Terpenes and Their Effects

Where Do Terpenes Come from?

Terpenes are a complex and diverse group of compounds found throughout nature: in plants, flowers, fruits, and even in insects. They’re responsible for the distinctive smells and tastes in many of the things we consume. That characteristic zing of lemon, the calming scent of lavender, the bitter taste of hops in beer, and even the powerfully familiar odor of cannabis—you can credit terpenes (and flavonoids) for your sensory experience of all of these.

However, terpenes do more than create aroma and flavor in some of our favorites things. Plants produce them to both attract pollinators and repel predators. That’s what we mean by “complex”. But wait, there’s more; not only do they give plants character and attract suitors while simultaneously defending them with unpleasant odors and tastes, they also have therapeutic benefits for humans. And there’s a substantial amount of preliminary evidence to prove it.


Terpenes or Terpenoids 

You may hear either term used. The difference between terpenes and terpenoids is their chemical makeup. Terpenes are hydrocarbons—simply hydrogen and carbon. Terpenoids is an all-encompassing term for modified terpenes, usually involving oxygen. It’s likely that, unless you’re reading a research study, terpenes and terpenoids will have the same general meaning.


Terpene Uses

Terpenes have a range of practical uses in our world already. They’re used in food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industries. They can act as natural pesticides, affect quality in craft beer, and at least 120 terpenes are known to be found in cannabis. Their presence in cannabis has made the general public more aware of them, no doubt. But terpenes are not strictly associated with cannabis. Steroids are a derivative of a terpene (squalene); Vitamin A is a terpenoid; walks in the forest are literally believed to be healthful in part because of terpenes. The therapeutic term for it is “forest bathing”.


Types of Terpenes

Tens of thousands terpenes are thought to exist in nature. To give you an idea of what terpenes are, what they can do, and where they can be found, we’ll describe a few common types here. Like cannabis has been recently, conifers are pretty famous in the scientific world as a source of terpenes. Some of these include: α-pinene, β-pinene, camphor, camphene, sabinene, limonene, menthol, cymene, and myrcene. Many of these exist in cannabis and other plants. Limonene, for example, is a terpene found in cannabis, but is also the compound that gives lemon its characteristic taste—as you probably guessed by the name.

Other terpenes like β-caryophyllene found in pepper, linalool from hops, nerolidol found in orange, and phytol from green tea are all also found in cannabis. In the next section you will find some of these terpenes listed along with the therapeutic effects they are believed to have according to preliminary research studies and reviews.


Research on the Health Benefits of Terpenes

A scientific review in 2017 combed through the research from the last few decades to determine why forest terpenes have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and neuroprotective effects on humans. They found evidence from preliminary research studies that the following terpenes may “exert anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting various proinflammatory pathways in ear edema, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, skin inflammation, and osteoarthritis.”


  • α-pinene
  • limonene
  • p-cymene
  • linalool
  • γ-terpinene
  • borneol
  • β-caryophyllene
  • sabinene


According to the review, terpenes have exhibited anti-tumor effects in vivo and in vitro models (in lab animal models and human-derived tissue models). These terpenes include:


  • limonene
  • pinenes
  • p-cymene
  • myrcene
  • β-caryophyllene


Numerous studies in the review show that essential oils of plants have neuroprotective effects against neurodegenerative conditions in vivo and in vitro. Therefore, terpenes (a main component of plant essential oils) may be beneficial to human neuronal health. However, not many studies have focused on the benefits of terpene components of plant essential oils on neuronal health. These terpenes, though, have been studied for their effects against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s:


  • borneol
  • β-caryophyllene
  • α-pinene


Which Foods Have Terpenes?

Limonene can be found in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits.


Myrcene you will find in mangos, lemongrass, hops, and bay leaves.


Get your α-pinene in pine nuts and your linalool from lavender.


β-caryophyllene is found in broccoli and a lot of spices like basil, rosemary, cinnamon, oregano, lavender, cloves, and black pepper.


Terpenes and Weed

You can also get a variety of terpenes from various strains of cannabis. Full spectrum CBD extracts will include terpenes along with other cannabinoids and flavonoids. All of these whole plant compounds are thought to work together synergystically in what experts call the “entourage effect”.

Hemp flower is now available as well, if you are interested in the smoking or vaping experience. Hemp flower is high in cannabinoids like CBD or CBG, but contains only the legal limit of THC or less, which cannot get you high. So, you can enjoy the benefits of the entourage effect, without getting couch-locked.

It’s important to understand that in the studies above, animal models were often given high doses of these terpenes. It is not suggested that any of these compounds be assumed as a treatment for diseases without question. However, such findings could point to future treatments once backed by human clinical trials. In the meantime, what these studies do suggests is that more terpenes in your daily diet and in cannabis if you choose, could contribute to beneficial effects.


The Nature’s Breakthrough educational resource is just one of the ways The Hemp Haus practices its sincere commitment to and passion for educating people about CBD and helping them find the right, high-quality product based on their needs. 

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