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What Are Terpenes?

When you first hear the word “terpenes,” it may bring to mind associations with turpentine and cleaning paint stains off clothing. While terpenes are an ingredient in this and many other cleaning products, they actually have a much broader role to play in our foods, drinks, and health and beauty products—and of course, in cannabis consumption.

Terpenes are the natural chemicals that give each plant its distinctive aroma and flavor. When you breathe in the scent of pine after the rain, you’re smelling the terpenes. When you taste the sourness of a lemon, you’re tasting the terpenes. In an essential oil, the terpenes and their effects are more pronounced when compared to the whole plant.

What Are Terpenes in Chemistry?

For the science geeks among us, terpenes are usually hydrocarbons with a five-carbon isoprene as the building block. Their molecular formula is C5H8. Terpenes are grouped into categories of the number of isoprene units they have, which ranges from 2 to 8 isoprene units and 10 to 40 carbon atoms.

What Are Terpenes’ Properties?

As well as providing scent and flavor, terpenes also have other functions like protecting plants against bacteria, fungi, insects, and herbivores. These functions apply after their extraction from the plants as well. For example, some terpenes are used in skin care for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, while others are used in natural insect repellents to keep the mosquitoes away.

The cannabis plant is particularly rich in terpenes, with around 200 terpenes represented across all of the known strains. These terpenes play an important role in the medicinal properties of cannabis.

How Are Terpenes Extracted?

There are three main ways to extract the terpenes from the cannabis plant:

Supercritical C02 Extraction

This is the most common method and also the safest. Supercritical CO2 extraction uses a heavy-duty machine to turn CO2 gas into a supercritical liquid by applying temperature and pressure. In this liquid form, the supercritical CO2 is forced through an extraction vessel that contains granularly-ground cannabis plant material. What are terpenes like after this process? The resulting terpene liquid is pure and highly concentrated. It can be modified to achieve different strengths.

Butane Extraction

Butane extraction produces the strongest terpene aromas on the market but is also the most dangerous in terms of the process and the final product. In this method, butane is mixed with the plant material which it penetrates in order to draw out the terpenes. What are terpenes like after this process? Oils produced using this method often contain residual solvents and need to be purged and refined to reduce this residue as much as possible.

Ethanol Extraction

A safer method uses ethanol as a solvent to draw the terpenes out of the plant material. The benefit of this method is that it is relatively fast, but the drawback is that it pulls out chlorophyll, colors, and tannins along with the terpenes, so the extract needs to pass through a refinement stage after the extraction is complete.

What Are the Main Terpenes and their Effects?

An abundance of pine cones on a pine tree.

While there are around 200 different terpenes present in cannabis strains, there are a few that are more common and have the greatest effect on aroma and flavor. Learn a little about each of the main terpenes and their effects below:


The taste of myrcene is somewhat complex, presenting a mixture of spice and woodiness with hints of citrus. This terpene offers benefits as a natural anti-inflammatory, pain reliever, and sedative, and it’s thought to contribute to the “couch-lock” feeling that is attributed to Indica strains of cannabis.


What are pinene terpenes? As you can probably guess from the name, pinene smells woody, earthy, and basically like a pine tree. It has analgesic and antibacterial properties, and it’s said to enhance memory and increase airflow to the lungs. Pinene is a commonly found terpene in Sativa strains of cannabis.


The main terpene in citrus fruits, limonene has a lemon- and orange-like aroma. This terpene is popular among those who suffer from depression and anxiety, promotes relaxation, and is said to elevate your mood.


Combining scents of citrus and pine, terpinolene is known as a sedative and relaxant with antibacterial and antioxidant properties. This terpene is common in Sativa cannabis strains.


If you enjoy chai lattes, you will likely appreciate the spiciness of caryophyllene. With a combination of pepper, spice, wood, and cloves, this terpene is known for its anxiety- and depression-reducing properties. What are caryophyllene terpenes good for? In addition to its benefits for mood, caryophyllene also boasts analgesic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.


