What’s your favourite strain smell like? Consumers often know they have dank weed on their hands when the musky, skunky, or pungent aromas of cannabis hit the air. If you’re knowledgeable, you might even be able to pick up subtle flavours when you inhale smoke or vape. What gives weed these characteristics?
They’re called terpenes, and while the benefits for consumers are obvious, there’s a lot of interesting science behind these compounds!
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes, the aromatic compounds that determine the scent of many flowers and herbs, give cannabis a distinctive odour and contribute to its flavour. There are more than 150 types of terpenes in the cannabis plant; although most are present in only trace amounts, the higher amounts give your favourite strains their signature scent and flavour profiles.
You only have to think about the weed you’ve tried to think about this in action. For example, the unique combination of terpenes in Diesel strains gives them a pungent, fuel-like character; the profile of Blueberry makes it one of the fruitiest strains available!
Apart from providing weed strains with unique bouquets, terpenes have necessary biological functions.
Why Do Cannabis Plants Produce Terpenes?
Terpenes are naturally-occurring compounds found in the trichomes of female plants. Trichomes are sticky glands that cover the surface of buds and (in much smaller amounts) leaves and stems. You might notice them as crystalline sugar on buds, as trichomes produce resins that contain terpenes.
Terpenes are essential for cannabis’s growth and survival – they enrich the plant’s colour and aroma. These features help attract pollinators, and terpinolene and linalool are well-known for attracting insects and other small creatures that can spread pollen. Others, like geraniol, repel pests that would otherwise see cannabis as an appealing snack (though with its floral scent, it has the opposite effect on humans).
As you can expect, terpenes have had evolutionary purposes millions of years before humans ever found the relaxing benefits of smoking herb. But it’s more than the smell – terpenes may also be responsible for some of the purported therapeutic and mood-altering effects consumers love!
What Else Can Terpenes Do?
Many terpenes are volatile compounds, something you might better know as essential oils. Humans have been harnessing terpene scents for practices such as aromatherapy; if you’ve ever enjoyed lavender, you know first-hand how mood-altering terpenes can be, even if they’re not psychoactive. If you’re unwinding with your favourite Indica, some of this relaxation could be coming from its terpene profile!
Research into terpenes suggests they may have more powerful effects. Researchers turned to these potent plant compounds to see if they impart an antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect; now, roughly 25% of antidepressant drugs use herbal extracts that contain terpenes in their formulations. Specifically, beta-pinene and linalool are some of the more common extracts used.
As mentioned previously, plants use terpenes for protection from pests, and humans could harness this power. Studies show that some, like alpha- and beta-pinene, caryophyllene, and camphor, could help kill viruses!
If you’d like to experience the best of terpenes, try a product like terp sauce. This thick extract comes from extraction processes that isolate the resins that contain terpenes. The result is a potent, flavourful concentrate you can dab or add to your joints or bowls!