Everything you need to know about terpenes
Terpenes are the natural, oily and aromatic compounds produced by the cannabis plant, and many other types of plant. The terpene compounds are responsible for the rich aromatic smells produced by cannabis. Many people feel terpenes are a powerful modulator, or influencer, of the cannabis high. Terpenes themselves have physical effects on the body, and they are produced from the same plant glands that produce cannabinoids. If you have ever grown Orange Bud and rubbed your fingers in the buds you will notice a zesty citrus smell which can still be there when many of the other scents have evaporated away. That’s because Orange Bud contains high levels of the terpene limonene.
What are cannabis terpenes?
There are over 100 terpenes, each with their own scent, flavor and medical effects. They allow unique aromas for our favorite cannabis varieties. And terpenes occur in other plants too, from tree leaves to flower petals. Fungi, algae, and bacteria also produce terpene compounds. Natural terpenes are responsible for the unique scents which give a sense of calm when breathing in the fresh fragrant morning air from a forest or when walking past some garden flowers.
How cannabis terpenes work
Terpenes are used extensively in the pharmaceutical, biotech, food and cosmetic industries. They are a diverse range of chemical compounds, varying from relatively simple compounds to complicated structures. Terpenes are delicate compounds that can easily be lost from the buds if the grow room is too warm, or if the buds are over-dried and badly cured.
Many of the terpenes in cannabis are already well known and understood from their presence in flowers, fruits, spices, and other natural plant and animal sources. Aromatherapists have known about, and used the different terpenes and their aromas for many years.
The most important terpenes
Linalool is the terpene which gives a floral scent to cannabis, its found in lavender and has been used by herbalists traditionally to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, inflammation, and neurodegeneration. It is used for sedation and mood enhancement. Many people keep a small bunch of lavender flowers in their bedroom, or under their pillow because they feel it helps promote calm and sleep. Vaporizes at 388ºF (198ºC).
Alpha-Pinene is the terpene associated with the pine smell in your buds. It’s found in Pine needles, Rosemary, Basil, Pasley, and Dill. Herbalists traditionally use it for asthma, pain, ulcers, and anxiety. Some say it improves alertness. Vaporizes at 311ºF (155ºC).
Myrcene has an earthy and slightly musky scent which may remind you of cloves or cardamom. It can be found in mango, lemongrass, thyme, and hops and has a relaxing and sedating effect. Vaporizes at 332ºF (167ºC).
Limonene has a fresh and zesty citrus aroma. Found in varieties such as Californian Orange, Orange Bud, Orange Hill Special, Passion Fruit and other members of the cannabis orange family. Limonene is found in citrus fruits and the fruit rind, peppermint, rosemary, and juniper. Herbalists have used limonene in treating anxiety, depression, inflammation, and pain. It can give a mood lift and relieve stress. Vaporizes At: 348ºF (176ºC).
If ever you have noticed a strong woody/spicy smell of cloves/pepper in your buds then that is beta-caryophyllene. Its use has been associated with the treatment of pain, anxiety, depression, and ulcers. Stress relief seems to be one effect and it is found in black peppers, cloves, and cinnamon. Vaporizes at 266ºF (130ºC).
Humulene has a woody/earthy smell reminiscent of hops. It is found in hops, coriander, cloves, and basil. Herbalists recommend it’s use as an anti-inflammatory. Vaporizes at 222ºF (106ºC).
Ocimene has a sweet scent,with a herbal and woody aroma. It is found in mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes, orchids, and kumquats. It is thought to offer value as an antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic, decongestant and have an antibiotic effect. It vaporizes at just 100ºC. This is a delicate terpene and one which requires careful bud drying/curing to preserve.
Terpinolene has a floral and herbal smell with a piney scent. It is found in nutmeg, tea tree, conifers, apples, cumin, and lilacs. It is thought to be useful as an antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal. It is also useful as a sedative. In cannabis it could help with the relaxing effects of cannabis. Vaporizes at 366ºF (186ºC).
Camphene is a pungent smelling terpene, often found as a minor component in many common oils such as turpentine, cypress oil, camphor oil, citronella oil and others. It smells of fir needles and damp earth. Thought to be useful for bacterial and fungal infections. Vaporizes at 159ºC.
