The smells of cannabis are as diverse as the people who smoke it: notes ranging from cheese to blueberry to diesel fuel - and each strain's high is as different as its scent. "The range of flavors expressed by the genus Cannabis is extraordinary," breeder DJ Short tells High Times."No other plant on the planet can equal the cacophony of smells and tastes available from cannabis." So what's the explanation for that rich bouquet?
The answer, in part, is terpenes - the smelly essential oils in many plants which act as a defense mechanism against predators. The terpenes in cannabis serve another, cooler purpose from a consumer perspective: they interact with different cannabinoids to create a strain's signature high. Being knowledgeable about terpenes also means you can better determine, by carefully analyzing the aroma of the product, what sort of high you're going to experience.
We know that THC binds to receptors in the body's endocannabinoid system; terpenes do the same thing. They also affect how much THC passes through the blood-brain barrier, and affect the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Some help chill you out, while others promote energy and focus. "Terpenes buffer THC's tricky psychoactivity. Cannabinoid terpenoid interactions can amplify the beneficial effects of cannabis while reducing THC-induced anxiety," writes Martin A. Lee.
Scientists have identified as many as 200 terpenes in cannabis, but only a few appear in high enough concentrations to have a notable effect on the plant's aroma and effects.
Here are some of the terpenes most commonly found in cannabis, and what they do.
Scent similar to pine trees: this terpene is also found in conifer trees, orange peels, turpentine, pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil, and parsley. Some claim it has antiseptic qualities. According to Leafly, "Jack Herer is one of the most prolific sources of pinene in the cannabis circuit."
Myrcene has a musky, earthy scent of cloves; herbal with notes of citrus and tropical fruit. In addition to cannabis, this terpene is found in mango, lemongrass, thyme, and hops. Bedica, produced by Canadian LP Bedrocan, is known for its high levels of myrcene, which produces a strong, sedative effect.
As the name suggests, this citrusy terpene is also present in fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper, and peppermint. Mood enhancing, high-limonene strains like White Widow are useful in treating symptoms of depression. Pineapple Express, a hard-hitting sativa that provides an energetic buzz, exemplifies the benefits of a high-limonene strain.
This peppery, spicy, woody terpene is also found in black pepper - like myrcene, its scent is reminiscent of cloves - and some claim high-caryophyllene strains are useful in treating both anxiety and gastrointestinal issues. Supa Don, a 70% sativa strain bred from Oregon Trainwreck (also called "The Don") and DJ Short Blueberry, is high in beta-caryophyllene.
Often described as smelling like flowers, citrus, or candy, this sweet-smelling terpene is also found in lavender. It's claimed that strains containing higher concentrations of linalool help calm anxiety and can act as an antidepressant. Strawberry Satori, a sativa, was bred specifically to prioritize the concentration of linalool.
Want more info on terpenes? Watch this primer video from Leafly.
Click here to read about the Hmbldt 'Dose Pen' that uses terpenes as part of their marijuana technology.