22 Terpenes Explained | The Secret Compounds in Cannabis

Weed contains hundreds, if not thousands, of chemical compounds. Besides the well-known cannabinoids like THC and CBD, there are terpenes that play an important role in the smell, taste, and experience when consuming a joint, weed oil, or space cake. For example, we know that Purple Haze provides an uplifting and cheerful effect, while weed from Do Si Dos is a recipe for a night on the couch. 

Terpenes are aromatic molecules found in many plants and give each strain of weed its unique character. Contrary to what you hear on the street about indica and sativa, these substances make the difference between an energetic high or a laid-back chill in the park. Most strains therefore offer a mix of these almost opposite effects.

In this article, we highlight some common terpenes and tell you what these substances can do for the effect of your weed*.

*You may read medical and health claims about terpenes, such as that they can be antibacterial or anti-inflammatory. These claims pertain to pure terpenes. We limit ourselves to the amounts that can occur in weed, often up to a few percent of the dry weight of a cannabis bud.

Terpenes at a Glance

  • Want to get high? Terpenes such as limonene and pinene likely play a big role in the uplifting properties of many weed strains.
  • Prefer to get stoned? On the other end of the spectrum, terpenes such as myrcene and linalool contribute to the relaxing and sedative effects typical of other weed strains.
  • There is no difference in the effect of weed because it is a sativa or an indica . It is due to a close interplay of cannabinoids and the terpenes discussed below that determine the effect of your weed. Weed has been heavily crossbred.
  • Terpenes can be present in thousandths of a percent to a few percent of the total weight of a weed bud; much less than THC or CBD. This is different from the terpene profile, which only sums up all the terpenes together. Thus, limonene can make up 30% of the terpene profile but only 2% of your weed bud.
  • By limiting the temperature during use, you can take in more or less of certain terpenes (and other substances). This way, you can also influence the nature of the high.
  • Finally, keep in mind that your state of mind (set) and environment (setting) have more influence on the effect of your weed than you think. If you're tired from working out and watching a movie on the couch, you can puff all the Super Lemon Haze you want, but you're probably not going to get more energy.

Myrcene myrcene

Smell: Myrcene has an earthy, musky smell with hints of cloves.

Presence: This terpene is commonly found in hops, thyme, and especially mangoes. It is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis. In most strains, the percentage is about 0.5%, but it can be significantly higher or lower. That average is more myrcene than CBD in most weed strains.

Effect on the high: The role of myrcene in the effect of weed is fairly well researched. It is known for its relaxing and calming effects and can enhance the intensity of THC. This not only leads to a prolonged and intense experience but also to one that is more physically felt. You feel heavy and sedated. It is often associated with the so-called "couch-lock" effect - the effect that makes you feel glued to the couch and not going anywhere anytime soon.

However, a caveat must be mentioned: weed is often used together with tobacco in the form of a joint. Nicotine may be a stimulant, but weed and tobacco together give a relaxing effect. What the role of myrcene is in this is unknown. Strains rich in myrcene include: Auto Blue Dream, OG Kush, Auto Banana Blaze, Auto Mimosa, and Auto Purple Punch.

Pinene pinene

Smell: Pinene smells strongly of pine and rosemary.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in pine trees, rosemary, basil, and parsley. It is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis.

Effect on the high: Pinene can clarify and focus the high, making it a good choice if you want to stay active. There are cautious indications that it can also mitigate the adverse effects of THC on the brain, such as short-term memory loss.

Pinene occurs in both alpha and beta variants, with alpha-pinene appearing most in the fragrant tops of the cannabis plant. Although pinene is rarely the dominant terpene in weed, it is often prominent in strains such as Strawberry Cough, Harlequin, Blue Dream, and Auto Trainwreck.

Cannabis with a high pinene content can give a more alert and clearer high by buffering the negative effects of THC on short-term memory and cognitive processes. This makes pinene-rich cannabis not only ideal for sativa lovers who want to smoke weed during the day and stay somewhat clearheaded but also for medical users who want to benefit from the advantages of THC without the side effects. Another pro tip if you're looking for a clear high: choose a strain that contains at least as much CBD as THC. It was even shown on the BBC that CBD moderates the psychoactive effects like paranoia and palpitations caused by THC. This makes you feel much more relaxed. Also good for beginners!

