If you’ve reached the point in your relationship with cannabis where you find yourself researching which live-resin cartridges you ought to buy, chances are you’ve heard the word “terpenes” thrown about more than a few times already. But . . . What even are terpenes?

I’m glad you asked. Terpenes, while not a term you hear very often in any other context, are not unique to the cannabis plant; terpenes occur naturally in almost every aromatic plant there is. Think coffee: another botanical companion many people say has a positive influence on their ability to enjoy life. Coffee grown in different countries at different elevations with different temperatures and humidity levels, different soil composition and quality, and different rainfall - those coffees taste, smell, extract, and it could even be argued make you feel different when you drink them; consuming coffee isn’t one static experience, because all plants are way too complex to be crammed into a box that small, and I think we all know that already - even if only on an intuitive level.

Well, terpenes as they occur in cannabis (in excess of 200 types, by the way!) follow the same premise: They develop in response to the growing environment of the plant (although certain types of terpenes do seem to prefer specific strains over others, so we can say environment isn’t the sole influence, but it’s a big one), and they impart its unique aroma and flavor.

Okay, so terps give my weed its scent. At the end of the day, does that mean I just go with my personal aroma preference? I like citrusy smells so I should probably choose something that contains limonene, one of the most common terps?

Of course you can follow your nose, but there’s more benefit to be found in the science of terpenes, and you should take note of these things if you want to be an informed consumer. Terps impart not just smell and taste, but also aspects of the medicinal and psychoactive effects of cannabis; limonene, using it as our example, does tend to present a citrusy aroma, but it’s also found to be particularly effective as an anti-anxiety agent. Limonene is also regarded as being uplifting, helpful when you’re down with the winter blues or other life woes. And you know where else you can find limonene? In lemon rinds, in juniper, and in peppermint. Go figure.

I did tell you there are more than 200 known terps that occur naturally in the cannabis plant, but I don’t mean to overwhelm you with that number. There are basically five you’re likely to spot more often than the rest, and learning a bit about those five will make for a great base education. They are limonene, myrcene, pinene, linalool, and caryophyllene.

Let’s do a quick rundown on those five, then I’ll set you out on your own to discover the rest.

Limonene

As we mentioned above, Limonene tends to present a citrusy aroma, but it’s also found to be particularly effective as an anti-anxiety agent. Limonene is also regarded as being uplifting, and is often found in strains that have what most would consider to be a sativa effect.

Myrcene

Common to indica cannabis strains, you won’t be surprised to learn myrcene is a relaxing terp, something you might appreciate after a hard workout or long work day, obviously well suited to an indica. Myrcene is also found in hops, bay laurel leaves, thyme, lemongrass, and more. Myrcene can have a citrusy aroma, a musky aroma, and/or an earthy, herbal aroma.

Pinene

Pinene, smelling sweet and of pine, is anti-inflammatory, thought to combat asthma, and can also be found in pine needles, rosemary, and basil, among others.

Linalool

Linalool, known as a sedative and an anti-anxiety agent, tends to share the citrus aroma as well but can also present floral and/or spicy notes. If you know anything about herbalism, you know lavender is revered for those same calming effects, so it won’t surprise you to learn the terp linalool is also found in lavender. Starting to see a pattern?

Caryophyllene

Okay, caryophyllene: It’s found in black pepper, it smells like black pepper, and just like black pepper, it’s anti-inflammatory. It’s also thought to support digestive health. And some of you, especially medical patients, will appreciate that carophylline is not noticeably psychoactive. That doesn’t mean you don’t still need to pay attention to the THC in your products of choice, but it means the presence of this particular terp won’t enhance the psychoactive effects of the THC, which some terps will - in a phenomenon we call the “entourage effect.” See, these terps paired up with these strains can enhance or inhibit their medical and psychoactive effects, so being informed and choosing high-quality products you know you can trust is the surest way to achieve the best possible experience for your individual considerations as a cannabis consumer.

Now, you could hire me as a private tutor to share all my notes and knowledge with you - or you can do like I did and get to Googling for a deeper look. A tip, though? There are some truly awesome graphic informational terpene charts on Etsy. (No one is paying me to say this!) If you want to lose yourself in a fascinating scientific chart that also happens to double as a frame-worthy work of art, you might go nosing around for terpene posters on Etsy. Some of my favorites are this one and this one from Goldleaf on Etsy.

You can see a bunch of terps mapped out with their corresponding aromas, you can learn which terps will soothe you to sleep, which might fight the development of cancer cells, which help to mellow your upset stomach, and which can embolden your confidence and energy. I’d argue that knowing your terps is one of the most important things you can do to be an informed shopper in today’s market.

More information on terpenes can be found at www.ursaextracts.com/terps