What are Terpenes and What Do They Do?

What are Terpenes?-2What do the distinctive fragrances of lemons, pine needles, lavender, lilac and cannabis have in common? They all come from terpenes, aromatic organic compounds produced by plants and bees. That’s why people have been using terpenes to make essential oils and perfumes for many years. But terpenes are more than just pretty scents — they also have physiological effects.

Types of terpenes

Terpenes are formed from isopentenyl pyrophosphate (a hydrocarbon). They are categorized by how many isoprene units are in each molecule. Two is the standard number, so a terpene with just one is called a hemiterpene (hemi meaning half), while a terpene with two isoprene units is called a monoterpene, whereas one with three is a sesquiterpene (sesqui meaning one and a half) and so on. Cannabis is rich in terpenes; it contains both monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes.

Function of terpenes

Many people know that cannabinoids, such as CBD, are the active constituents of cannabis. But did you know that without terpenes, cannabinoids would lose some of their power? In the cannabis plant, terpenes bond with cannabinoids to turbocharge them, a process known as the Entourage Effect. As a result, the terpenes in hemp oil allow you to get the maximum benefit from the CBD it contains. Like CBD, terpenes are not psychoactive, which means they aren’t mind-altering.

Studied benefits of terpenes

There are up to 200 different terpenes present in cannabis. Most of the research into them has been performed on animals and still needs to be replicated in humans to be conclusive, but initial results have been promising. Some of the better studied terpenes include:

  • Limonene & Myrcene: In 2013, the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior published a study that found, “limonene could be used in aromatherapy as an anti-anxiety agent.”*[1] Meanwhile, a 2002 study in Phytomedicine concluded that both limonene and myrcene “presented sedative as well as motor relaxant effects.”*[2]
  • Pinene & Humulene: An article published in International Pharmacology in 2014 concluded that pinene is “a promising anti-allergic agent and may be useful in the clinical management of AR [allergic rhinitis].”*[3] In a related finding, a 2009 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology reported that humulene “exhibited marked anti-inflammatory properties in a murine [mouse] model of airways allergic inflammation.”*[4]
  • Linalool: Most recently, research published in 2017 in Pharmaceutical Biology found that linalool has “clear antinociceptive [painkilling] and anticonvulsant ”*

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


[1] Lima NG, et al. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2013 Jan;103(3):450-4.

[2] Do Vale TG, et al. Phytomedicine. 2002 Dec;9(8):709-14

[3] Nam SY, et al. Int Immunopharmacol. 2014 Nov;23(1):273-82.

[4] Rogerio AP, et al. Br J Pharmacol. 2009 Oct;158(4):1074-87.

[5] Souto-Maior FN, et al. Pharm Biol. 2017 Dec:55(1):63-7.