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Everything you need to know about cannabis terpenes

Learn what terpenes are, and gain an understanding of the role they play in broader cannabis effects.

min read


medically reviewed by


February 13, 2023

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What are terpenes? 

Terpenes (pronounced tur-peens) are the organic, aromatic compounds found in plants in the form of oils. Essentially, they are what gives a plant its unique flavour and aroma. When it comes to cannabis plants, terpenes are contained in the trichomes of female cannabis plants in the form of sticky resin glands. Cannabis plants contain more than 150 types of terpenes, each responsible for the aromatic diversity of the wide range of cannabis cultivars and strains available. 

Until recently, much of the cannabis industry has been focused almost solely on the therapeutic qualities of cannabinoids like THC and CBD. But, as our knowledge of terpenes continues to grow and cannabis science expands, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that these aromatic compounds are medicinal powerhouses in their own right. Beyond just influencing the cannabis plant’s unique taste and smell, terpenes play a significant role in the therapeutic effects of cannabis by interacting with cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds to create subtle differences in our experience.

It all comes down to synergy. That is, multiple elements of cannabis working together to amplify each individual element’s effect. This allows for the overall effect of the plant to be greater than the sum of its individual parts (this phenomenon is known as the ‘entourage effect’1). When cannabinoids like THC and CBD are paired with other cannabis compounds such as terpenes (or certain concentrations of them) they create or emphasise particular medicinal or other types of effects, opening up a world of therapeutic combinations and medicinal purposes that researchers are beginning to explore.

What do terpenes do? (Terpene effects)

Throughout history, humans have been harnessing the wide range of aromas and properties of terpenes for various purposes, including medicinal. Different terpenes have different effects on the mind and body, with potential capabilities ranging from antibacterial and antifungal to anticancer and pain relieving2, to name a few. The potential medicinal properties of these aromatic compounds and the way terpenes interact with your endocannabinoid system are still being explored and we hope to see more medical research in the near future.

Ever used the scent of lavender to help you drift off to sleep? You have the terpene linalool to thank for that effect! Studies have shown that linalool aids sedation and relaxation while reducing aggression and hostility. Does the smell of citrus have an uplifting effect on your mood? That’s thanks to the terpene limonene, which is known as a natural antidepressant (among its many other medicinal properties)2.

These are just some of the potential therapeutic effects and benefits of terpenes, many of which can be found in cannabis treatments:

  • Antiviral: there are a number of terpenes which demonstrate antiviral capabilities, including beta-pinene and limonene4, as well as caryophyllene, camphor, and carvone5.
  • Antidepressant: 25% of modern-day antidepressant drugs are formulated using herbal extracts that contain terpenes, including linalool and beta-pinene2.
  • Pain relieving: like some cannabinoids, terpenes including humulene, geraniol, linalool, and β-pinene are capable of activating the body’s CB1 receptors (a component of the endocannabinoid system which influences pain perception). One 2021 study combined these terpenes with cannabinoids and found the pain-relieving effects of the cannabinoids to be amplified without an increase in negative side effects. These findings support the entourage effect theory mentioned earlier6.
  • Anticancer: terpenes like limonene (which may have significant anticancer and antitumor properties7), as well as pinene, camphor, terpinene, and beta-myrcene may help inhibit the activity or growth of cancer cells8.
  • Antimicrobial: terpenes like alpha-bisabolol, geraniol, menthol, eucalyptol, and terpinolene may display antimicrobial activity9 which could help in stopping the progression of harmful microorganisms.

Much more research is needed (especially in humans) to uncover the full therapeutic potential of terpenes10. But preliminary research on medicinal properties and a longstanding history of terpenes being used in traditional medicine indicates that these compounds may have powerful health benefits yet to be explored.

Do terpenes make you high? 

Terpenes found in cannabis plants aren’t intoxicating on their own, and they won’t make you feel high in the way that the cannabinoid THC might. However, some terpenes are still considered to be psychoactive because they have an effect on the brain (such as making you feel relaxed, uplifted, or less anxious). 

While cannabis terpenes won’t get you high on their own, these aromatic compounds may still alter the effects of intoxicating cannabinoids like THC. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the high feeling many experience with cannabis use. Some people believe that different combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes may alter and even mitigate the undesirable effects that some THC users experience, like anxiety and intoxication. There is also some evidence that terpenes enhance the existing therapeutic properties of cannabinoids – such as pain relieving6 and antidepressant2 effects – when they are taken together.

