Even if you've never heard of terpenes, sometimes spelled terpines, you've almost assuredly smelled them every time you've sniffed a fresh cannabis bud. According to the Institute of Chemistry in Berlin, terpenes are found throughout nature, but are most pronounced in plants as part of their essential oils to create a unique aroma. This is how we experience terpenes when consuming cannabis.

Terpenes are present in the fragrant essential oils secreted by resin glands of cannabis plants. These sticky glands also produce THC, CBD, and other compounds, but it is the terpenes that give us the aromatic diversity we smell in different cannabis strains. We appreciate terpenes for their pungent, alluring aromas, but they have served marijuana plants well by acting as a natural repellant for insects, animals, and some fungi.

We have more than 100 known types of terpenes to thank for the various cannabis aromas, with descriptions ranging from funky skunk smells to sweeter scents of mint, citrus, berries, flowers, and pine. For example, myrcene is a terpene known for its musky aroma of herbs and cloves, while the terpene linalool smells more floral. Terpenes are not unique to marijuana, as cannabinoids are, and they bind to brain receptors to produce various effects of their own, such as stress-relief, appetite suppression, and alertness.

You should know that variances in growing, harvesting, and curing techniques, as well as climate, greatly affect the terpenoid profiles of cannabis plants. This is significant, as you can no longer rely on the simple THC-CBD ratios when choosing a marijuana strain for its therapeutic attributes. With a better knowledge of terpenes, their scents, and their effects, your nose may be able to help you ID the right cannabis strain for your wants or needs with a simple sniff.

We must remember that cannabis is a complex plant, and researchers are just now beginning to understand all of its compounds and how they work. This has led to the study of what is called the “entourage effect,” which describes how terpenes and the other compounds found in cannabis function, whether synergistically or by inhibiting one another. Scientists believe that terpenes may be a key to help better understand the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of consuming the whole marijuana plant, rather than synthetic THC or CBD compounds.