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What Are Terpenes

By Dr. Lane Phillips


With our busy schedule, sometimes it is hard to stop and smell the roses. However, when you do smell a rose, or a lemon or a pine cone, you are actually smelling terpenes among other things. Terpenes are a component of what we commonly refer to as essential oils. Terpenes do not just add a smell, or a flavor, but they actually have an important effect on CBD and other cannabinoids.

Common Sources Of Terpenes

Terpenes can come from a variety of sources from plants, to fruit, to flowers, and even everyone’s favorite things like chocolate (from cacao). These compounds which exist in nature serve many purposes. For bees to be attracted to a flower to pollinate, for a plant or fruits self defense mechanisms to ensure survival from predators, and even to help maintain the health of the plant itself. Many of these terpenes will even be familiar in name to you like Limonene (lemons) and Pinene (pine cones) and even some which may be unfamiliar like Linalool will come from a plant you do know, Lavender.

Terpene Effects

Terpenes can deliver a variety of different effects when combined with cannabinoids – from a calming effect to a pick-me-up, or even higher levels of focus. Currently over 200 terpenes have been identified and now scientists have increased their efforts on researching them and how they can help us. In particular six terpenes, that I refer to as the Big Six, have been studied to an extent that information now exists that have lead us to understand just how important these may be. Each individual terpene will have a unique set of characteristics that may play a role in things like inflammation, anxiety, as an anti-bacterial or an antidepressant. When you buy a product the terpene may naturally exist within the formulation itself but many times you will see terpenes extracted from its source and then added into the formula to enhance its effect. The key here is to try to get it in the most natural form you can, but if it is added to a product, make sure it is organically sourced and created under GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices).

Common Terpenes and Their Effects


The Evergreen Forest Effect: People up north will tell you that whenever you feel stressed, just take a walk in the forest. They know that when you do, the effect will be relaxing. The smell that causes this effect is Pinene which is abundant from the pine cones and conifers. Wouldn’t it also be great if your lungs opened up and you could breathe better? It just so happens that Pinene is also a potent bronchodilator. It has antiseptic properties and it also can easily cross the blood brain barrier and have an effect on memory and alertness.


Humulene can be extracted from Humulus Lupulus which you would know more commonly as Hops. Yes that is the same hops that is found in beer although may not have the same effects. It is one of the more amazing terpenes. Evidence has started to come out that it may be responsible for the apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells. This terpene can play a role in targeting and killing cancer cells and not harming your healthy cells. This would set it apart from current cancer therapies that kill cells often indiscriminately. It also may stop cancer cells from proliferating and thereby stop the spread and growth of a tumor.

It doesn’t stop there with Humulene. It may be as effective as steroids for inflammation, have uses as a powerful antibacterial, and relieve pain. It may be the reason that people who take cannabis for pain experience positive results and in fact may be helpful in opioid withdrawal. It is even being investigated for use in weight loss.


As mentioned above, Linalool comes from lavender. The association of calmness (anti-anxiety), Relaxation/Sedation (anti-stress) , and anti-depressant effects are common observations from this terpene. It can also have pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact in terms of pain, linalool is being studied for the treatment of opioid addiction, arthritis, MS, acute and chronic pain and even insomnia.


As you walk down the cleaning aisle in your local health food store and smell the citrus scents part of what you are smelling are the terpenes in the products. There is a specific reason that they are put in as ingredients within the product besides the pleasant smell. While this may not make one want to do the dishes, it is good to know about this particular terpene’s effect as an antibacterial and antifungal. In addition to these qualities, Limonene is also known for its stress relieving and mood-enhancing effects. Part of the reason this is so effective in the brain is its ability to quickly pass the blood-brain barrier to exert its effect. There is also research that it may be anti-carcinogenic which means it may have the ability to prevent tumors.


Myrcene is the most common of all of the terpenes in marijuana strains. In the world of THC some feel that the content of this terpene is actually what determines whether the plant will be Stimulating (Sativa) or Relaxing (Indica) based upon the amount of it present. The reason this is worthy of mention is to show how much of an important role a terpene may play in the effect on the other components in the plant. It also explains why Myrcene’s effect can be very relaxing or sedating as the concentration of it increases. Hence these properties are well noted in those who may be trying this as a muscle relaxer, for its sedative effects, or for pain relief.


Found in Black Pepper and other herbs and spices, this terpene has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Interestingly while it is a terpene and not a cannabinoid, it actually can selectively activate the CB2 receptor just like CBD does. This may be helpful in reducing chronic inflammation and insomnia and has garnered a lot of attention and focus from scientists. It also falls under the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe”, classification, so large doses can be safely consumed. One area of focus is on inflammation in the gut. For those of us who have children with IBD and for adults, this could be useful in helping treat the colitis in children as it has in mice.

Terpenes and CBD

What scientists have learned is that there is great benefit in using more of the cannabis plant than just the CBD. In fact, when it comes to CBD and terpenes, the compounds work together to produce a synergistic effect that is known as the Entourage Effect. Terpenes combined with CBD oil will make both compounds far more effective than either one of them on their own. Together, they provide a variety of properties including pain relief and inflammation reduction. Truly, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Why Terpene Content In A Product Can Vary?

Each strain of plant can not only vary in the type of terpene profile it has but also the amount of terpene within it. This does matter if you are using it for a certain condition and have found that it is working for you. Therefore to maintain consistency, careful extraction techniques must be employed OR more commonly the terpene can be isolated and added into the product you are taking. Keeping a consistent compound profile in the case of a CBD product allows the user to maintain their expected result or be able to adjust dosing accordingly. While you may not find terpenes mentioned in a lot of products on the CBD market (usually because they do not contain any) it is very important to keep your eye out for them. In general you should not only be able to view the lab report on your product, you should be able to see all of the ingredients within it including the terpenes AND their concentration. For more information for how to interpret your batch report click here.

At Dr. Phillips Formulations, Your Health is Our Happiness. Please continue to learn and read about our CBD and how this natural compound may work for you.

The statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.