What are Terpenes

Understanding Terpenes: What Are They?

Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds produced by a variety of plants and insects. They are responsible for the characteristic flavors and aromas associated with many different types of plants, including fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

They are found in the essential oils of plants and play an essential role in the plant’s survival and reproduction. They help to deter predators, attract pollinators, and protect the plant from environmental stressors, such as extreme temperatures, UV radiation, and pathogens.

There are over 20,000 known terpenes, and they can be classified into different categories based on their chemical structure. Some of the most common types include monoterpenes, diterpenes, and sesquiterpenes.

Types of Terpenes


Monoterpenes are the most common type found in plants. They are composed of two isoprene units and have a molecular weight of 136. They are highly volatile and responsible for the aroma and flavor of many herbs and spices, such as thyme, oregano, and peppermint.


Diterpenes are composed of four isoprene units and have a molecular weight of 272. They are found in high concentrations in coniferous trees and are responsible for the aroma and flavor of pine needles and resin.


Sesquiterpenes are composed of three isoprene units and have a molecular weight of 204. They are found in a variety of plants, including herbs, spices, and trees, and are responsible for the characteristic aromas of ginger, black pepper, and cloves.

Benefits of Terpenes

Terpenes have a variety of benefits, both for plants and humans. They play a crucial role in the survival and reproduction of plants by deterring predators, attracting pollinators, and protecting the plant from environmental stressors.

In humans, terpenes have been shown to have a range of therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anxiolytic effects. They are commonly used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve mood.

Terpenes also play a significant role in the entourage effect, which refers to the synergistic interactions between different cannabinoids and terpenes in the cannabis plant. Studies have shown that they can enhance the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, by improving their absorption and modulating their effects.

Sources of Terpenes

Terpenes can be found in a variety of natural sources, including plants, insects, and some animals. They are present in many common herbs, spices, and fruits, such as lavender, rosemary, lemon, and orange.

Terpenes are also abundant in the cannabis plant, where they play a significant role in the plant’s aroma, flavor, and therapeutic effects. Different strains of cannabis contain varying levels, which can affect the plant’s overall effects and therapeutic properties.

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McPartland, J. M., & Russo, E. B. (2001). Cannabis and cannabis extracts: greater than the sum of their parts. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, 1(3-4), 103-132. https://doi.org/10.1300/J175v01n03_08

Ferber, S. G., Namdar, D., Hen-Shoval, D., Eger, G., Koltai, H., & Shoval, G. (2020). The “entourage effect”: terpenes coupled with cannabinoids for the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Current Neuropharmacology, 18(2), 87-96. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X18666200611123801

Gertsch, J., Leonti, M., Raduner, S., Racz, I., Chen, J. Z., Xie, X. Q., Altman, K.H., Karsak, M., & Zimmer, A. (2008). Beta-caryophyllene is a dietary cannabinoid. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(26), 9099-9104. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0803601105

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