What Are Terpenes? Why Do They Matter?

Terpenes are similar to essential oils and can enhance your "high" from cannabis while holding numerous medical benefits. Terpenes are transforming our understanding of cannabis.

Originally posted November 2017 - Updated April 2019

What are terpenes and why should you care?

If you smoke or vape cannabis, there are a few huge reasons to care about terpenes.

The very quick dirty: terpenes are organic compounds that enhance your "high", affect taste, and hold numerous medical benefits.

Terpenes (and terpenoids) are aromatic organic hydrocarbons found in many plants and even some insects. Plants developed terpenes to ward off herbivores that might eat them and to attract helpful predators and pollinators. Cannabis (marijuana) has naturally high levels of terpenes. "Dank" flower gets its dank stank from being rich in terpenes. 

If you are familiar with "essential oils" you already have some experience with terpenes. Terpenes are found in high quantities in various essential oils. For example, limonene is in the essential oil of lemons and limes, alpha and beta-pinene are found in the essential oil of pine needles. The terpenes in these essential oils contribute to the uplifting effects you experience if you smell the rind of a lemon or walk through a pine forest. Likewise, the terpene linalool predominates the essential oil of lavender, and is known for creating feelings of relaxation and ease. All of these terpenes, and thousands more, are found in high concentrations in the bud of cannabis.

Above, high-terpenoid cannabis oil being transferred in the Heylo Cannabis Lab, Seattle, WA.

So - why do terpenes matter?

  1. Terpenes directly affect your high and contribute to The Entourage Effect of cannabis
  2. Terpenes have medical benefits, like cannabinoids, and work synergistically with other compounds in cannabis on the human endocannabinoid system (ECS).
  3. Terpenes give cannabis and vape oil its natural flavor

Terpene information is beginning to be found on cannabis packaging in various recreational and medical states. You can learn more about how to use terpenes to guide your buying decisions in this article - Terpenes on Your Cannabis Products? How to Read, Understand and Choose.

Cannabis Terpenes Matter for 3 Simple Reasons

1. Heightened Effects from Terpenes

A groundbreaking 2011 paper by neurologist and researcher Ethan Russo described the way cannabinoids and terpenes work together to boost and modulate the effects of one another in the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). For a long time THC was considered the only chemical of psychoactive importance in cannabis. Russo and team helped reveal how other cannabinoids (like CBD) and terpenes can either increase or decrease the effects of THC and other chemicals in the body that interact with the ECS.

Myrcene, for instance, may potentiate (increase) the effects of THC, induces sedation (sleepiness) and provide anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and analgesic (anti-pain) effects. Limonene, on the other hand, is a regarded as an energizing anti-depressant compound in aromatherapy.

The difference between an energetic and uplifting high compared to a sedating and relaxing high is at least partially a factor of the terpenes within the strain.

2. Medical Benefits of Terpenes

In the same paper by Dr. Russo it was revealed that terpenes “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”

The essential oils revolution has brought with it scientific research and awareness of the medical benefits of terpenes and aromatherapy. Nearly all of the major terpenes in cannabis are either analgesic (anti-pain) or anti-inflammatory.

3. Taste and Flavors of Terpenes

In addition to being Mother Nature's medical cabinet, Terpenes are a natural spice kit. What's more, the smell of terpenes is helpful for guiding you toward the cannabis your body wants. If a variety of weed smells good to you it could be your body telling you to dose with that cultivar.

Below you'll find a high-level guide to the smell, taste and effects of major cannabis terpenes.

A note about Heylo's Terpenes

Heylo Cannabis uses only native-derived terpenes in our cannabis extracts. While non-cannabis-derived terpenes might be great, we've decided to let Mother Nature be the chef behind our extracts. We don't isolate our terpenes, or any set of compounds, during extraction and post-processing. We go through great lengths before, during and after extraction to ensure we're maintaining high levels of terpenes that resemble the ratio of terpenes found in flower. It all starts with only using the highest-quality, terpene-rich bud in our extraction.

You can find the top 3 terpenes on every Heylo Vape Cartridge and the full analytical results including terpene-information on our website. Heylo submits all cannabis oil to a trusted third-party cannabis analytical testing lab prior to release for a full cannabinoid, terpene, and pesticide analysis. These results are posted on our website, free of charge.

terpene and cannabinoid information on side of heylo cannabis box
Terpene and cannabinoid information on the side of the Heylo Cannabis full-spectrum cannabis vape cartridges (Washington State, United States).

A few common terpenes and their effects:


The most common terpene in cannabis. It is also known as the "couch-lock" terpene for its highly-sedative effects.


Common in citrus, it is highly-energetic and a known antidepressant.


A smokey or woody aroma that is slightly sedative, antioxidant, anti-cancer and antibacterial.


Gastroprotective and a strong anti-inflammatory with a woody, peppery taste.

Alpha and Beta-Pinene:

Energetic and therapeutic, this terpene is common in pine needles. If you've ever walked through a forest and felt "lifted" you've experienced this terpenenoid!


The main constituent of hops is a strong anti-inflammatory agent and a hunger-suppressant.

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