Limonene limonene

Smell: Limonene has a fresh, citrus-like scent.

Presence: Limonene is abundant in the peels of citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, and limes. It is also a common terpene in weed.

Effect on the high: Limonene is known for its uplifting and energizing effects. When combined with THC, it can promote an upbeat and cheerful high, making a strain rich in limonene ideal for daytime use.

Limonene is often prominently present in various sativa-dominant strains. It is known for its fresh, sour aroma often associated with the diesel family. Strains such as Auto Sour Diesel, Chemdawg, Auto Gelato, CBD Kush, Durban Poison, and Jack Herer all have high limonene content, with it making up more than 20% of the terpene profile.

Although limonene does not cause a high on its own, it can, in combination with THC, give an uplifting and cheerful effect. It is particularly known for its potential anxiety-reducing and relaxing properties, although hard evidence is still lacking to confirm this. Limonene can increase serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, contributing to a positive mood. These properties make limonene an important terpene for those seeking an energetic and refreshing cannabis experience.

Humulene humulene

Smell: Humulene has an earthy, woody smell with spicy tones.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in hops, coriander, and basil.

Effect on the high: Humulene can help balance the effects of THC by providing an earthy and calming influence. It can contribute to a deep and relaxing high.

Humulene is a terpene commonly found in the hop plant (Humulus lupulus). This terpene is also present in cannabis, which makes sense since hops and cannabis are related. Humulene contributes to the characteristic spicy smell of many weed strains. This smell can be compared to that of a sawmill, where the aroma of freshly cut wood is strongly present. Additionally, humulene is an important aroma component in craft beers, where it contributes to the bitter and aromatic properties.

Although humulene is not always the dominant terpene in cannabis, it can still be significantly present in some strains. Well-known strains that contain high levels of humulene include Blueberry Headband, Gorilla Glue, Girl Scout Cookies, and Auto Gelato. Interestingly, humulene often occurs together with caryophyllene and was even referred to as α-caryophyllene in the past due to the similarity in structure and smell.

The effect of humulene on the high of cannabis is complex and depends on the interaction with other terpenes and cannabinoids. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng rich in humulene is used to increase energy and endurance, while hop extracts with humulene are used to promote sleep. In strains like Girl Scout Cookies, humulene provides a balance between physical relaxation and euphoria, while Gorilla Glue is known for its strong relaxing effect combined with an uplifting mental state. Therefore, humulene seems to contribute to both relaxation and mental stimulation, but this requires further research to fully understand.

Linalool linalool

Smell: Linalool has a floral, lavender-like scent with light spicy undertones.

Presence: Linalool is abundant in lavender, mint, and cinnamon.

Effect on the high: Linalool is known for its calming and relaxing effects. Lavender essential oil consists largely of linalool and has been used for centuries to help us sleep and calm down. When combined with THC, it can help reduce stress and tension, resulting in a gentle, calming high.

Linalool is also found in birch bark and over 200 other plant species. Everyone consumes about 2 grams of linalool annually through food, which is quickly processed by the body without leaving residues. 

Linalool itself has stress-reducing and anxiety-relieving properties and is believed to relax muscles, contributing to the stoned effect. But then we're talking about concentrations in essential oil. It is plausible that linalool has a less strong relaxing effect in cannabis. However, in combination with THC, CBD, and myrcene, it can give you a chill body stone and a broad smile. Only a handful of strains contain significant amounts of linalool, such as Grandaddy Purple, Amnesia Haze, and Master Kush.

Caryophyllene caryophyllene

Smell: Caryophyllene has a spicy, peppery scent with woody tones.

Presence: Caryophyllene is abundant in black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. It is also present in many cannabis strains.

Effect on the high: It can complement the high of THC by giving a feeling of warmth and well-being without enhancing the psychoactive effects.

Caryophyllene, also known as β-caryophyllene (BCP), is a common terpene in cannabis responsible for a sharp and spicy smell. This terpene gives weed strains a recognizable aroma, also found in black pepper, basil, oregano, cloves, and cinnamon. If you have ever inhaled the sharp smell of fresh black pepper or diesel at a gas station, you have experienced the distinctive smell of caryophyllene. Caryophyllene is thoroughly researched and has several useful properties.