How do terpenes differ from cannabinoids (THC & CBD)?

Cannabinoids and terpenes are both organic compounds found in cannabis plants – and both have varying effects on the mind and body – but terpenes are not cannabinoids. Let’s explore the differences between the two:


  • Cannabinoids are a diverse array of molecules found within the cannabis plant, some other plants, and the human body. 
  • Phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD are the most common you’ll hear about, and both are found within the cannabis plant. They are largely responsible for the effects you experience when you consume cannabis, including psychoactive, therapeutic and other effects. 
  • Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system in varying ways to produce effects within the mind and body.
  • Cannabinoids are heavily regulated in Australia and require a prescription in most cases.
  • Cannabinoids like THC are capable of producing an intoxicating effect on the user.


  • Terpenes are also organic compounds found within the cannabis plant, but with different effects and properties to cannabinoids. 
  • Terpenes influence the aroma and flavour of cannabis (alongside Volatile Sulphur Compounds (VSCs)11) while cannabinoids do not. 
  • Terpenes are found in abundance in almost all plants, while cannabinoids exist mainly in cannabis and a small number of other plants (like black pepper). 
  • Terpenes are widely available and used in a range of household products in Australia, like perfumes, medicines, cosmetics and cleaning products.
  • Some terpenes may interact with the endocannabinoid system (though not as strongly as cannabinoids), but more research is needed in this area6
  • Terpenes can be psychoactive, but are unlikely to produce an intoxicating effect or ‘high’ on the user that is commonly associated with THC.

How do terpenes influence our experience of cannabis?

Cannabis terpenes affect our experience of cannabis in a number of ways – depending on the types, concentrations and combinations of terpenes in the flower, the cannabinoids and other compounds present, and the individual patient consuming the cannabis. Terpenes range dramatically in aroma, with varying smells often being associated with certain medicinal or psychoactive effects. These aromatic compounds are highly bioactive, and interact with different receptors in the body – including our endocannabinoid receptors – to produce varying effects.

Lavender, for example, which contains the terpene linalool (which is also found in many cannabis strains) is known for its calming effects. This means that linalool-rich strains of cannabis are likely to have a calming, pain-relieving effect greater than what would be achieved with isolated cannabinoids or a strain with a different terpene profile. The terpene limonene – found in the oils of citrus plants – is associated with bright, uplifting and energy-boosting effects. This means that a limonene-rich strain of cannabis would be more likely to elevate a patient’s mood beyond what cannabinoids are capable of achieving on their own. 

Mounting scientific evidence suggests that terpenes play a considerable role in not only modulating the intoxicating effects of THC, but also working in synergy with other cannabinoids to potentially increase their therapeutic value. A 2018 review of CBD treatments for epilepsy found that patients with epilepsy who took full-spectrum CBD extract – including cannabinoids and terpenes – experienced improved symptoms and fewer side effects than those who took CBD isolate, which contains only cannabinoids12.

So, if a cannabis treatment is selected for a patient based on THC or cannabinoid content alone, then that patient is likely being robbed of the full therapeutic experience and potential of their cannabis treatment. Not only will they miss out on the rich and distinct scents and flavours of the cannabis strain, but they will also miss out on the range of additional medicinal benefits that can only be experienced through a strain’s specific terpene profile. That’s why it’s so important to speak with a qualified doctor who understands the complexities of medical cannabis treatments.

Most commonly known cannabis terpenes

There are many different types of terpenes present in the oils of plants, each producing different smells and tastes as well as effects on the humans and animals who consume them. The cannabis plant alone contains more than 150 terpenes which each contribute to the plant’s therapeutic qualities and potential health benefits. 

Here are just some of the most commonly known terpenes you might find in your medicinal cannabis treatments and in other plants:


  • Found in: Black Pepper, Cloves, Cotton
  • Aromas: Pepper, Wood, Spice, Herbal
  • Potential uses: Pain relief, Anti-inflammatory, Anxiety, Depression + more


  • Found in: Lemon, Fruit Rinds, Juniper
  • Aromas: Citrus, Lemon, Orange
  • Potential uses: Digestion, Anti-bacterial, Stress relief


  • Found in: Chamomile, Rose, Potatoes
  • Aromas: Sandalwood, Floral, Wood
  • Potential uses: Anti-inflammatory, Anti-allergy, Muscle relaxant


  • Found in: Sage, Ginseng, Hops
  • Aromas: Earth, Wood, Spice
  • Potential uses: Anti-inflammatory, Antibacterial, Appetite-suppressing


  • Found in: Mango, Thyme, Lemongrass
  • Aromas: Musk, Earth, Citrus
  • Potential uses: Anti-inflammatory, Relaxing, Pain relief


  • Found in: Lilac, Sage, Rosemary
  • Aromas: Floral, Herbal, Pine
  • Potential uses: Antibacterial, Anxiety, Insomnia

Are terpenes good or bad for you? 

