The cannabis plant produces a distinct aroma, but how does weed create the smells which make the plant so easy to recognise by smell alone, and give us so many options in taste and flavours? Aromas which stretch from dank cheese to earthy pine to fruity and sour.
The answer lies in terpenes, which are the aromatic compounds found in the essential oils of the cannabis plant.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are one of the most commonly produced chemicals in nature, with over 30,000 that we know about, and all of them responsible for the aromas of all plant life including spices, fruits, vegetables, and the aromatic properties of essential oils.
The cannabis plant alone contains 200 of these terpenes, but they do much more than tickling our nasal passages. Terpenes in cannabis also change the way cannabinoids interact in the different strains of weed and vary the effect the plant can have on an individual.
The role of a terpene in nature is to attract organisms which may be of benefit to the plant or to repel predators. The result is that terpenoids change the characteristics of the strain and can even provide therapeutic effects.
For instance, Alpha-pinene exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, Linalool has sedative effects, and the terpene Nerolidol possesses anti-fungal and sedative properties.
It has been discovered that like cannabinoids terpenes are also able to bind with cannabinoid receptors – not just in the brain, but also to receptors located all over the human body. Terpenes, therefore, have shown that they can alter the output of certain chemicals, influence the movement patterns of neurotransmitters, and even alter the availability of the receptors.
How are Terpenes Made?
In the cannabis plant, terpenes are produced in the trichomes, which are the sticky crystals covering the leaves and buds, and act as a natural defense mechanism for the plant to protect itself from insects and animals.
Terpenes are much more volatile than cannabinoids. Monoterpenes are the most volatile of the terpenes due to them being a relatively light molecule compared to the other classes. It’s this volatility which makes the process of correctly drying and storing cannabis so critical, as improperly prepared cannabis quickly loses its terpenes, but many other factors can also affect the level and quality of the terpenes.
The soil type, climate, weather, and the age and maturity of the plant can all alter terpene production in the plant to some degree. Even the timing and types of fertilisers used can dramatically change the quality of the terpenes in a cannabis plant.
The following five terpenes are some of the most prevalent terpenes discovered in the cannabis plant.
Pinene (Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene)
- Aroma: Has a fresh pine scent
- Effects: Feelings of euphoria, high alertness, and improved memory
- Found elsewhere in parsley, Basil, Rosemary, Pine needles
- Strains high in pinene: Silver Haze, Trainwreck, and Bubba Kush
- Aroma: Possesses an earthy musky aroma
- Effects: Creates feelings of relaxation, sedation Relaxing, sedating, couchlock
- Found elsewhere in lemongrass, Hops, and Mango
- Strains high in myrcene: Purple Kush, White Widow, and Blue Dream
- Aroma: an aroma reminiscent of citrus lemon
- Effects: relieves stress, heightens mood
- Found elsewhere in oranges, lemons, limes
- Strains high in limonene: Lemon Skunk, Super Lemon Haze, and OG Kush
- Aroma: Smells of pepper with a woody aroma
- Effects: None detected
- Found elsewhere in cloves and black pepper
- Strains high in beta-Caryophyllene: OG Kush, White Widow
- Aroma: Possesses a sweet floral smell
- Effects: Promotes calm and relaxation
- Found elsewhere in lavender and rosewood
- Strains high in linalool: Headband, Sky Walker, and Amnesia Haze