Caryophyllene is unique among terpenes because it behaves like a cannabinoid in the body by binding to the CB2 receptor, just like CBD. This means that the effect of THC, which binds to the CB1 receptor, shifts more to the head instead of the body, making you feel more high than stoned. 

Although caryophyllene does not cause a high on its own, it has a wide range of potential benefits. Caryophyllene is abundant in weed strains such as Bubba Kush, Glue Gelato Auto, Girl Scout Cookies, Auto Colorado Cookies, Auto Gelato, Master Kush, and Auto Chemdawg, known for their peppery and diesel-like smell.

Ocimene ocimene

Smell: Ocimene has a sweet, floral scent with citrusy undertones.

Presence: Ocimene is abundant in mint, basil, and orchids.

Effect on the high: Ocimene can promote an uplifting and energetic high. It works well with THC to provide a refreshing and stimulating experience.

Ocimene is a terpene that is abundant in some cannabis strains, while almost absent in others. Although ocimene is never the dominant terpene, it still plays an important role in the terpene profile of various strains. It is recognized by a sweet, floral, and spicy scent, which makes it popular in the perfume industry. Naturally, ocimene occurs in plants like orchids, pepper, bergamot, and mangoes. It also contributes to the natural defense system of the cannabis plant, as aphids avoid the smell of ocimene. By the way, if you have problems with aphids: place lavender or basil near your cannabis plant to repel aphids!

The effect of ocimene on the high of cannabis is not yet fully researched. What stands out is that ocimene often occurs in sativa-dominant strains like Green Crack and Purple Haze, known for their uplifting and euphoric effects. However, there is no scientific evidence that directly shows that ocimene is responsible for these effects. Therefore, it is plausible that ocimene plays a supportive role in the entourage effect of cannabis, where the combination of various terpenes and cannabinoids collectively determine the nature of the high.

Terpinolene terpinolene

Smell: Terpinolene has a complex scent that can be described as floral, spicy, and slightly citrusy. This scent makes it a popular ingredient in the perfume industry.

Presence: Terpinolene is abundant in jasmine, tea, apples, lemongrass, and ginger. It is a terpene found in many different plants.

Effect on the high: Terpinolene has a relaxing effect when combined with THC and CBD, although specific research on its sedative effect is limited. Strains high in terpinolene are known for their calming properties, contributing to deep relaxation.

Terpinolene is also called terpinene and is a terpene found in almost all weed strains, but usually in small amounts. Although terpinolene is rarely dominant, there are some THC-rich strains with higher levels of this terpene, such as Jack Herer, Auto Pineapple Express, Utopia Haze, King’s Kush Auto CBD, and Auto Jack.

Borneol borneol

Smell: Borneol has a minty, camphor-like scent.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in ginger, rosemary, mint, and camphorwood. It is also present in some cannabis strains.

Effect on the high: Borneol has a calming effect and can help clarify the mind. When combined with THC, it can contribute to a relaxing and refreshing high.

Camphene camphene

Smell: Camphene has a sharp, herbal scent with pine-like tones.

Presence: Camphene is abundant in cloves, pine needles, turpentine, and some spices.

Effect on the high: Camphene can contribute to a refreshing and stimulating high when used with THC. It can also help clarify and focus the mind.

Cedrene cedrene

Smell: Cedrene has a woody, earthy scent reminiscent of cedarwood.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in cedarwood and other conifer trees.

Effect on the high: Cedrene has a calming effect and can help relax the mind. When combined with THC, it can contribute to a soothing and grounding body stone.

Valencene valencene

Smell: Valencene has a sweet, citrusy scent with hints of orange.

Presence: Valencene is abundant in oranges and other citrus fruits.

Effect on the high: Valencene can promote an uplifting and energetic high when used with THC. It is ideal for daytime use or when you need a boost.

Delta-3-Carene delta-3-carene

Smell: Delta-3-Carene has a sweet, sharp scent with pine-like undertones.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in rosemary, pines, and cedar trees.

Effect on the high: Delta-3-Carene can contribute to a refreshing and stimulating high. It can also help clarify the mind and sharpen the senses.

Eucalyptol eucalyptol

Smell: Eucalyptol has a fresh, minty scent with hints of eucalyptus.

