Cannabis terpenes: What they are & how they work

Discover the world of cannabis terpenes, including their benefits and effects.

Cannabis Terpenes
minute read

Medically Reviewed byDr. Caley Scott, ND

The deeper we explore the cannabis plant, the more secrets we unlock. You may already know about cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, which take most of the spotlight when discussing cannabis. 

Terpenes are yet another layer of discovery in cannabis beyond cannabinoids, offering unique properties and benefits.* While terpenes might not have the same intrigue as heavy hitters like THC or CBD, they are still a worthy topic in cannabis science.

In this article, we’re learning all about different terpenes in the cannabis plant and seeing their role in our favorite CBD products

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds found in nearly all plants, including cannabis. They are the primary substances responsible for shaping aromas, flavors, colors, and other properties in plants, including possible therapeutic benefits. Some animal products contain terpenes, particularly in their fatty acids and oils. 

Terpenes are often utilized for natural scents in products like candles, essential oils, natural cleaning solutions, and other organic materials for the home or body. You may be familiar with the distinctive sensations associated with plants like lavender, rosemary, pine trees, or peppermint, which feature potent terpenes that are instantly recognizable. 

From an evolutionary standpoint, terpenes are thought to play a role in protecting and preserving plants from the hazards of nature, from harsh weather to predators and other dangers. Some terpenes are meant to keep plants safe from being eaten, while others have evolved to attract animals and help them to further propagate their species. 

There are more than 30,000 terpenes known to exist today, and scientists are frequently unlocking new types along with their profiles and abilities. While the simplest terpenes are composed of hydrogen and carbon molecules, more complex versions feature oxygenated groups, including alcohols, ethers, ketones, and aldehydes.

Terpenes play a part in our perception and experience with all plant life and can support many biological functions, many of which we don’t yet fully understand. For now, we’ll consider the incredible diversity of terpenes and how influential they can be in fields like science, medicine, industry, cuisine, and more. 

How do terpenes and cannabinoids differ?

Terpenes and cannabinoids are often grouped in the same category due to their high concentrations in the cannabis plant and diverse capabilities.

More than 400 terpenes are found in cannabis, and many of these compounds are thought to enhance the effects of marijuana when consumed or support the effects of hemp extracts that feature high amounts of CBD (cannabidiol) and less THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).*

On a molecular level, cannabinoids are far more active and effective than terpenes due to their complex structure and ability to interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This allows compounds like CBD, CBN, CBG, and THC variations to support processes in the nervous system, major organs, skin, bones, and more.*

Cannabinoids are considerably more potent, and some, such as THC, are even restricted on a federal level because of their psychoactive properties. Meanwhile, milder compounds like CBD are federally legal because they don’t drastically change our psychological state when consumed.*

Where do terpenes come from?

Terpenes are found throughout the entire plant, including stalks, stems, leaves, and even seeds. However, the highest terpene content is typically found in a plant's fruit or flower when in bloom and fully ripe.

For example, an orange tree may contain a trace amount of citrus in its leaves, though the citrus terpenes are far more concentrated and effective in the fruit of the orange itself, from the flesh and juice to the skin of the fruit. 

Certain terpenes are found most abundantly in leaves, such as herbs like rosemary or sage. They are tucked away in the cells of the leaves and emerge with a powerful aroma and oil when the leaves are rubbed together or finely chopped. You can try this out for yourself the next time you grab fresh mint or basil from the garden!

Similarly, cannabinoids are found throughout the cannabis plant, though higher concentrations of THC are generally found in the flower, similar to fruits or veggies. Still, our best-selling hemp extracts utilize the entire cannabis plant to get the fullest range of available cannabinoids, delivering a more complete set of cannabinoids and terpenes, plus other supporting ingredients.

How do terpenes affect the body?

Terpenes can affect the body in several ways, ranging from the therapeutic benefits of aromatherapy to flavor enhancement in cooking or the soothing effects of a body lotion or bubble bath mixture. 

Terpenes can be consumed as part of our favorite dish or beverage or absorbed through the skin when soaked or intentionally rubbed in with lotions or oils. The olfactory system also plays a role in ingesting terpenes, which constitutes our sense of smell and our strong reactions to certain scents. 

Once introduced to the system, terpenes activate GABA receptors, which are neurotransmitters influencing everything from relaxation and stress to energy, mood, and our ability to sleep. While peppermint has a slight uplifting effect, lavender can help us feel more calm during an evening routine.