This terpene has a floral, woody, and spicy aroma with relaxing and analgesic effects.

What Are Terpenes Used for in the Cannabis World?

a pile of cannabis next to a glass jar

While initially used for cosmetics, skin care, and domestic products, terpenes have become popular with cannabis users. By isolating the terpenes from specific cannabis strains (and other plants), users can enhance the flavor of their base cannabis strain and even experience modifications to its effects.

What Are Terpenes’ Roles in The Entourage Effect?

The way that terpenes modify the effects of your cannabis would be a mystery without the discovery of the “entourage effect.” Thanks to studies conducted in 2011 and beyond, we now understand that the cannabinoids and terpenes work together to create each cannabis strain’s distinctive flavor and medicinal profile.

What are terpenes’ effects on your cannabis strain? One way in which the entourage effect works is that each terpene adds its particular properties to the mix. A terpene with anti-inflammatory or relaxing properties will add these effects to the final combination. The other way that terpenes change a strain’s effects is by modifying the uptake of cannabinoids like THC in the body. By doing so, a terpene could allow you to receive the benefits of THC without feeling as “high” or “stoned” as you would otherwise.

What Are Terpenes from Sativa and Indica Strains?

When combined correctly, terpenes can alter the effects of any base cannabis strain to create a Sativa or Indica effect. For the uninitiated, Sativa and Indica are the two main types of the cannabis plant, and—while the main physical difference is seen in the leaf shape—many in the cannabis community claim that they give different kinds of “high.”

Meaning “from India,” Indica cannabis is thought to be the more relaxing of the two and is credited with giving users the experience of couch lock. In contrast, Sativas are thought to produce a more clear-headed, cerebral high that is conducive to creativity and getting things done.

What Are the Best Indica Terpenes?

Here are some of the best terpenes for a sedative (“Indica”) effect:

  • Myrcene: As already mentioned, this terpene has a musky, citrusy flavor and a strong sedative effect.
  • Nerolidol: This calming, sedative terpene has a floral, citrusy, and forest-like fragrance and is thought to soothe anxiety. What else are nerolidol terpenes good for? Nerolidol may also have potential as an antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasite, and anti-malarial.
  • Bisabolol: Smelling of flowers and chamomile, bisabolol is a soothing terpene with anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. This terpene is popular for use in skin care products and cosmetics.

What Are the Best Sativa Terpenes?

If it’s an energetic effect you’re after, try the following terpenes:

  • Limonene: Smelling of citrus, this terpene is a great energy and mood booster.
  • Pinene: Boasting a fresh, pine-tree scent, pinene is thought to help with memory and increase airflow.
  • Caryophyllene: As described earlier, caryophyllene has a rich aroma of sweet spices and can help to lift your mood.

How Are Liquid Terpenes Used?

Now that you know all about the properties and benefits of terpenes, how do you incorporate them into your daily use? First of all, you will need a cannabis terpene starter kit, your cannabis of choice, and a bottle of our cannabis terpenes or pure terpenes. Regardless of your device, you can mix your favorite liquids together, or try adding terpenes to your dry flower for an alternative consumption method. What are the most delicious terpenes? With our cannabis terpene sample pack, you can try five different flavors and find out!

Why Are Terpenes Legal in all 50 States if Cannabis Is Not?

In addition to “What are terpenes?” a question we are often asked is how our terpenes are legal to buy in all 50 states if cannabis is not. The answer is simple: We extract our terpenes from plants other than cannabis. Remember how terpenes are natural chemicals that are found in every plant? By using limonene from lemons and pinene from fresh pine needles, you can enjoy the same effects as you would from these same terpenes in cannabis plants!

Shop the Extensive Range of Terpenes at Vapeur Terp

Ready to get started with terpenes? Once you’ve read about terpenes and had a look at our instructional guide, browse our wide selection of liquids, including pure terpenes (pure flavors) and flavored liquids (a softer option), and be sure to contact us if you have any questions.