Cannabis Terpenes 101: Primary Terpenes

Understanding terpene basics and why they matter

If you’ve smelled lemons, lavender, or pine trees then you’re already familiar with terpenes. These aromatic compounds give plants their distinct aromas and also have beneficial properties.

Terpenes play a particularly big role in the flavor and effects of cannabis. Read on to learn more about how they work to educate your customers and help them choose the right cannabis product.

Cannabis Terpenes

Cannabis contains over 150 different terpenes.1 They not only have beneficial properties of their own but also work in synergy with cannabinoids, the main active components of the plant.

Each cannabis strain has a distinct combination of terpenes known as a terpene profile, which not only determines the strain’s flavor but also contributes to its effects.

Dominant Cannabis Terpenes

Cannabis terpenes are usually divided into two groups: dominant and secondary.

Whereas secondary terpenes are found in trace amounts, dominant terpenes are abundant in most strains of cannabis and play a bigger role in its effects. They include myrcene, pinene, limonene, beta-caryophyllene, terpinolene, and ocimene.


Myrcene is the most common terpene in cannabis, accounting for more than 50% of the total terpene content of some strains. It has a herbal, earthy scent and is also found in mangos, thyme, hops, and other plants.

Although it has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, myrcene is best known for its sedative effects and may contribute to the “couch-lock” experienced with some strains.2


Unsurprisingly, alpha-pinene has the scent of pine trees. According to research, pinene can widen the airways3, improve memory, and also has anxiety-reducing, anticonvulsant, neuroprotective, pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory, effects.4


As you probably guessed, limonene has a lemony flavor and is abundant in citrus fruit rinds. It’s been shown to have anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant and immunostimulant, effects. 5


Beta-Caryophyllene is found in pepper, basil, and cloves, which explains its woody, spicy, and peppery aroma. It’s one of the only terpenes that can directly activate CB2 cannabinoid receptors and may have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, anxiety-lowering, antidepressant, and other benefits qualities.6, 7


Terpinolene is found in conifer trees, cumin, lilac, and other plants. It has a woody, floral, herbal scent and has shown anti-inflammatory,8 sedative, and other effects in studies.9


Ocimene has a sweet, herbal aroma and is common in hops, basil, and cloves. It hasn’t seen much research but we know it can lower inflammation.10


Terpenes play an important role in cannabis. That’s why knowing which ones are most abundant in a cannabis product can help predict its flavor and effects.

For example, if a customer is looking for a strain for sleep, you’ll definitely want to recommend one rich in myrcene.

Our Producer Connect database makes it easy to check the terpene profile of various cannabis products to find the right fit.

1 Booth, Judith K., and Jörg Bohlmann. “Terpenes in Cannabis sativa–From plant genome to humans.” Plant Science 284 (2019): 67-72

2 Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects.” British journal of pharmacology 163.7 (2011): 1344-1364.

3Nam, Sun-Young, et al. “The therapeutic efficacy of α-pinene in an experimental mouse model of allergic rhinitis.” International immunopharmacology 23.1 (2014): 273-282.

4 Salehi, Bahare, et al. “Therapeutic potential of α-and β-pinene: a miracle gift of nature.” Biomolecules 9.11 (2019): 738.

5 Sun, Jidong. “D-Limonene: safety and clinical applications.” Alternative Medicine Review 12.3 (2007): 259.

6Sharma, Charu, et al. “Polypharmacological properties and therapeutic potential of β-caryophyllene: a dietary phytocannabinoid of pharmaceutical promise.” Current pharmaceutical design 22.21 (2016): 3237-3264.

7 i, Amine, et al. “β-Caryophyllene, a CB2 receptor agonist produces multiple behavioral changes relevant to anxiety and depression in mice.” Physiology & behavior 135 (2014): 119-124.

8Macedo, E. M. A., et al. “Association of terpinolene and diclofenac presents antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory synergistic effects in a model of chronic inflammation.” Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 49.7 (2016).

9Ito, Ken, and Michiho Ito. “The sedative effect of inhaled terpinolene in mice and its structure–activity relationships.” Journal of natural medicines 67.4 (2013): 833-837.

10Kim, Min-Jin, et al. “Chemical composition and anti-inflammation activity of essential oils from Citrus unshiu flower.” Natural product communications 9.5 (2014): 1934578X1400900538.

Gleb Oleinik

Gleb Oleinik is a freelance writer from Vancouver with a passion for educating people about the benefits of cannabis. He’s read hundreds of studies about cannabis, cannabinoids, and terpenes, helping him translate complex scientific research into plain language. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym, out in nature, and working on his website projects.