Similar to cannabinoids, there’s a terpene with therapeutic properties for every occasion—provided you know how to use them properly.*

Finally, terpenes play a part in producing the entourage effect in hemp extract products like full spectrum tinctures, gummies, and other ingestibles thanks to the synergy of compounds in cannabis. Terpenes have been shown to support the effects of cannabinoids by interacting with a wider range of neurotransmitters, increasing feelings of calm, and reducing discomfort.* 

We often think of the entourage effect as something specific to cannabinoids like CBD or THC, but don’t count out the power of terpenes to further increase their efficacy. 

Do terpenes have psychoactive properties?

While the effects of terpenes are certainly noticeable, they are not strong enough to produce a psychoactive effect in humans. Even the highest concentrations of terpenes will not alter your mental state or impact your fine motor skills, which is why we don’t see the same regulations on terpenes compared to cannabinoids. 

However, terpenes can be overused and sometimes cause reactions in those with sensitivities or allergies. Some terpenes can even have toxic properties and should be avoided altogether, likely resulting from defense mechanisms for plant survival or the unique biology of humans. 

You won't have to worry about intoxicating effects or adverse reactions when analyzing terpene profiles on your favorite hemp extract products like tinctures or gummies. Terpenes in cannabis products are included with beneficial properties in mind. 

What are some commonly known cannabis terpenes?

Cannabinoids like CBD and THC might be the main event in hemp extracts and other cannabis products, but certain terpenes deserve a closer look. Some of these terpenes are significant on their own but offer even more benefits with the entourage effect at play.* 

Here are some of the top terpenes found in hemp extract products and how they help make the most of your experience with CBD and other cannabinoids. 


Linalool is one of the most widely studied terpenes, found naturally in many flowers and spice-producing plants. It creates a distinctive neural response in humans and may have a relaxing mental and physical effect associated with calm and soothing feelings.*

This makes it an ideal companion for the entourage effect in certain CBD formulations, especially those for nighttime relaxation. That’s why our Full Spectrum Rest Tincture features linalool-rich lavender and valerian root essential oils, along with higher amounts of CBN, to get you in the mood to snooze.*


Limonene is a common terpene found in citrus fruits like lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit. It is thought to promote energy and boost concentration, pairing well with cannabinoids like CBG for alertness and high activity levels.*

Limonene is also known to reduce feelings of discomfort and help bring the nervous system into balance when feeling groggy or low-energy.* This makes our Broad Spectrum Rise Tincture ideal for those needing a morning routine hemp extract or that extra afternoon boost without the coffee.*


Found in plants like cloves, rosemary, and cannabis flower, beta-caryophyllene is a power player in the entourage effect for many hemp extract products.* The compound has been shown to reduce tension and soothe feelings of discomfort, which is great for anyone focused on physical performance at work or play.*

Beta-caryophyllene is also highly concentrated in black pepper, so we gave it a leading role in our PowerTERP blend featured in our Full Spectrum Organic Whole Plant Tincture. This is an anytime hemp extract that supports your overall well-being and makes the most of all the compounds cannabis offers.* 


Pinene is recognized as a mood-boosting terpene with considerable soothing effects. This makes it a great all-around compound that can add to the entourage effect in nearly any hemp extract product. 

Pinene is found in basil, dill, cedar, and certain citruses. In many cases, it’s used to combat bacteria in natural household products. It’s also thought to have stimulating effects on the body and mind, so look for hemp extracts that contain pinene to add to your morning regimen.


Myrcene is a terpene found in peaches, mangoes, bay leaves, lemongrass, and other plants, including cannabis. It’s known for relaxing effects that might help you unwind and sink into bed at the end of a long day.

Myrcene also features an earthy, musky scent as opposed to the energizing sensations of citrusy or minty smells. You might want to skip myrcene-heavy extracts when navigating a busy day at work, but these can be a useful ally for an evening routine. 

The bottom line

Terpenes are a huge area of interest for scientists seeking natural ways to provide therapeutic benefits, especially alongside cannabinoids. While cannabis contains many powerful terpenes already, try taking advantage of special formulations of CBD that feature extra ingredients and infusions from proven compounds. 

Terpenes are largely safe and well-studied and only add to the entourage effect of your favorite hemp extract products. Be sure to check out Sunmed’s full range of formulas featuring terpene blends and take your routine to new heights.


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