What are terpenes and how are they used?

by Tom Russell October 31, 2020

Why use Terpenes with CBD

Each strain of cannabis has its own unique aroma. Whether it’s highly intoxicating or low in THC, the smell is likely to be powerful and distinctive. This is created by the terpenes present in its plant oils.

Terpenes are natural substances with potent smells and flavours. Each cannabis/ hemp strain contains a different blend of terpenes with different types present in different amounts. This is what makes each one unique.

As well as their incredible smell, terpenes also provide health-boosting benefits of their own. Consequently, manufacturers sometimes use them as an additive to vape oils, cannabis products or CBD products.

What are terpenes?

What are terpenes

Terpenes are a group of organic compounds that create unique tastes and smells. Over 20,000 of them exist in nature.

The smell of lemons that rises from the lemongrass as you pulverise it for Pad Thai? That’s a terpene! The smell of pine needles as you walk your dog through the woods? That’s a terpene too!

In cannabis, they’re secreted from resin glands called trichomes. It’s likely that they were initially used to deter predators or give them some protection from the elements. Many of them have immediately recognisable scents such as pine, citrus or mint.

Over 100 terpenes have been found in cannabis plants, so it’s easy to see how they produce such unique and layered scents. Not only do they create pungent smells, but when CBD or cannabis vapour is inhaled, they provide subtle flavours.

Do terpenes make CBD and cannabis smell the same?

Intoxicating varieties of cannabis and low THC hemp types contain a broad profile of terpenes that add to its aroma. However, the scent of hemp varieties is often more muted and less pungent.

Common cannabis / hemp terpenes and their benefits

All terpenesTerpenes all

These are the terpenes most commonly found in CBD or cannabis and have the most recognisable aromas:

Linalool – Linalool gives off a floral scent of lavender with a hint of spiciness. It produces a relaxing effect that some studies with mice found to be an effective sedative. In 2013, researchers at Jilin University in China also found it to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene – With their fresh earthy scent of pine trees, both alpha-pinene and beta-pinene also have anti-inflammatory effects. They are likely to act as a bronchodilator, which opens up your airways when you inhale. Several studies also suggest that it may have fungicidal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties.

Myrcene - Myrcene gives off a peppery, spicy scent and can also be found in hops. Studies suggest that in large amounts, it can produce relaxing and sedative effects. In 2002, it was found to increase the time that mice could stay asleep.

Limonene – With its distinctive citrus aroma, limonene is common in many cannabis strains and is one of the most abundant in nature. In 2006 it was linked to strong anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. It’s also likely to be able to reduce stress and anxiety.

Beta-caryophyllene – This is a potent, spicy cannabis terpene that also contributes to the flavour of black pepper, cloves and rosemary. Incredibly it’s one of the few non-cannabinoid substances to bind to receptors in the human endocannabinoid system. There is still lots to learn about this terpene, but studies with mice indicate that it may have pain-relieving properties.

Terpinolene – Terpinolene is one of the less distinctive terpenes and can be found in many cannabis and hemp strains but in small amounts. It’s often described as having a floral, herbaceous aroma but can be hard to pinpoint. However, it has an incredible range of beneficial characteristics, including antioxidantanti-bacterial and antimicrobial.

Adding terpenes to CBD oil and how to use them

Terpene benefitsCBD oils made with a whole-plant extract will already contain many terpenes providing nutritional benefits and synergistic effects. This is a great option, but you can also take things into your own hands with a range of standalone terpene products.

Terpenes and bioflavonoids like quercetin can be purchased and added to both CBD drops and CBD vape juice. Just one drop can add vivid scent and flavour. These can be purchased ready-mixed, but if you prefer the ability to create a personalised effect, then you’ve got to go for the terpene and bioflavonoid blends.

Terpenes are very strong, so you will only need a very small amount to completely alter the flavour of your oil, paste or e-liquid. For the best effect, aim for between 1% and 5% in each CBD product. You shouldn’t ingest the pure liquid and never go above 5%. Start small and build up; one 1/4ml drop of terpene into 10mls of oil will give you a concentration of roughly 2.5%. Work your way up from here and see what gives you the best effect.



Terpenes provide a wide variety of scents and flavours, resulting in the unique character of each cannabis or hemp strain. They can be found all around us in the natural world but appear in particularly high concentrations in strains of the cannabis plant. Each terpene provides its own benefits and as more research is conducted, more are likely to be revealed. 

Adding small amounts of liquid terpenes or purchasing full-spectrum oils will provide you with the full experience of CBD. They can enhance the aroma, flavour and general health benefits.

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terpenes and CBD

Tom Russell
Tom Russell


Tom Russell writes extensively about CBD oil and other groundbreaking food supplements. He and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime’s collection of books.

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