Have you ever noticed how a handful of mint leaves smells just like a pack of spearmint gum, naturally? Or wondered how the lemony scent in certain cannabis strains mirrors the citrus burst of a Meyer lemon, even though it’s form is dried and green, not juicy and yellow?

We have terpenes to thank for the the distinguishing aromas we find in many plants. Scents such as, menthol, citrus, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and eucalyptus are all derived from terpenoids. The aromatic properties of plant terpenoids play a traditional role in medicine, ranging from herbal remedies believed to fight cancer to pharmaceutical and antibacterial functions.

Benefits Beyond the Senses

Terpenes aren’t just pleasing scents, they are the main building blocks of the essential oils and resins instrumental in the plant’s defense systems. For example, honeybees are attracted to the scent in certain flowers that provide nourishing pollens, which in turn, play a positive role in the plant’s reproductive cycle. Alternatively, predatory creatures have an innate response to avoid specific scents that some plants create to protect survival. Terpenes also provide the foundation for complex molecules like pigments, sterols, hormones and vitamins. In fact, terpenes are the basis for aromatherapy practices.

Cannabis terpenes are believed to play an even more important role in health benefits, either directly or indirectly. For example, the terpene, myrcene, is known to make cells more permeable, which increases the absorption of cannabinoids by the body. Beta-Caryophyllene (BCP) terpenes, which are normally found in black pepper, rosemary and highly concentrated in Cannabis, have demonstrated the direct effect of cancer-killing properties.

A Scientific Snapshot

While many terpenes interact harmoniously, some combine with cannabinoid receptors in the body to block the formation of other compounds, while others act as a binding agent. This explains why terpenes are believed to produce a broad range of both psychoactive and physiological effects commonly associated with THC and CBD alone. In fact, it is the synergy of these many compounds and receptors working together that creates the commonly known “entourage effect.”

What Your Nose Should Know

As scientists continue to explore the roles and human reactions among the hundreds of terpenes in Cannabis, below are a few profile types known to address a variety of common patient conditions:

Terpene Type Recognizable Scent Associated Benefits
Alpha and Beta Pinene Sharp, sweet, pine Anti-inflammation, bronchodilator
Myrcene Musky, earthy, herbal, citrus Anti-inflammation, muscle relaxation, sleep
Linalool Floral, spice, citrus Anti-inflammatory, also moderates motor skills, liver function
Alpha Bisadolol Floral Anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory
Delta 3 Carene Piney, earthy Anti-inflammatory, also associated with drying fluids such as menstrual flows, runny noses, and tears
Eucalyptol Mint, spice Cough suppressant, mouthwash, pain-reliever
Terpineol Piney, clove Anti-oxidant and relaxing properties
Cineole Herbal Antibiotic, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing
Caryophyllene Pepper, wood, spice, hops Moderates anxiety and depression
Humulene Woody, earthy Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, pain-reducing
Limonene Citrus, lemon, orange Anti-depression, anti-anxiety, gastric reflux, anti-fungal