With a degree in English Literature and an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration, Alex became a freelance business writer for seven years. After seeing the shockingly positive impact of medical marijuana on a close member of his family, Alex took an interest in writing about cannabis. He soon shifted his focus to cannabis content, of which he has been writing for the past three years.
What are terpenes

If you’re interested in weed, odds are you’ve heard the word “terpenes”. But what are terpenes? For medical users, they’re responsible for their strain’s therapeutic benefits.

In fact, you could end up using an inappropriate medical strain if it doesn’t contain the right terpenes – some of which counter each other’s effects.

From a recreational perspective, terpenes affect the experience and flavor. Understanding what terpenes are will enable you to really shop around and find the perfect product for your medical or recreational needs.

What Are Terpenes?

Let’s start with the million-dollar question – what are terpenes? If you ask an experienced toker or budtender, you’ll likely hear that – like we said – they determine the flavor, smell and effects of a particular strain. In fact, terpenes are what give all plants their flavor and scent.

But what about the specifics? How many of us can accurately, completely define what terpenes are? It’s kind of like being asked to explain a calorie – we know what it does, but not necessarily what it is.

So, let’s clear the air and dive into the deep, sciencey stuff you might not learn in Weed 101.


Terpenes fall under the category of “secondary metabolites”. These are compounds related to metabolism that – unlike primary metabolites – don’t play a key role in the plant’s survival functions (i.e. photosynthesis).

In fact, terpenes are actually an entire category of secondary metabolite. Scientists set them apart based on their chemical makeup, which consists of mevalonic acid, hydrogen and oxygen.

What these oily compounds share is their universal role in the plant kingdom. Aside from always creating a plant’s flavor and aroma, for instance many of these terpenes have antibacterial or antifungal properties. Others are excellent at repelling insects or animal herbivores.

Terpene flavorsWhat are Terpenes from a Medical Standpoint?

While we certainly know a lot about terpenes today, they’ve been a part of herbal medicine for thousands of years. People found that certain herbs had medical properties, but they didn’t know that terpenes were the source.  At the time, they were the closest things to prescription medications.

Medically, terpenes play a variety of key roles. Some are more useful than others, depending on your condition; however, if you’re wondering why hippies are pushing certain herbal remedies on you, it’s because some of the plants actually do have terpenes that help.

While we’re obviously not saying that oregano cures cancer or a handful of basil a day controls diabetes, terpenes have a unique part to play for both medicine and nutrition. Some terpenes are antioxidants, while others can help clear your airways, fight bacteria and even inhibit cancer growth.

Common Benefits of Terpenes

We know that terpenes help give your weed an extra kick, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Each compound’s effects are great for medical patients, while some of these benefits appeal to recreational users as well.

Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that terpenes all share some common roles, often overlapping. In other cases, you might have one highly stimulating terpene sharing a strain with a more sedative one. How this affects the overall experience depends on a variety of factors, such as THC/CBD levels and other terpenes.

That being said, let’s look at some of the common benefits.

The Entourage Effect

In order to better understand medical marijuana, it’s important to know how terpenes and cannabinoids factor into the equation.

We can’t stress enough how important the “Entourage Effect” is. If you don’t take advantage of this process, you’re depriving yourself of some serious medical benefits.

In the case of cannabis, the Entourage Effect is a synergistic relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes. When working together, these compounds all help enhance the effects and benefits of cannabis. This is why products like isolates aren’t the best choice.

If you’re not using dry herb, make sure you opt for “full-spectrum” extracts. This means that no other terpenes or cannabinoids were removed during processing.

Entourage effectThe Entourage Effect doesn’t just apply to cannabis. It can happen between different terpenes, with or without cannabinoids. This is why there’s been a lot of attention on “whole plant therapy” lately.

What About Recreational?

Unless you’re very particular about your experience, terpenes aren’t as critical as they are for medical users. Most recreational consumers value terpenes for their flavor. Others know about each terpene’s effects and use that knowledge to tailor their experiences.

Following legalization in Canada, licensed producers and online recreational cannabis retailers made it a point to list terpene content on their products. It’s pretty clear that more people understand and appreciate the value of terpenes.

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