Terpenes are organic compounds found in plants. Scientists have identified over 20,000 terpenes so far, with more than 400 found in cannabis (1). Terpenes are not only responsible for the distinct aroma and flavor of plants but also have a wide range of potential health benefits.
For example, the terpene limonene contributes to the characteristic scent of citrus fruits like lemons and oranges and may have anxiety-reducing, antidepressant, and other beneficial properties (2).
Most discussions of terpenes center around cannabis consumption but CBD oil and other CBD-rich products can also contain them. Read on to learn more about the benefits of terpenes, their interplay with CBD, and how to find terpene-rich CBD products.
Terpenes add to the beneficial effects of CBD. I recommend looking for full-spectrum CBD products that come with third-party terpene potency tests to verify that you’re getting terpenes.
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Terpenes and CBD
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid — a different class of natural molecules that get their name from being able to interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system. But the good news is that cannabis is rich in both cannabinoids and terpenes.
CBD products are derived from hemp, which is a variety of cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC. As such, CBD products can also contain terpenes, which contribute to the beneficial effects of CBD.
Full-spectrum CBD products are the most likely to carry terpenes because they contain the full range of beneficial cannabinoids and other active compounds naturally present in hemp (3).
Health Benefits of Terpenes
Research suggests that terpenes may have a wide range of potential health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, anticancer, sedative, analgesic (pain-relieving), anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing), antidepressant, anti-stress, and neuroprotective effects (4).
Still, most of the evidence comes from animal studies so clinical research is needed.
Role of Terpenes in the Effects of CBD
Terpenes play an important role in the effects of CBD and other cannabis products. That’s because they not only contribute their own beneficial effects but can also work in synergy with CBD and other cannabinoids.
This is known as the cannabis entourage effect: the synergistic relationships between the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active compounds in cannabis (4). In other words, when CBD is taken with other cannabinoids and terpenes, it can have a more significant impact on the body than when it’s taken alone.
Examples of the synergy between cannabinoids and terpenes include:
- Some terpenes, like myrcene, may make it easier for cannabinoids to cross the blood-brain barrier, boosting their effectiveness (5)
- Myrcene and beta-caryophyllene may enhance the pain-relieving effects of CBD and THC (6)
- Alpha-pinene, beta-caryophyllene, and limonene may counteract the impaired short-term memory and other cognitive dysfunction caused by THC
Common CBD Terpenes & Their Effects
The most common terpenes found in both cannabis and CBD products include: (4)
- Myrcene: Typically the most abundant cannabis terpene, myrcene has a musky, earthy aroma and may have sedative and pain-relieving effects. It’s found in plants such as mangoes, hops, and thyme.
- Alpha-pinene: Pinene has a fresh, piney aroma and may have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antifungal, and anti-anxiety properties. It’s abundant in pine trees, rosemary, and basil (7).
- Limonene: The second-most common terpene in nature, limonene has a citrusy aroma and may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-anxiety, anti-cancer, and antidepressant effects (2). It’s found in fruits and plants like lemons, oranges, and juniper.
- Beta-caryophyllene: Common in black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon, beta-caryophyllene has a spicy, peppery aroma. Unlike other terpenes, it can bind to CB2 cannabinoid receptors and may help with inflammation, pain, anxiety, and depression.
- Terpinolene: Terpinolene is a terpene that has a woody, floral aroma and is found in many plants, including nutmeg, cumin, and lilacs. It may have anti-inflammatory and sedative effects (8, 9).
- Ocimene: Ocimene is a terpene with a sweet, herbaceous, and slightly woody aroma. It’s common in many plants, including mint, parsley, basil, and orchids, and may reduce inflammation and other helpful properties (10).
Finding CBD Products With Terpenes
CBD products can be divided into three types: (3)
- Full-spectrum CBD: Contains the full range of beneficial hemp cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other active compounds.
- Broad-spectrum CBD: Same as full-spectrum CBD but with most traces of THC removed.
