When inhaling the scent of a fresh bag of cannabis, one is immediately inundated with strong aromatic notes, varying from pine to berry to citrus, depending on the strain. What you’re smelling is terpenes, a chemical class of aromatic hydrocarbon compounds.
In cannabis, terpenes are secreted from the trichome glands, which are also responsible for the production of cannabinoids like THC and CBD. Exposure to light further promotes their production. However, terpenes aren’t unique to the cannabis plant, as several fruits, herbs and other plants produce them as well.
Typically, a strain’s name reveals something about its terpene profile. Strains like Strawberry Cough, for example, have more of a berry aroma, and Lavender comes across as more florally sweet. While THC is known for providing the euphoric “high” and CBD has been found responsible for many of cannabis’s medicinal effects, terpenes are growing a following in their own right, and not just for their sensory role in the smoking experience; for their medicinal effects, too.
Given that terpenes possess no known psychoactive effect in their own right and are predominantly responsible for the production aromas in marijuana, the chemical is, unsurprisingly, considered legal, unlike other cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
Nonetheless, terpenes offer users many medicinal effects. These compounds interact with neurotransmitters and cannabinoid receptors, which can cause to a wide-array of effects including managing inflammation, insomnia, and pain relief. Terpenes also can play a role in mental health, as they can function as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and antidepressants. And beyond medicinal effects, terpenes are believed to determine how much THC passes through the blood-brain barrier.
Different growing and cultivation techniques, as well as curing techniques can affect what compounds will ultimately be present in the strains you buy. Lab-tested products are the only known method that can confidently guarantee the available terpene profiles. Second to that, trust your sense of smell.
It’s important to note is that terpenes are volatile compounds, and as a result, high temperatures often seen in combustion methods of smoking can destroy or lessen their strength and undermine the medicinal benefits. If you’re deep into experiencing the taste and benefits of terpenes, many recommend using vaporizer methods to get the full sensation.