Indiva Guides

The Medical Cannabis Terpenes Guide

Many patients aren’t familiar with terpenes and their effects even though they’re a significant component of medical cannabis.

This article is designed to provide an introduction to those interested learning about these aromatic hydrocarbons. 

What are Cannabis Terpenes?

Cannabis terpenes are aromatic molecules which give the plant its smell, flavour, and could potentially influence the effects of cannabinoids.

Terpenes are found in the fragrant oils produced in the sticky resin glands of the cannabis flower. These glands also secrete THC and other cannabinoids, but cannabinoids themselves are odourless. Terpenes create all of the odour of cannabis. 

External factors in the cultivation process don’t effect the smell of cannabis. The flavour profile of cannabis is a result of terpenes which develop as the plant grows. The cultivation process only effects the quantity of terpenes which develop.

Although medical cannabis producers can’t change the terpene profile while a plant is growing, they can choose or create strains with the desired terpenes and cultivate the plant in a way that maximizes terpene production.

The smell of a cannabis strain depends entirely on which terpenes. Terpenes molecules are highly potent, so just a few are enough to produce the smell.

Medical cannabis terpenes are found in all strains of cannabis, but cannabis isn’t the only plant to produce them. They’re also found in fruits, herbs, and even coniferous trees.  

How to Cannabis Terpenes Work?

Cannabis terpenes work by binding with receptors in the human body – scent receptors in the nose and cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system.

When a terpene binds with these receptors it can create various effects. It could even boost the effects of cannabinoids to create what researchers call the,“Entourage Effect.”  

What Effects do Terpenes Have?

The effects felt after taking a dose of medical cannabis are caused when the cannabinoids bind with naturally-occurring cannabinoid receptors in the human body. These receptors are referred to as CB1 and CB2.

On their own, terpenes may potentially cause the rise of serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters in the brain. Existing studies are encouraging but more research is required to make decisive conclusions about the role terpenes play in medical cannabis treatment.

Some terpenes bind with the same receptors that cannabinoids bind to.  Terpenes can sometimes effect chemical activity in the receptors. That means they could influence how the body interacts with cannabinoids in various ways. 

Different terpenes have different effects on the body’s cannabinoid receptors. One study has found that some terpenes can affect the amount of THC which is absorbed into the body. Other terpenes may increase the feeling of focus.

Not all terpenes produce effects which can be felt. Find more details about the potential effects of some common terpenes below.

With the recent popularity of medical cannabis in Canada and beyond the plant is being studied more closely than ever before.

Researchers are interested in the potential which terpenes may have to interact synergistically with cannabinoids and other components of the cannabis plant.

As they are studied more closely, terpenes may begin to play a larger role in medical cannabis treatment.

The Most Common Terpenes

Over 100 individual terpenes have been detected in cannabis, but there are 6 primary terpenes commonly present in the strains of cannabis used for medical purposes.  The most common terpenes are listed below.


Limonene carries a distinct aroma of citrus which is often compared to the smell of oranges or citrus fruit. Sometimes it’s used as flavouring in drinks and foods because of its distinct flavour and aroma.

High-limonene cannabis strains: Cannabis indica and indica-dominant cannabis hybrids.


Humulene has less of a sharp smell than limonene and is described as earthy, herbal, and woody.  It’s compared to the flavour of tobacco or whiskey.

High-humulene cannabis strains: Cannabis sativas


Pinene gives off a tart aroma and is also found in many coniferous trees.

High-pinene cannabis strains: Cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and some cannabis hybrids


With a sweet, almost floral aroma, Linalool is another citrusy terpene found in cannabis.

High-linalool cannabis strains: Cannabis sativas


Caryophyllene exhibits woody, spicy aroma with sharp onset akin to pepper or spice.

High-caryophyllene cannabis strains: Cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and cannabis hybrid


Myrcene’s fruity, earthen odour can be quite pungent. The musky smell isn’t for everyone.

High-Myrcene cannabis strains: Cannabis indica

Terpenes and Different Medical Cannabis Strains

For some patients, the terpene profile is an important factor to consider when choosing a strain. Different strains of cannabis contain different terpenes, although there is some overlap. The only way to be sure about which terpenes a strain contains is to buy from a licensed producer which list the terpene content of its products. 

There is no way to know what you are getting from an unregulated seller.

We’ve covered how different batches of the same strain contain the same terpenes, but what about different batches of the same strain? 

If a grower uses the same strain for each batch the cannabis will have the same terpene profile. The growing environment does not effect the terpene profile aside from how much of the terpenes are produced.

When you buy cannabis from an un-regulated seller your run the risk of getting a different strain than you think. Although you may think you’re getting a different batch of the same cannabis, it may have a dramatically different terpene and cannabinoid profile because it has different genes.

The best way to be sure you are getting what you need is to buy from an LP like INDIVA. LPs use identical genetics for every batch, follow stringent quality-assurance procedures, and follow a precise cultivation procedure to ensure consistency between batches. 

Lab-tested products are the only sure way of knowing a strain’s terpene potency.

How Does Method of Ingestion Influence the Effects of Terpenes?

The odour and potential effects of terpenes can be seriously inhibited or eliminated if they are heated past their boiling point. It’s best to use a ‘low-heat’ device such as a vaporizer on low setting to extract the most from terpenes.

Want to learn more about cannabis products? Visit our products page to explore the different medical cannabis products.

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