoids are molecules that are terpene based, but with additional functions attached to them.

Terpenes are chemicals responsible for the aroma and flavour of hemp. They also provide the same function in many other botanical items, too. They are found most commonly in conifer plants, but they exist in fruits and vegetables we eat on a daily basis. These molecules can have a wide array of affects, odours, and tastes.


How do terpenes differ from cannabinoids?

In hemp and cannabis, the terpenes are responsible for much of the enhanced characteristics of the different strains. It’s the different combinations of terpenes creating the strain profile, not the cannabinoids.

So, what are these strain profiles and what do they do? We are familiar with the terms Indica and Sativa in the cannabis space. Do these terms apply to hemp?  Indica and Sativa refer to the type of feelings associated with the strain.

Indica strains produce a heavier, more sedative affect. Sativa strains on the other hand are more uplifting and energetic. Sometimes these sativa strains can cause extreme anxiety and panic attacks compared to their Indica counterparts. In reality, it is the terpene compositions which determine the categorization of Indica and Sativa strains. The problem is trying to split into only two categories with over 140+ known terpenes. Researchers group strains into five or six categories based on terpene content and the effects they produce in the human body.


What do they actually do?

Popular opinion says it’s the THC making people happy, sleepy or even creative.  However, the reality is it is the unique blend of terpenes making up a strain which is the cause.

Terpenes are avidly studied for their medical benefits. They are sometimes studied as an isolated terpene. Other times it is as a main component of essential oils extracted from botanicals. Terpenes comprise the majority of these essential oil blends in lavender and rosemary, for example. As we have a greater understanding of how they add to the cannabinoid experience, we are able to dive deeper to understand the true medical benefits these molecules bring. There is still much to learn here.

Pain relief is a property many terpenes are associated with. Some are currently being studied for their anti-anxiety (linalool, ocimene) potential, as well as sleep aids (myrcene), and gastrointestinal support (limonene). They are undeniably one of the most diverse and beneficial groups of chemicals known in the plant world.


Surprising places to find Terpenes

Terpenes are responsible for the aroma and taste of hemp and most of the plants we eat. Mangos, bay leaves, and lemongrass contain Myrcene. Limonene is a major component to peppermint, rosemary, and fruit rinds.  Linalool is responsible for the aroma we all love from the lavender plant. Many companies add terpenes to their foods and beverages to enhance flavour. In reality, they are only growing in popularity as an ingredient. We expect this to continue as research reveals the amazing benefits of terpenes.