Terpenes are one of the largest group of chemicals molecules produced by a diverse variety of plants. They are components of essential oils - you are surely familiar with smells of black pepper, lemon or lavender. Terpenes are responsible for that signature aromas. It is believed that plants produce these substances as an evolutionary protection mechanism against insects or herbivores animals. Majority of terpenes have antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, which plays an important role in plant defence.  An interesting fact is that intense odour of cannabis is specifically due to high concentration of terpenes - exactly the same as in lemon or pinene (that’s why some strains are so citrusy others remind hiking in the evergreen forest). Cannabis resin glands, called trichomes(small hair-like outgrowths on cannabis plant), produce both terpenes and cannabinoids (technically terpenes are precursors for cannabinoids production). The highest concentration of these compounds is found in unfertilized female flowers. Phytocannabinoids are chemically different from terpenes and are unique to the cannabis plant.

You might be surprised how common to human and animal diet are terpenes in foods such as lemongrass, mango, black pepper or wine and more. Terpenes are considered as safe and permitted to use as food additives by world organizations such as FDA in the US.

 The effects on humans of these volatile compounds are well researched and commonly used in aromatherapy and other inhalation methods. The effects can be seen even in really low concentrations - a lavender candle helps you to relax and aids sleep. It appears that they interact with enzymes systems, neurotransmitters and each one has special physiological effects. Different strains of cannabis with similar content of THC or CBD can have a range of effects - it’s due to different terpene profiles.


Doctor Ethan Russo, one of the leading experts in the field of cannabis research, proposed an idea of ‘the entourage effect’. In his work he explains how the use of phytocannabinoids and terpenes could create a synergistic effect, enhancing one another. As he shows in the studies review, multiple terpenes work in similar ways to cannabinoids, which could explain why one strain is more sedating while another gives you more energy and have an uplifting effect. Combination of a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes can bring effects through different pathways and create a powerful result.