Using Terpenes and Scent to Choose Cannabis Strains

By William Tremblay
Published: February 12, 2018 | Last updated: April 7, 2021 11:26:21
Key Takeaways

Terpenes do more than make cannabis smell like citrus, earth, or fuel; they also contribute specific characteristics and medical benefits to the overall high. This is why you can actually use your nose to help decipher which strain is right for you. Will Tremblay explains.

While cannabinoids like THC and CBD have garnered much of the limelight in cannabis research, there are other compounds contributing to the plant’s desired effect. Terpenes are the fragrant organic compounds that give strains like UK Cheese or NYC Diesel their distinctive aroma and flavor. With more than 200 terpenes found in cannabis, these compounds account for about 10 percent of trichome content and less than one percent of the actual flower.


However, terpenes are likely contributing more to the experience than a notable bouquet.

Today, as cannabis research delves deeper into the plant’s chemical composition, many in the industry are subscribing to the notion of the entourage effect. Basically, the entourage effect explains how varying combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes work as a team to produce different psychoactive and physical results.


“Clinical cannabis demonstrates herbal synergy and is more than simply a vehicle for THC administration,” Dr. Ethan Russo, a Washington State-based cannabis researcher, writes in a letter to the journal of Psychopharmacology. “Terpenoid cannabis components probably also contribute significantly to clinical effects of cannabis and boil at comparable temperatures to THC.”

Scientifically, the entourage effect hasn’t met the benchmark of testing to qualify as fact. However, the vast amount of anecdotal information pointing to strain-specific effects is hard for even sceptics to ignore.

So, while there’s nothing wrong with selecting a grape-rich nug to satisfy your palate, there’s more to consider than flavor preferences when selecting the right strain. In fact, a simple nose test may help discover the strain that’s therapeutically suited to your needs.


Common Terpenes in Cannabis

  • Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis. Alongside creating the dank smell associated with many indicas, myrcene also fights tumors, relieves pain, and serves as an anti-inflammatory. A unique characteristic of myrcene is its ability to carry other compounds into the brain, allowing cannabinoids to quickly take effect. High concentrations of myrcene are also the culprit behind the couch lock effect, according to Steep Hill Labs, a commercial cannabis laboratory in the United States. Hence why strains with a low concentration of myrcene, like many sativas, generate an uplifting or energizing high.

  • Limonene is the second most common terpene found in cannabis and is responsible for providing the citrus smell found in many strains. Several studies have found limonene is an effective treatment for stress, depression, and anxiety. It is also known for its antibacterial properties and as an aid in the digestive tract. Limonene also helps with the absorption or digestion of other terpenes.

  • Pinene is the most common terpene found throughout all plant species and creates a pine or turpentine aroma and flavor in cannabis. Therapeutically, pinene helps decrease resistance in the respiratory system and increases airflow to the lungs. While cannabis is often associated with short-term forgetfulness, pinene actually helps preserve memory formation. Additionally, several studies have found pinene is an effective anti-inflammatory.

  • Beta caryophyllene is the lone terpene in cannabis know to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which assists cells in the brain, organs, and tissue communicate with one another. Alongside preventing infection, beta caryophyllene is cited as an anti-inflammatory and holds anti-bacterial and tumor-preventing properties. Also found in cinnamon, oregano, and Thai basil, beta caryophyllene gives cannabis a strong, spicy aroma.

  • Humulene, which is also found in hops, has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. On its own, this terpene works to suppress appetite as well as fight bacteria and cancer cells. Combined with beta caryophyllene, humulene generates an effective treatment for inflammation. Strains with an earthy odor likely have a high concentration of humulene.

  • Linalool is another terpene used for thousands of years in medicine, mainly as a sedative. Also found in lavender and rosewood, linalool gives cannabis a floral, yet spicy aroma and flavor. It also holds anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-epileptic properties.

So, when making your next strain selection, pay attention to how it smells. Your nose may help decipher which strain is right for you.


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Written by William Tremblay

Profile Picture of William Tremblay
William Tremblay is an award-winning writer and photojournalist based in Toronto, Ontario. His work has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers across Canada, covering a wide range of topics from restaurants to politics to Coroner’s Inquests. Outside of the newsroom, he is an avid traveler, wood worker and cannabis enthusiast.

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