What Are Terpenes in CBD and What Do They Do?

Cannabis is infamous for its THC content, which is the active ingredient that creates a "high" when cannabis enters the bloodstream. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the secondary compound found in cannabis and has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years due to its amazing health benefits and because it doesn't contain any of the psychoactive effects THC does. This makes CBD oil without THC an excellent alternative to someone who would never use cannabis otherwise. 

Along with CBD, terpenes are another compound present in cannabis being researched for their health benefits. There are at least 120 identified terpene compounds in cannabis plants, and they play several functions in plant life through direct and indirect plant defenses. Because of this, they have enormous potential for involvement in human health too.

What Are Terpenes in CBD Oil?

Terpenes are natural, fragrant essential oils present in plants, flowers, vegetables and herbs, including cannabis. They’re responsible for each individual plant’s unique odor and flavor profile. For example, terpenes are behind the pleasant smells that overwhelm the kitchen when we peel a fresh orange or dice fresh garlic. Terpenes are an important part of the hemp plant, and the type of terpene aroma varies depending on the cannabis strain.

How Do Terpenes Develop in Plants?

The reason plants produce terpenes is for three primary adaptive purposes: to lure pollinators, to repel predators (ie: hungry animals or pest insects) and to attract beneficial insects. Terpenes are crucial for plant survival and possess properties that are also beneficial to humans.

Most plants, including cannabis, increase their terpene production as they mature, particularly in the flowers or buds. As a cannabis plant reaches the end of its flowering stage, the terpenes are at their maximum content.

Factors That Influence Terpene Production

There are many factors that influence a plant’s development of terpenes, including climate, altitude, weather, age and maturation, nutrients used, soil type, harvest techniques, and even time of day. The fact that terpene production can be promoted and influenced by such a wide range of factors illustrates how every grower can produce a slightly different product, even if the same strain is grown.

When combined with CBD, research has found terpenes directly affect the neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. A couple ways they do this is by supporting healthy dopamine activity or healthy norepinephrine activity.

Common Terpenes Found in Cannabis

Since terpenes have so many different effects and applications, I suggest doing your homework as you look for the CBD product that’s best for you. Look for third party lab testing, which often tests for different terpenes. Here’s a list of the most researched terpenes in cannabis and their aroma: myrcene (earthy, grassy), linalool (floral, lavender), limonene (citrus), B-caryophyllene (spicy), humulene (hops, woody), and pinene (pine). As you might suspect, different terpenes contribute to a single cannabis flower's unique odor and flavor. This is one reason why there is such a range of cannabis varieties, and even the same strain grown by different horticulturists will likely have different finished products. 

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



1. Pichersky E, Raguso RA. Why do plants produce so many terpenoid compounds? Nw Phytol. 2018 Nov;220(3):692-702.

2. Lyzit L. Promoting Terpenes in Cannabis. Maximum Yield.

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