Presence: Eucalyptol is abundant in eucalyptus, rosemary, and sage.

Effect on the high: Eucalyptol has a refreshing and invigorating effect. When combined with THC, it can contribute to a clear and energetic feeling, ideal for daytime use.

Fenchol fenchol

Smell: Fenchol has a woody, camphor-like scent with lemon undertones.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in basil and other aromatic herbs.

Effect on the high: Fenchol can help refresh and clarify the mind. When combined with THC, it can contribute to a calming yet refreshing high.

Geraniol geraniol

Smell: Geraniol has a sweet, floral scent reminiscent of roses.

Presence: Geraniol is abundant in roses, lemongrass, and geraniums.

Effect on the high: Geraniol can promote a relaxing and calming body stone. It works well with THC to provide a soothing and aromatic experience.

α-Bisabolol α-Bisabolol

Smell: α-Bisabolol has a sweet, floral scent with hints of chamomile.

Presence: This terpene is often found in chamomile and candeia trees. It is also present in some weed strains, although less frequently than some other terpenes.

Effect on the high: α-Bisabolol is often praised for its calming effects when combined with THC. It can contribute to a relaxing and soothing body stone, making a strain rich in it ideal for evening use or before bedtime.

Nerolidol Nerolidol

Smell: Nerolidol comes in two different forms: cis-nerolidol and trans-nerolidol. Both have a woody, earthy scent with floral tones.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in lemongrass, jasmine, tea, apples, and ginger.

Effect on the high: Nerolidol can contribute to a relaxing and calming stoned feeling. It works well with THC to promote a sense of deep relaxation and calm.

Phytol Phytol

Smell: Phytol has a grassy, floral scent with light woody undertones.

Presence: This terpene is often found in green tea and other chlorophyll-rich plants.

Effect on the high: Phytol can help refresh and rejuvenate the mind. When combined with THC, it can contribute to a clear and refreshing high.

Sabinene Sabinene

Smell: Sabinene has a spicy, pine-like scent with citrus undertones.

Presence: Sabinene is abundant in fir trees, black pepper, and nutmeg.

Effect on the high: Sabinene can promote a stimulating and invigorating high. It works well with THC to provide an energetic and uplifting experience.

Pulegone Pulegone

Smell: Pulegone has a strong, minty scent with camphor-like undertones.

Presence: Pulegone is abundant in mint species like pennyroyal and catnip.

Effect on the high: Pulegone can contribute to a refreshing and stimulating high. It can help clarify and focus the mind.

Terpineol Terpineol

Smell: Terpineol has a floral, lilac-like scent with light citrus tones.

Presence: This terpene is abundant in orange peels, lilac, linden blossom, and apple trees.

Effect on the high: Terpineol can promote a calming and relaxing high. It works well with THC to provide a soothing experience.

High vs. Stoned

If you are looking for a strain with a specific effect, a brief overview of uppers and downers can be helpful. 

For a Sativa High:

Look for a strain with a dominant terpene profile that includes one or more of the following terpenes:

  • Pinene
  • Limonene
  • Caryophyllene
  • Ocimene
  • Borneol
  • Camphene
  • Valencene
  • Delta-3-Carene
  • Eucalyptol
  • Fenchol
  • Phytol
  • Sabinene
  • Pulegone

Recommendations: Auto Super Lemon Haze, Skywalker, Auto Bruce Banner, Gorilla Zkittlez

For an Indica Stoned Effect:

Look for a strain with a terpene profile that includes one or more of the following terpenes:

  • Myrcene
  • Humulene
  • Linalool
  • Terpinolene
  • Cedrene
  • Geraniol
  • α-Bisabolol
  • Nerolidol
  • Terpineol

Recommendations: Master Kush, Auto Do Si Dos, Runtz, Auto Northern Light


This is just a glimpse of some common terpenes in weed. At the time of writing, we read that Bright Labs can identify and measure no less than 62 terpenes in a sample. Terpenes thus play an underrated role in the experience of using cannabis. They not only influence the smell and taste of your weed but also the nature of the high in combination with THC. By understanding the influence of each terpene on the effect of THC, you can better tailor the use of a particular strain to your personal preference. Whether you are looking for an energetic and sizzling high in your head or a calming and relaxing experience that you feel down to your toenails.