- CBD isolate: Purified CBD without any other compound.
The only CBD product that’s 100% guaranteed to contain terpenes is hemp flower — the dried, CBD-rich buds of the hemp plant.
Aside from that, your chances of finding terpenes are highest with full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products. In particular, many high-quality full-spectrum CBD oils are rich in terpenes. The next-best option is full-spectrum capsules and vapes, while gummies and other edibles have the lowest likelihood of carrying terpenes.
Some CBD manufacturers also mix terpenes separately into their products. The most popular tactic is adding a terpene blend designed for specific effects like relaxation or energy.
Such products will usually list the terpenes in the product description, label, or ingredients list. For example, many CBD vapes contain pure CBD isolate with added terpenes for flavor.
But there is one caveat with added terpenes — they’re usually sourced from other plants (“botanical terpenes”) because it’s cheaper than using cannabis terpenes, so it’s not quite the same thing.
CBD Third-Party Testing for Terpenes
Whatever the case, the best way to ensure your CBD product actually has terpenes is through third-party testing. All reputable CBD brands send samples of their products for independent testing. One of the tests they can order is called a terpene profile test.
This test analyzes the chemical composition of the product and can tell you exactly which terpenes are present. Keep in mind that terpene testing is relatively rare in the CBD industry. If you find products with terpene tests, chances are the company is reputable and wants to prove that its products are of high quality.
Why Only Some CBD Products Contain Terpenes
Terpenes are fragile molecules which means they often degrade during the extraction process: the isolation of CBD and other beneficial compounds from hemp. That’s one of the main reasons why many if not most CBD products — even full-spectrum ones — contain little to no terpenes.
Not to sound like a broken record but your best bet is to find CBD products that are third-party tested for terpenes.
I added a screenshot below of a third-party certificate of analysis (CoA) showing a full-spectrum CBD oil with terpenes. As we can see, this tincture contains seven different terpenes with particularly large amounts of limonene, which is a great result.
Terpenes are an important component of the overall effects of CBD products. They have many potential health benefits and contribute to the entourage effect, which enhances the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids.
When shopping for CBD products, I recommend looking for full or broad-spectrum oil that is advertised to contain terpenes. It’s even better if they come with third-party terpene profile test results so you can confirm that terpenes are present.
- Ferber, Sari G., et al. “The “entourage effect”: terpenes coupled with cannabinoids for the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety disorders.” Current neuropharmacology 18.2 (2020): 87-96.
- Sun, Jidong. “D-Limonene: safety and clinical applications.” Alternative medicine review 12.3 (2007): 259.
- Cather, Jennifer Clay, and J. Christian Cather. “Cannabidiol primer for healthcare professionals.” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings. Vol. 33. No. 3. Taylor & Francis, 2020.
- Sommano, Sarana Rose, et al. “The cannabis terpenes.” Molecules 25.24 (2020): 5792.
- Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects.” British journal of pharmacology 163.7 (2011): 1344-1364.
- Maayah, Zaid H., et al. “The molecular mechanisms that underpin the biological benefits of full-spectrum cannabis extract in the treatment of neuropathic pain and inflammation.” Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular Basis Of Disease 1866.7 (2020): 165771.
- Salehi, Bahare, et al. “Therapeutic potential of α-and β-pinene: A miracle gift of nature.” Biomolecules 9.11 (2019): 738.
- Ito, Ken, and Michiho Ito. “The sedative effect of inhaled terpinolene in mice and its structure–activity relationships.” Journal of natural medicines 67 (2013): 833-837.
- Macedo, E. M. A., et al. “Association of terpinolene and diclofenac presents antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory synergistic effects in a model of chronic inflammation.” Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 49 (2016)
- Kim, Min-Jin, et al. “Chemical composition and anti-inflammation activity of essential oils from Citrus unshiu flower.” Natural product communications 9.5 (2014): 1934578X1400900538.
Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to kickbox, travel, and tell everyone how awesome intermittent fasting is.