What Are Terpenes?

As the CBD industry continues to expand, many consumers are struggling to wade their way through hundreds of CBD products and brands.

As a result, many people adhere to the belief that CBD products are generally identical in the interests of simplifying their choices. After all, cannabidiol is typically the sole active ingredient on the label of most CBD products — so how unique can CBD products really be?

In actuality, very few CBD products are exactly alike. Many CBD products have distinctive smells and effects thanks to a class of compounds defined as terpenes. And although you might not recognize terpenes by name, it’s very likely that you’ve been smelling and tasting them throughout your entire life.

What are Terpenes and What Do They Do?

In scientific terms, terpenes are aromatic organic compounds found in hundreds of fruits, vegetables, and other plants. However, it’s also accurate to describe terpenes as the reason that pine trees smell piney and citrus fruit tastes like citrus.

A juicy lime, cut in half

Even though terpenes are largely responsible for many of the distinctively delicious smells and flavors of our world, they don’t primarily exist to make our lives more enjoyable. Instead, plants produce terpenes to repel hungry herbivores and lure predators towards them in the interest of staying alive. That said, it should be noted that terpenes, by definition, are not terpenoids – a separate class of similar aromatic compounds.

Thousands of terpenes exist, and many of them are found in essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, and rose oils. Because terpenes can be isolated, many are used as the aromatic foundations for perfumes and food additives.

As you might expect, terpenes are also responsible for the distinctive scents of hemp plants and CBD products. These aromas originate from small glands on female cannabis flowers called trichomes, which produce a thick, sticky substance called resin.

Although resin contains many of hemp’s naturally occurring cannabinoids, it also holds vast amounts of highly-aromatic terpenes. As a result, the odor of each hemp plant is largely defined by its terpene content, ensuring that every hemp plant smells unique.

However, more recent research has indicated that terpenes not only affect how CBD products smell – but also, how they work. By modulating the way CBD interacts with the human endocannabinoid system, terpenes can noticeably alter the effects of CBD in various ways. Thanks to terpenes, we now know that CBD products are much more diverse and multi-faceted than previously thought.

What Do Terpenes Do for You?

Terpenes are available in hemp plants and CBD products at varying concentrations. For instance, the earthy-smelling myrcene and the pungent, pine-scented pinene terpenes are both very prevalent in hemp, but others like terpinolene are far less common. Because a CBD product’s balance of terpenes can define your experience, it’s important to determine which terpenes are best-suited to your needs.

Concentration and Focus: Alpha-Pinene

If you’re looking to stay focused, the alpha-pinene terpene might be right up your alley. True to its name, pinene has a sharp and refreshing pine scent that’s found in the needles of pine trees as well as orange peels and various spices like basil, parsley, and dill.

Close-up of pine needles on the branch of a pine tree

In CBD, pinene seems to promote wakefulness and alertness, making it well-suited to staying focused during long, intensive work days or study sessions.

Appetite: Humulene

Humulene is a distinctive terpene that’s defined by its earthy, woody smell. In tandem with CBD, humulene supposedly has powerful appetite-suppressing properties, making it suitable for those following a calorie restricted diet or users who want to keep their hunger at bay while fasting.

Sleep: Linalool

Linalool is a spicy, floral-smelling terpene found in coriander, lavender, and dozens of other spices and flowers. When paired with CBD, linalool seems to excel at promoting sleep, which might make it ideal for those frustrating — and hopefully occasional — sleepless nights.

Sedation and Relaxation: Terpinolene & Myrcene

Terpinolene and myrcene are both terpenes defined by their ostensibly sedating and relaxing qualities. However, apart from their shared interactions with CBD, these two terpenes have little else in common. Still, if you’re looking to amp up the relaxation factor of your CBD, terpinolene and myrcene are both well-qualified candidates.

Mood: Beta-Caryophyllene, Limonene, Linalool

CBD is widely recognized for its effects on mood, and these three terpenes seem to succeed at furthering that association. If you’ve had a rough day and you’re wondering what terpenes can do for you, beta-caryophyllene, limonene, and linalool might be valuable in quelling sour moods and bad tempers.

Immune-Boosting: Ocimene & Limonene

The earthy, herbal notes of ocimene and the refreshing citrus fragrance of limonene lend their distinctive aromas to fruits like kumquats and oranges. However, according to the terpene definitions of researchers, these two terpenes have much more to offer. When combined with CBD, ocimene and limonene could help strengthen your immune system.

Pain: Limonene & Beta-Caryophyllene

Topical CBD fans rejoice! Both limonene and beta-caryophyllene seem to improve the absorption of topically-applied CBD products such as creams and lotions. If you’re looking to reduce localized pain, be sure to keep these two terpenes in mind.

Getting the Most out of Terpenes

Terpenes can go a long way towards enhancing your experience with CBD. To get the most from terpenes, check to see that your CBD products meet the following criteria:

  • Terpene disclosure: Look for CBD products that mention terpenes, or better yet, explicitly label and/or define their terpene content on the packaging
  • CO2 extracted: CBD oil can be extracted through various means, but CO2 extraction is highly effective at retaining the natural terpene content of hemp
  • Made from quality hemp: The growing environment of hemp plays a formative role in determining what terpenes are present and what they can do for you, so pay close attention to a manufacturer’s production process and growing conditions

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