Terpenes: The Surprising Secret To Great Marijuana

There’s something incredibly powerful about the scent of marijuana. The human brain responds to aromas more quickly than any other stimulus, and weed is no exception. Cannabis cultivators have known for a long time that scent says a lot about it’s effectiveness. In fact, cannabis has one of the most diverse scent profiles of any plant in the world. These odors can tell you about how the plant was cultivated and where it originates, but many don’t know that the pungent smell of cannabis might help you decide which strains are right for you.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical responsible for making you feel stoned, but there’s more to your high than just the amount of THC. Anyone who has experimented with different strains knows that no two varieties are alike- they may be equally powerful, but one strain creates a more sedative effect, while another increases giddiness and creativity. Terpenes are pungent oils in marijuana responsible for creating it’s aroma. There are literally hundreds of different terpenes, and the subtle combination of these compounds plays an enormous role in how each individual reacts to the plant. Different scents like citrus, pine, berry and musk are responsible for some of the more interesting strain names like Blueberry, Sour Diesel and Skunk.

Unlike cannabinoids, terpenes are common to all plants and aromatic herbs. They evaporate quickly and easily into the air, so when you inhale, the odors you smell are actually terpenes. Aromatherapy is a science based almost entirely on the use of terpenes to balance emotions and body systems. In nature, terpenes are designed to attract pollinators and repel predators, thereby protecting the plant and encouraging growth.

THC and other cannabinoids have no odor of their own, instead, we owe the subtle differences in scent and sensation to the delicate balance of terpenes. As a consumer, it’s helpful to be able to identify some of the most common aromas, so you can choose strains that are most beneficial to you. Below, we’ve outlined some of the major scent profiles found in medicinal cannabis and how to use them to your greatest advantage.


Myrcene has gotten a lot of attention lately, and with good reason. It has powerful muscle relaxing, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, making it an excellent choice for patients with pain. It is also responsible for creating a distinct couch-lock effect, so it is best suited for people who enjoy a deep, hypnotic haze. It can be recognized by it’s strong, musky or clove-like odor. Myrcene can also be found in plants like hops, thyme and mango.

Best for: pain, inflammation, insomnia, muscle spasms, depression.

Common Strains: White Widow, Skunk #1, Pure Kush, Himalayan Gold


The most common terpene in the plant world, alpha-pinene has a strong pine scent. It is a bronchodilator, and it increases memory retention and alertness. It may slightly counteract the effects of THC, but it is an excellent choice for patients with asthma, Alzheimer’s and mood disorders. This terpene can also be found in plants like dill, basil, rosemary and pine.

Best for: Asthma, Alzheimer’s, mood disorders

Common Strains: Bubba Kush, Chemdawg, Trainwreck, Super Silver Haze, Romulan, Jack Herer, Blue Dream


If the name of this terpene makes you think ‘lemonade’, you’re not far off. Limonene has been used to dissolve gallstones, improve heartburn, treat breast cancer and gastrointestinal disease. It has a strong citrus scent and is powerfully antibacterial, antifungal and anti-carcinogenic. This terpene is also a mood elevator, so it is an excellent choice for patients with depression and anxiety. Citrus plants, rosemary, peppermint and juniper also contain limonene.

Best for: depression, anxiety, infection, cancer, digestive disorders, gallstones, heartburn.

Common Strains: Lemon Kush, Lemon Skunk, OG Kush, Jack The Ripper, Sour Diesel, Super Lemon Haze


If you suffer from insomnia or anxiety, this terpene is perfect for you. Commonly found in plants like lavender, peach, passion fruit and tea, linalool has powerful anxiolytic and sedative effects. It is also good for treating insomnia, depression, burns and acne. It is anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory and it increases serotonin-receptor transmission, making it helpful for people suffering from depression.

Best for: anxiety, depression, muscle spasms, stress, insomnia, acne, skin burns

Common Strains: Lavender, Amnesia Haze, LA Confidential, G13, Skywalker, Headband, Pink Kush


This terpene has a distinct, peppery or spicy scent and has the unique ability to bind directly to the CB2 receptors in the nervous system. It is anti-inflammatory, gastro-protective and excellent for treating certain types of ulcers. It’s ability to interact directly with CB2 receptors makes it an excellent choice for patients suffering from autoimmune diseases. Other plants containing Caryophllene are black pepper, cloves, oregano, cotton and leafy greens.

Best for: autoimmune disorders, inflammation, ulcers, gastrointestinal conditions, arthritis.

Common Strains: OG Kush, Chemdawg, White Widow, Girl Scout Cookies


Humulene is one of the lesser-known terpenes, but it has powerful properties of it’s own. It is an appetite suppressant, and has antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. Humulene has a distinct, woodsy or earthy odor and is commonly found in plants like hops, sage and ginseng.

Best for: weight loss, cancer, infection, pain, inflammation.

Common Strains: White Widow, OG Kush, Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Diesel, Headband

Jason Duke

As a disabled veteran I have been through years of therapy and treatment and I have seen the toll prescription pain medications can take on you and your family. Now years later and an advocate for Medical Marijuana I'm the founder of MedicalMarijuanaHelp.com a website dedicated to providing accurate information on Medical Marijuana uses, the laws, and the strains. I'm a firm believer that marijuana can help millions of people and deserves its proper place in mainstream medicine.

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