Ah, there’s nothing like opening a bag of weed and taking a deep refreshing breath of nature. That nostalgic smell is so familiar and has the capability to transport you to the very first time you smoked. You have terpenes to thank for that.
Cannabis is full of different compounds: namely cannabinoids, flavonoids and common plant compounds. The cannabinoids we’re interested in are THC, which induce the high associated with cannabis (obviously) and CBD, which is rapidly becoming more popular, especially due to its benefits without the high. There are many other cannabinoids in cannabis like CBG, CBN, THCV, THCA and more.
Next up are the flavonoids, these produce non-green pigmentation in plants as well as enhance flavor, enhance smell, and are pharmacologically active.
Lastly are the common plant compounds like fatty acids, polyphenols, lipids, waxes, and terpenes. Terpenes are non-psychoactive hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. They give each strain of cannabis its unique fragrance and taste. Some terpenes that contribute to the smell of cannabis are pinene from pine trees, limonene from citrus fruits, linalool from lavender, terpinolene from oregano and cumin, citronellol from geraniums, and myrcene from hops.
Aside from making your weed smell good, terpenes have several characteristics that make them valuable to plants. In “Plant Terpenes: Defense Responses, Phylogenetic Analysis, Regulation and Clinical Applications”, some of the characteristics listed are that terpenes can poison insects that might eat that plant, combat microbial pathogens, attract predators of the herbivores that eat the plants, and attract mites that eat the insects that eat the plants.
There are over 200 terpenes in cannabis. Some terpenes are more common and important in cannabis than others. Limonene, which is from citrus fruits, has been shown to support the immune system, while also being effective in healing wounds.
Another important terpene in cannabis is myrcene which gives off an earthy, musky, sometimes spicy smell. It is one of the most abundant terpenes in cannabis.
Beta-Caryophyllene is another terpene that is highly aromatic and usually found in black pepper, rosemary and hops. It defends your immune system and acts as a gastric cytoprotective, meaning it can help protect the stomach.
Next time you take a whiff of your weed, think of it as a fine wine. Sniff it, look at it, swirl it around (ok, maybe not) and try to detect the different terpenes in there, working their natural magic on your body while helping to give you a pleasant-smelling high.