What Are Cannabis Terpenes?

From ripe stone fruit to resinous pine, pungent fuel to soothing lavender, the spectrum of fragrances and flavors you can detect in high-quality cannabis is astonishingly complex. How are there so many variations in scent? In large part, it’s due to a family of aromatic oils known as terpenes.

While researchers have identified at least 150 types of terpenes in cannabis, they aren’t limited to the cannabis plant. The list of terpenes runs to at least 20,000 long, and they’re found in plants, trees, even some insects and animals. In fact, terpenes are the largest and most diverse group of naturally occurring compounds on the planet!

To try and keep things manageable, we’re going to the list of terpenes in today’s post to those that are most important in cannabis. In addition to describing some of their aromatic qualities, we’ll share the results of some truly fascinating research. And while it’s difficult to say what the “best terpenes” are, pretty soon you’ll understand that these all-natural compounds impart much more than pretty scents. Let’s dig in.

Types of Terpenes: A Family of Crucial Cannabis Compounds

Here’s one of the many fascinating paradoxes of cannabis: While all the cannabis we consume comes from the same species plant—cannabis sativa—there’s literally no end to the bewildering array of flavors and aromas associated with different strains. OG Kush gives off whiffs of skunky diesel and spice, while Jack Herer is beloved for its piney scent (and its ability to help fuel the creative spark).

How is this possible? It all comes down to terpenes. At their simplest level, they’re a family of fragrant hydrocarbons (what many of us call “essential oils”). Why are they found in cannabis in the first place? Plants produce different terpenes for a variety of reasons, including as plant-based chemical warnings to repel insect predators.

That makes sense from a sensory standpoint. Especially for a tiny bug, high concentrations of terpenes can be unpleasant. But when consumed by us humans, they not only give different cannabis strains their appealing flavors and aromas, but they also do our bodies and minds good!

If you follow cannabis news, you’re probably already familiar with cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. These natural chemicals are often called the most important “active ingredients” in cannabis, and for good reason. THC, in addition to imparting that distinctive psychoactive “high,” can help fight pain and inflammation. And CBD has been shown to have the potential to reduce anxiety and stress and help us find deeper, more restorative sleep, among many other beneficial effects.

But as we hinted a moment ago, a growing body of research—not to mention literally thousands of years of folk wisdom—suggests that those aromatic cannabis terpenes are significant contributors to the plant’s overall effects. We’ll dive into a few of these effects when we share our list of terpenes in just a moment.

Before we do, though, we’d like to include one more note about the importance of the different types of terpenes in the overall ecosystem of the cannabis plant. It’s about something called “the entourage effect” (or sometimes “the ensemble effect”).

It’s long been suspected that the terpenes, cannabinoids and other compounds in cannabis work in partnership together for our benefit. For instance, one study published in 2011 suggests that the terpene alpha-pinene interacts with THC to moderate its intoxicating effects (and thereby increase its therapeutic ones).

Echoing these findings, another study suggests that certain types of terpenes, including linalool and humulene, appear to have the opposite effect, boosting (or “potentiating”) the effects of cannabinoids to impart even greater medicinal benefits.

Our point? Terpenes are a big deal when it comes to how cannabis interacts with our bodies, supporting the cannabinoids to produce effects we’re only now beginning to understand. The following list of terpenes includes some of the most crucial ones that may provide some inspiration when it comes time for your next cannabis purchase!

Mission’s “Must-Know” List of Terpenes

If you’ve spent any time around cannabis, you probably have a head start on terpene identification! The scents of spicy cloves, bracing black pepper, and zingy lemon are all thanks to different terpenes. While all of the terpenes found in cannabis are important to each strain’s unique aromas and effects, we’ve compiled a list of the major players to help you get started.


Without doubt the most significant and abundant cannabis terpene, myrcene is known for its fruity, grapelike aroma. In addition to its gentle sedative effects, myrcene helps coordinate the actions of other terpenes, cannabinoids, and other compounds.


Ever notice a lemony scent in Jack Herer, Durban Poison, or other strains? That’s limonene! Known for its uplifting effects, this terpene is also believed to help reduce stress and anxiety. Other studies suggest this terpene may help regulate our immune system, and potentially even play a role in controlling the spread of certain cancers.

Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene

These closely related terpenes are the most common ones on earth, thanks to their starring role in pine trees. They also imbue cannabis strains such as Blue Dream and Dutch Treat with a distinctively resinous aroma. What’s more, inhaling cannabis rich in pinene may help reduce airway inflammatory responses such as asthma.


Smelling of black pepper and cinnamon, this terpene is truly unforgettable. Studies suggest it delivers powerful analgesic and anti-anxiety properties, and it often makes its way into anti-inflammatory topicals thanks to its unusual binding properties.

Explore the Best Terpenes with Mission

We hope this introduction to the types of terpenes has been informative (and fun!). The next time you’re in any of our family of dispensaries, be sure to chat up your friendly budtender for guidance on the highest terpene strains we carry, tips, advice, and even more information on this fascinating family of compounds. We look forward to seeing you!