What are terpenes?

Listen to the automated AI version of this article here:


CBD and THC typically get all the attention when talking about the cannabis compounds that may have a positive effect on your health, however, terpenes are another common compound that can help the way your body receives cannabinoids. This blog will explain what terpenes are, their role in medicinal cannabis and some examples of common terpenes found in cannabis.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are compounds within all plants that make a difference in the aroma, flavour and sometimes the colour of the plant. Terpenes were first identified in the 19th century and got their name from turpentine, a product made from pine tree resin that is rich in a terpene known as pinene. These molecules are responsible for the distinct fragrance, taste, and pigment of different plants. They also serve ecological functions for the plant by attracting pollinators, fighting funghi and repelling predators. 

Terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis plants – humans have been using plants with high levels of terpenes for health and well-being for centuries, such as ginger and lemons. The use of essential oils and aromatherapy for health is also based on the benefits of terpenes. 

The make-up of different terpenes within cannabis is what makes the strains differ from one another. These terpene levels can vary depending on environmental factors such as weather, light exposure and soil nutrients.

Research has found that terpenes may have a variety of benefits, including being anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antimicrobial.

The Role of Terpenes in Medicinal Cannabis

Although the compounds THC and CBD are the most well-known, terpenes are believed to play a role in how those cannabinoids interact. We call this the ‘entourage effect’ — a concept that suggests all the compounds in cannabis work together to enhance its effects. 

A study conducted by the University of Arizona found that terpenes from the cannabis plant can have similar pain-relieving effects as cannabinoids, and when combined with cannabinoids, the pain-relieving effects were amplified without any additional negative side effects. 

Terpenes are not responsible for making you ‘high’, however, they are known to be psychoactive, meaning they do interact with the brain. Some terpenes may even decrease the psychoactive effects of THC and increase its therapeutic effects.

Understanding the Entourage Effect

As previously mentioned, the entourage effect is a hypothesis that suggests all the components of cannabis work together and increase the positive effects of cannabis, as compared to taking an isolate compound like CBD or THC. 

When you consume medicinal cannabis, you are consuming hundreds of different plant compounds. Each compound has unique benefits and characteristics, and the effects can vary depending on how different compounds interact with each other.

Do All CBD Products Contain Terpenes?

CBD products may or may not contain terpenes: If you are using a CBD isolate, then the product will not contain terpenes. However, if your CBD product is broad or full spectrum, it will contain terpenes. Broad or full spectrum means it not only contains CBD but a range of other compounds as part of the product.

What Are Some of the Terpenes Found in Cannabis?

There are over 100 terpenes found in cannabis alongside THC and CBD. Some of them are in such small amounts that they are unlikely to contribute to the aroma of the cannabis. Here are a few common ones:

  • Caryophyllene: This terpene can also be found in rosemary and cloves. It may help with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Limonene: This is one of the most common terpenes, known for its citrusy aroma. It has been shown to reduce anxiety in mice and may have anti-cancer properties.
  • Myrcene: Myrcene is found in mangoes and lemongrass and is the most prevalent terpene in cannabis. It has a peppery scent and may have muscle relaxant effects. It works well in amplifying THC.
  • Pinene: This terpene is found in pine and basil. Studies have found pinene can have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

Research into the interaction and effect of cannabinoids and terpenes is still ongoing, however, the studies mentioned in this post are indicating that the outcomes are encouraging.

If you have more questions about terpenes and medicinal cannabis, contact us below and we can help. Book an appointment with one of our experienced doctors to discuss whether medicinal cannabis is right for your medical journey. 


  1. https://cannabishealthnews.co.uk/2022/07/25/hemppoint-terpenes-what-therapeutic-benefits/

  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/cannabis-terpenes#vs-cbd-and-thc

  3. https://www.kind.com.au/post/terpenes-and-their-role-in-medicinal-cannabis 

  4. https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/cannabis-entourage-effect-why-thc-and-cbd-only-medicines-arent-g

  5. https://www.myriamshopehemp.com/whatareterprenes/

Disclaimer – medicinal cannabis and CBD oil are unapproved medicines in NZ which means that there is no conclusive evidence for their effect, apart from Sativex. Many doctors do not routinely prescribe cannabis medicines. The above article was written for general educational purposes and does not intend to suggest that medicinal cannabis can be used to treat any health condition. Please consult with your healthcare provider. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *