While THC is the king of cannabis for most people, the queen are the terpenes. Terpenes are the quiet powerhouses of cannabis. Cannabis contains terpenes, flavonoids, and phenols. Flavonoids and phenols impact your high in ways that are different from terpenes. I will do an entry later on how flavonoids and phenols impact your high.
Terpenes are important to know. For example, people who used a CBD-rich extract had better results with fewer side effects than did people who used a refined CBD extract.1
Terpenes are the chemicals that give us flavors and smell. Terpenes are part and parcel of plant life. They form the secondary components of plants. The primaries are carbohydrates, lipids, nucleotides, and peptides. These are primary because they are essential to all life metabolisms.
Terpenes are secondary but they play an important part of plant life and by extension, to us humans. Terpenes are basically unsaturated hydrocarbons.
Terpene Chemical Structure (Just a little chemistry)
All of them are composed of a basic C5H8 chemical structure. There are also over 30,000 terpene compounds found in nature. They are also classified by the chemical structure: there are 10 categories of terpenes. The two that most impact cannabis users are: monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes.
Monoterpenes are composed of two isoprenes units (2 C5H8 units: C10H16). The most common in cannabis are: limonene, the oil found in citrus fruit rinds; myrcene, an earthy smell or an aroma similar to cloves; and linalool, a floral, lavender, citric aroma.
Sesquiterpenes are composed of three isoprenes units (C15H24: the last of the chemistry stuff). Some common forms found in cannabis are: β-caryophylene, a peppery aroma; curcumene, a turmeric-like aroma; and humulene, an earthy, woody aroma.
Terpenes vs Terpenoids vs Flavonoids and Phenols
Terpenes are not terpenoids. Terpenoids are terpenes that have oxidized. They perform similar functions when ingested but enter the body via different mechanisms. Flavonoids affect the color and flavor of a particular strain. They also contain a lot of antioxidants. They work closely with terpenes and terpenoids.
Terpenoids have oxygen atoms added to the basic terpene structure.
Here is a chart with the most common terpenes in Cannabis:
1. Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-analysis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6143706/ on July 5, 2021.