Terpenes - Terpenes, Terpenols and Terpenoids in Cannabis

Terpenes, which are also known as isoprenes, are of plant origin and can be found in many plants as a natural occurring ingredient, including cannabis plants (hemp and weed). In exceptional cases, this large group of organic molecules that are naturally formed in plants, can also be of animal origin, as has been observed in some insects, like termites, and some caterpillars and butterflies.


At imminent risk some caterpillars are capable to project a bifurcated member (osmeterium), with which enemies can be driven away by means of the stench caused by the release of terpenes. Also certain water beetles possess the property to secrete certain terpenes to expel harmful enemies.


Pungent aroma of terpenes

Terpenes, which are known for the strong-smelling aroma that they cause, have a protective function for plants. The powerful odors can dislodge harmful bacteria, fungi, plant eaters (herbivores), and other unwanted guests, so they can not harm the plant.


Instead of deterring the natural enemies of the plant, the smell of certain terpenes may also be recruited to ensure that important insects are being attracted. This may be of great importance for the pollination of plants. In addition to these important functions, they offer many other useful biological functions including protection against powerful sunlight.


Valuable ingredient for plants and people

Besides terpenes ensuring the plants health, recent studies have shown that terpenes can also play an important role in the human body. Consuming plants and herbs with certain terpenes can therefore be of great value to our health. Also, hemp and weed plants have large concentrations of these useful terpenes and thus provide benefit to the human body.


Difference between a terpene, terpenol and terpenoid

Terpenols (alcohols) and terpenoids (isopropenoïds) are groups derived from terpenes. They include, in contrast to terpenes consisting of only carbon and hydrogen (simple hydrocarbon), additional functional bonds with alcohol, aldehyde or ketone groups. The three terms are often used interchangeably.


Types of Terpenes


Terpenes belong to the largest group of plant compounds

Terpenes belong to the largest group of plant compounds, and researchers have discovered 48.000 structures, of which 8.000 belong to terpenes, and 40.000 to terpenoids. Despite that all these structures alter, they all have the same precursor. This organic precursor, which is known as isopentenyl diphosphate, or in abbreviated form IPP, is composed of five carbon atoms and is formed from acetic acid.


Classification of terpenes

Classification of terpenes is made on the basis of the number of carbon atoms of which they are composed. This is indicated by the letter C. The prefix which is present in the names, is based on the number of units by which the terpene molecule is built up. For example, the hermiterpenes belong to the half-terpenes with five carbon atoms (C5) and the word mono, in monoterpenes for the number one. Sesqui stands for 1.5, di for 2 and tri for 3.


  • Hemiterpenes (C5)
  • Monoterpenes (C10)
  • Sesquiterpenes (C15)
  • Diterpenes (C20)
  • Sesterterpenes (C25)
  • Triterpenes (C30)
  • Sesquarterpenes (C35)
  • Tetraterpenes (C40)
  • Polyterpenes (>C40)
Mono- and sesquiterpenes are an important ingredient of the essential oil of plants, while terpenes with a higher number of carbon atoms, are mainly to be found in resin, wax, and rubber. An example of this is isoprene rubber, a polyterpene consisting of more than forty carbon atoms.
An example of a tetraterpene with 40 carbon atoms is β-carotene (beta-carotene), a well-known component of carrots. Well-known examples of monoterpenes having 10 carbon atoms are myrcene, pinene and sabinene, all three of which are found in cannabis. Myrcene is also a well-known ingredient in hop, pinene in pine resins and sabinene in chamomile.


What is the biological function of mono- and sesquiterpenes?

Mono- and sesquiterpenes, which are characterized by their strong aroma, are a useful ingredient in the essential oils of plants. These volatile oil, which is formed in various parts of the plant, spreads a predominant odour which is released, inter alia, in case of warmth/heath.
This characteristic odor of the terpenes hangs around the plant like a haze, expelling all kinds of unwanted enemies like fungi, parasites, bacteria and pests. Special scents of terpenes can also have the characteristic, that they only attract beneficial insects. Some insects that are important for pollination of the plant, find the smell very pleasant and are attracted by it.
The smell of a terpene can also serve as a tool for a possible attack by an uninvited guest. By secreting a certain smell during an attack, a natural enemy of the unwanted intruder is being alerted. This will terminate the intruder in time, and so great damage to the plant is prevented.