Whether a terpene is good or bad for you depends on the plant it is found in and how it is being used. Terpenes are legal and are not classed as a drug on any prohibited drug list. They exist in almost any plant (including herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers) that you can find in your garden or at your local grocery store, such as lemons, rosemary and mangoes. They also exist in other plants, such as non-edible and toxic plants in the wild. 

In their pure, concentrated forms, terpenes can cause unwanted side effects like dizziness and irritation when consumed, inhaled or topically applied. This is why essential oils that have not been diluted should not be ingested or applied directly onto the skin13.

In diluted form (5% or less), terpenes are non-toxic and safe to use.

Are terpenes safe in cannabis? 

Cannabis medicines are highly regulated in Australia for safety, cannabinoid and terpene content, quality and efficacy. Any terpenes found in these treatments have been deemed safe (and even beneficial!) for human consumption. Terpenes are not known to be addictive.

Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about terpenes in your medicinal cannabis treatments, including any potential allergies or sensitivities. 

Do all cannabis treatments contain terpenes?

Unfortunately, not all cannabis treatments contain terpenes. And for those treatments that do contain terpenes, not all suppliers measure terpene content from batch to batch or place an emphasis on maintaining the plant’s terpene profile in production. This has the potential to lead to inconsistencies in the effects of those treatments from batch to batch. 

While cannabis products that use the full plant or whole flower contain the original terpene profiles of the cannabis strains, full-spectrum and broad-spectrum cannabis treatment (which also contain terpenes) may have reduced terpene profiles due to the extraction methods used to produce them. Isolates do not contain terpenes, however some isolate treatments may have a terpene or terpene blend added back in (that is not from the original plant) – these are known as terpsolates.

There are many variables that can affect the amount of terpenes found in cannabis strains. Environmental factors such as light exposure, temperature, whether the plant is grown outdoors or indoors, growth methods, nutrient levels, and harvest practices can all influence terpene levels. Because many terpenes are volatile compounds that easily evaporate, they are at risk of being lost during standard cannabis extraction processes. But thanks to more in depth cannabis research and growing awareness of the therapeutic benefits of terpenes - and the potential health benefits of the 'entourage effect' - is leading to more sensitive extraction and production methods to help maintain the cannabis plant’s terpene profile.

Talking to your Polln doctor about terpenes 

Just like cannabinoids, your doctor can help you choose an appropriate medicinal cannabis treatment based on its terpene profile and the effects these terpenes may have on your specific symptoms or condition. Terpenes may contribute to the overall affect of the cannabis cultivar  – i.e. whether it is sedative, calming, uplifting or euphoric – or they might have individual medicinal benefits that are suited to your condition – such as being anti-inflammatory or a digestive aid. Also, terpenes affect the taste of cannabis, and there may be certain ones you prefer – just like if you were selecting a tea or coffee. 

If you're looking to reap all of the health benefits native to the cannabis plant through your medical cannabis treatment, talk to your prescribing doctor about available cannabis treatments that incorporate a diverse terpene profile and an array of other compounds.

To talk to an expert about terpenes in cannabis, sign up as a Polln patient or make an appointment today.

You can also take our free eligibility quiz and find out if medicinal cannabis may be right for you.


How long do terpenes last?

Once a cannabis plant has been picked, all of its properties, including cannabinoids and terpenes, begin to degrade. Proper storage methods are the only way to maintain the quality and efficacy of your cannabis plant and its therapeutic properties over time. 

Terpenes are found on the trichomes of the cannabis plant. These are the tiny, glandular appendages on the surface of cannabis flowers. Maintaining terpenes within the cannabis plant can be done by ensuring the trichomes are stored correctly and that damage is minimised. 