With a strong smell of a woody pine smell, beta pinene is one of the most common terpenes in nature. Found in pine trees, cumin, hops as well as cannabis. Vaporizes at 166ºC.
With a strong sweet and pungent aroma, this terpene smells of a damp pine forest, earthy with pine scents. It can account for up to 40% of turpentine oil. Vaporizes at 171ºC.
There are 4 terpenes (alpha, beta, game and delta versions) of Terpinene. They are all colourless liquids with an aroma of turpentine oil. Vaporizes around 175ºC.
p-Cymene is found in Cumin oil and Thyme oil. It vaporizes at 177ºC.
Eucalyptol is a terpene which can make up 90% of eucalyptus oil. It is found in many plants including Basil, Rosemary, Sage and Bay leaves. It has a minty smell. It is thought to have a soothing effect. Vaporizes at 176º.
Geraniol is a terpene with a sweet rose scent. Like many other terpenes it is used extensively in perfumes. Geraniol is a primary constituent of rose oil, citronella oil and palmarosa oil. Thought to promote relaxation. Vaporizes at 230ºC.
Nerolidol comes in two forms, it’s a terpene present in ginger, jasmine, tea-tree and lavender. It has a woody aroma, reminiscent of fresh bark from a tree. Vaporizes at 122ºC.
Guaiol is a terpene found in Cypress Pine, Guaiacum and cannabis. It melts at 92ºC and is thought to act with an anti-anxiety effect.
Bisabolol has a sweet floral aroma. Bisabolol is the main component in the oil made from German Chamomile. In folklore it has skin-healing properties, it vaporizes at 153ºC. This terpene is thought to have anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties
All the above effects and influences provided by terpenes is fascinating in isolation. But the whole subject of terpenes becomes much more intriguing when we consider how they may have an entourage and synergistic effect with each other as well as other natural components of cannabis. For example, do certain terpenes amplify the effect of specific cannabinoids? Some cannabis connoisseurs feel strongly that this is the case.
Sometimes you find a blissful variety that ticks all the right boxes for your personal endo cannabinoid system. Maybe that is because of the genetics and grow environment combined to produce buds with a sweet-spot of cannabinoids and complementing terpenes.
How to enhance cannabis terpenes with LED grow lights
LED grow lights have become a mandatory item for many USA legal growers if you want to produce ‘Grade A’ top shelf buds. Yes, the best LED grow lights are expensive. But they are now fully proven to produce superior cannabinoid levels and higher terpene content. Otherwise people wouldn’t buy LED grow lights. The superior results with LED are due to inherently lower heat stress levels and a superior light spectrum. Sodium lighting was originally developed to meet the need for low cost lighting and street lighting.
HPS lights contain mercury, emit a lot of heat and use a lot of energy producing less useful wavelengths for cultivation. HPS has never been an optimized spectrum for cannabis, but it is a usable spectrum and it’s cheap. The best LED grow lights have been developed with light frequencies optimised specifically for cannabis growing and produce better quality results if you don’t mind paying extra for the technology.
It’s a one-off investment which will give a permanent quality upgrade to your buds. If you are growing autoflowering seeds or feminized seeds and want to enhance cannabis terpenes then take a close look at LED grow lights.
Blue light treatment before harvest to enhance terpenes
The emergence of spectrum-adjustable LED grow lights has allowed some novel approaches towards growing. The California Lightworks SolarSystem series, and the Growspec Sunray lights both have adjustable spectrum control. If the red light is removed from the spectrum for the last 2-4 days, and just blue light given to the plants, you will notice a significant increase in terpene production.
There are different theories about how and why blue light treatment works. But growers have noticed that it definitely does. Red light is important for bloom and bud growth. But if bud growth reaches it’s maximum just before harvest, then in theory you can eliminate red light 3-4 days before harvest and not impact final harvest quantity. By offering only blue light, one theory is that the plant switches photosynthetic focus from biomass to terpene production.
Terpenes in Dutch Passion Cannabis varieties
If you have ever wondered what terpenes a cannabis variety has in it then take a look at the chart below, showing a recent analysis of Dutch Passion Lemon Zkittle. This is one of the more impressive recent terpene analysis results and shows what a complicated material cannabis is. Of course, each variety of cannabis will have it’s own terpene profile. And a lot also depends on the growing conditions and curing conditions used.