What Are Terpenes? A Cannabis Enthusiast’s Guide To Understanding Terpenes

One of the most fun aspects about being a cannabis consumer or patient is smelling the array of fragrances that the plant’s flowers produce. With ranges between fruity aromas and cheese-like smells, one can sense a level of familiarity and developed expertise with cannabis as the relationship between plant and nose deepens. So what exactly is behind these fragrances that trigger such connections? And what is it that makes them so unique?

You may have heard of terpenes or terpenoids, the chemical that gives cannabis it’s different types of scents. Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. With the rise of the legal cannabis industry, the discussion around terpenes has recently heated up. We’re here to break down what these chemicals are, and exactly what they are doing to make your cannabis experience so unique.

First, the words terpenes and terpenoids are often used interchangeably, although the meanings do vary. Terpenes are the naturally occurring combination of carbon and hydrogen, whereas terpenoids are terpenes that have been modified through a drying and curing process (chemical modification), altering the oxygen content of the compound.

In cannabis, terpenes are made in the trichomes of the plant. Trichomes are the shiny, sticky, mushroom-shaped crystals that cover the leaves and buds. Trichomes on cannabis act as a defense mechanism in nature, protecting the plant from insects and animals through the production of fragrant terpenes that repel danger. As humans, we smell these terpenes and can make inferences about the strain and possible physiological effects of the various cannabis plants.

Cannabis is an incredibly diverse plant in its biological makeup and potential benefits — and terpenes – are no exception. There are over 100 different identified terpenes in the cannabis plant, and while the differences can be subtle, much progress has been made in making classification of terpenes and their effects easy for patients and consumers to understand. Broadly, terpenes can be broken down into sweet, sour, spicy, or bitter — with each category further breaking down into more specific smells. These specific smells consist with certain strains, which in turn correlate to the effects of that plant. In fact, to help with this., many companies have produced terpene wheels to better help people understand this. More on that in a bit.

Here’s an example: A sour-smelling flower may have a strong lemon scent to it. Lemon scented strains are often correlated with strains like lemon skunk or lemon haze; these are zesty sativas that give the consumer a boost of energy and euphoria. With a better understanding of terpenes and how they relate to the scents that you are experiencing, you are able to come to certain conclusions about the plant in front of you by simply smelling it. This is powerful information for consumers, patients, and growers alike.

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