Long history in medicine

Despite the fact that researchers have only mapped a large group of terpenes very recently, the Chinese have known for more than 3000 years BC, that the essential oils of plants and herbs possess many medicinal properties.
Essential oils are traditionally used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes for ages. The true masters of the application of these valuable oils, were the ancient Egyptians. Their work was being followed closely by many interested doctors from a large area who wanted to study the medicinal properties.
A document from the 12th century Arnaud de Villanosa, describes the distillation of an extract from sage and rosemary. The extracted oil he called oleum mirabile. Also there are described more than 60 different essential oils in 1950, which can be found in the Nuremberg edition of the Dispensatorium Valerii Cordi.


Medicinal effects of terpenes

In the present time essential oils still play a very important role and are massively being used in the food and nutrition industry. Also they are an important ingredient in cosmetic products, including perfumes and creams.
They are also of great value in traditional medicine and alternative herbal medicine, such as in aromatherapy and are often studied for antitumor, antibacterial and other medicinal properties of terpenes.
For example, studies have found that certain terpenes from plant extracts that have been added to skin care products, for example, ointments, skin oil, massage oil or balsam, have the valuable property to better help transport the other beneficial ingredients through the skin barrier. Due to the deep skin penetrating effect, a very effective absorption becomes possible, even when the product is applied to a skin wound with scabs.


Medicinal terpenes in hemp and marijuana

Terpenes which are present in hemp and weed, have, like the cannabinoids in plants from the cannabis genus, various medicinal properties. A major difference between them is that cannabinoids only occur in cannabis plants (and in some other plants), while terpenes occur in thousands of different species of plants and herbs.
The terpenes and cannabinoids present in cannabis cooperate extremely well. Terpenes have even shown to be capable to influence plant cannabinoids, also called phytocannabinoids, in a favourable way. This beneficial cooperation between the components is also known as the entourage effect.


Important cooperation between terpenes and phytocannabinoids

For example, useful collaborations between terpenes and phytocannabinoids have been observed in the treatment of inflammation, pain, anxiety, depression, and fungal and bacterial infections. But also in the treatment of cancer, epilepsy, and addiction, a co-operation was observed between the two components.
Terpenes can exert influence on the brain, and have the property that they are able to block the receptors belonging to the endocannabinoids system. For example, some terpenes are able to reduce the psychological activity of THC, while other terpenes are able to increase the uptake of THC in the blood.
In addition, they are able to exert influence on the chemistry of neurotransmitters. For example, they can affect the chemistry of the two neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for the regulation of behaviour and determine how we feel.


More than 120 species of terpenes in cannabis

Meanwhile, at least 120 different terpenes in cannabis have been discovered. These terpenes have been found in the sticky resin glands, also called trichomes, of the plant. Not all cannabis plants have the same concentration and ratios, this varies per plant. The formation of terpenes is influenced by a variety of environmental factors, such as the climate, soil, or the age of the plant.
Also, the time of the day is influential to the presence of the number of terpenes. Because the volatile oils from the plant evaporate when heated by sun, the plant will contain less terpenes at the end of the afternoon than early in the morning.


Terpenes profile of cannabis plants

Cannabis plants often contain a high concentration of beta-caryophyllene, or abbreviated BCP. This sesquiterpene plays a major role in the scent and flavor of the plant. Other terpenes, terpenols and terpenoids found in hemp and marijuana plants are myrcene, limonene, linalool, pinene, borneol, phytol, nerolidol, cineol (eucalyptol), carene, pulegone, sabinene, terpineol, humulene and caryophyllene oxide.
The best-known terpenes, terpenoids and terpenols which are present in cannabis, are discussed in detail through the following clickable links. Besides a complete description of the particular terpene, the medicinal effects are also listed.

Myrcene Info

Myrcene - Terpene Info

Myrcene is a very useful monoterpene found in cannabis, hop and mangoes. The name Myrcene ....

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Limonene Info

Limonene - Terpene Info

Limonene is a monoterpene with a bitter taste. The terpene limonene is found in many different plants, herbs and ....

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Caryophyllene Info

Caryophyllene - Terpene Info

Caryophyllene, or β-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpenes and is a common ingredient in a variety of plants ....

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Linalool Info

Linalool - Terpene Info


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Phytol Info

Phytol - Terpene Info


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Pinene Info

Pinene - Terpene Info


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