To avoid the evaporation of terpenes as well as the oxidation and breakage of terpene-containing trichomes, adequate humidity control should be prioritised in cannabis storage. Maintaining a 55-65% relative humidity (RH) range minimises the loss of these aromatic compounds in cannabis. As well as an airtight container, an ideal RH range can be achieved by using a terpene shield, which is included in some medicinal cannabis flower products sold in Australia. Talk to your doctor about terpene-containing cannabis treatments and terpene preservation.

Are terpenes legal in Australia? 

Terpenes are legal and widely available not only in plants, but in a range of household products including cosmetics, cleaning products, medications, perfumes, essential oils and more.

Do terpenes show up on drug tests? 

Terpenes are not classed as a drug on any prohibited drug list and are therefore not tested for in drug tests. Drug tests in Australia are generally measuring for presence of the cannabinoid THC. Learn more about the different types of cannabis drug tests.

Can you vape terpenes? 

Terpenes are found in many cannabis treatments, including cannabis flower. So, yes, they can be vaped if they are present within the cannabis treatment you have been prescribed to vape with an approved vaporiser.

Head to our ‘Ultimate guide to vaping cannabis’ for more.

  1. Ferber SG, Namdar D, Hen-Shoval D, Eger G, Koltai H, Shoval G, Shbiro L, Weller A. The "Entourage Effect": Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2020;18(2):87-96. doi: 10.2174/1570159X17666190903103923. PMID: 31481004; PMCID: PMC7324885.
  2. Cox-Georgian D, Ramadoss N, Dona C, Basu C. Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes. Medicinal Plants. 2019 Nov 12:333–59. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-31269-5_15. PMCID: PMC7120914.
  3.  Xu L, Li X, Zhang Y, Ding M, Sun B, Su G, Zhao Y. The effects of linalool acupoint application therapy on sleep regulation. RSC Adv. 2021 Feb 3;11(11):5896-5902. doi: 10.1039/d0ra09751a. PMID: 35423146; PMCID: PMC8694721.
  4.  Astani A, Schnitzler P. Antiviral activity of monoterpenes beta-pinene and limonene against herpes simplex virus in vitro. Iran J Microbiol. 2014 Jun;6(3):149-55. PMID: 25870747; PMCID: PMC4393490.
  5.  Nadjib BM (2020) Effective Antiviral Activity of Essential Oils and their Characteristic Terpenes against Coronaviruses: An Update. J Pharmacol Clin Toxicol 8(1):1138.
  6. LaVigne JE, Hecksel R, Keresztes A, Streicher JM. Cannabis sativa terpenes are cannabimimetic and selectively enhance cannabinoid activity. Sci Rep. 2021 Apr 15;11(1):8232. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-87740-8. PMID: 33859287; PMCID: PMC8050080.
  7.  Mukhtar YM, Adu-Frimpong M, Xu X, Yu J. Biochemical significance of limonene and its metabolites: future prospects for designing and developing highly potent anticancer drugs. Biosci Rep. 2018 Nov 13;38(6):BSR20181253. doi: 10.1042/BSR20181253. PMID: 30287506; PMCID: PMC6239267.
  8.  Greay, S.J., Hammer, K.A. Recent developments in the bioactivity of mono- and diterpenes: anticancer and antimicrobial activity. Phytochem Rev 14, 1–6 (2015).
  9.  Mahizan NA, Yang SK, Moo CL, Song AA, Chong CM, Chong CW, Abushelaibi A, Lim SE, Lai KS. Terpene Derivatives as a Potential Agent against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Pathogens. Molecules. 2019 Jul 19;24(14):2631. doi: 10.3390/molecules24142631. PMID: 31330955; PMCID: PMC6680751.
  10.  Deepak Kumar Dash, Chandra Kishore Tyagi, Anil Kumar Sahu and Vaibhav Tripathi, Revisiting the Medicinal Value of Terpenes and Terpenoids, May 12th, 2022, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.102612
  11. Iain W. H. Oswald, Marcos A. Ojeda, Ryan J. Pobanz, Kevin A. Koby, Anthony J. Buchanan, Josh Del Rosso, Mario A. Guzman, and Thomas J. Martin, Identification of a New Family of Prenylated Volatile Sulfur Compounds in Cannabis Revealed by Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Gas Chromatography, ACS Omega 2021 6 (47), 31667-31676, DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.1c04196
  12.  Pamplona FA, da Silva LR, Coan AC. Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-analysis. Front Neurol. 2018 Sep 12;9:759. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2018.00759. Erratum in: Front Neurol. 2019 Jan 10;9:1050. PMID: 30258398; PMCID: PMC6143706.
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