Know Your Medicine: Terpenoids | Marijuana

Terpenoids are the most abundant group of plant essential oils that exist in all plants, trees, and flowers. Over 15,000 different terpenoids have been found, with 200 described in cannabis. Terpenoids are responsible for the odor, color, and flavor of the cannabis flower.

Terpenioids are synthesized within the glandular trichomes and are most highly concentrated in unfertilized female flowers prior to senescence. They are reported to make up almost 10 percent of the content of the trichomes and also occur in lower fan leaves. Plants make terpenoids as part of their defense mechanisms, working as insect repellents, as well as bitter-tasting repellents for grazing animals.

cannabis trichomes

The Chemistry of Terpenoids

Tepenoids are made up of repeating units of isoprene (C5H8) and include monoterpenoids (C10H16), sesquiterpenoids (C15H24), diterpenes (C20H32), and triterpenoids (C30H48). Monoterpenoids (limonene, myrcene, pinene) are usually the most prominent in the mature flower but are partially lost during drying and aging, with sesquiterpenoids such as β-Caryophyllene, subsequently becoming more dominant.  

Important Facts about Terpenoids

  • They are genetically controlled
  • Production increases with light exposure
  • Production decreases as soil fertility decreases
  • The FDA recognizes terpenoids as safe
  • They vaporize near the same temperature as THC (157℃ or 315℉)
  • Terpenoids are biologically active compounds, affecting animal and human behavior even when tiny amounts are inhaled from ambient air

The Entourage Effect

Phytocannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, work synergistically with terpenoids, providing enhanced beneficial therapeutic effects. Terpenoids also work synergistically with each other. These are examples of the “entourage effect,” first described by Israeli researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, explaining the finding that the combination of these compounds is more effective when compared to each individual compound’s effects.  

Common Terpenoids and Their Effects



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Turner CE, Elsohly MA, Boeren EG (1980). Constituents of Cannabis sativa L. XVII. A review of the natural constituents. J Nat Prod 43: 169–234.

Images courtesy of Allie Beckett

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