Most people have their favorite weed, or at least their favorite flavor profile. You might’ve picked it because it brings back memories of smoking on the garage roof when you were in high school, or because it tastes nothing like the skunky crap you tried back then. Chances are you like something about the way your chosen strain makes you feel, whether it evokes deep relaxation or brain-glowing creativity, but we’re slaves to our taste buds, so even if stinky cheese or skunky scents and flavors are your bread and butter, I bet marijuana flavor plays some role in your top picks.
The cool thing about flavors — and not just when it comes to marijuana — is that the compounds that deliver those different tastes and smells aren’t innocuous byproducts with nothing to do but make stuff taste good. Terpenes, the molecules that make marijuana and citrus fruit and pine trees smell the way they do, have health benefits that compound the already incredible therapeutic effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
How do Terpenes Work?
Every time you light up a joint or crunch on a cookie, there’s an interplay between terpenes and cannabinoids that compounds the health benefits of marijuana that more and more studies are proving.
Terpenes give plants their token smell. Essential oils would be nothing without terpenes. More than 20,000 different kinds exist in the world, with 100 to 200 in cannabis alone. Though cannabinoids are better-known, terpenes are the most populous phytochemicals in marijuana! We get an immediate aromatherapy kick from terpenes because they disperse easily int he air and vaporize quickly when you burn or otherwise heat your weed. According to an article on Weedmaps, “the flavor of terpenes is maximized by whole-flower vaporization, which gives the brain a chance to interpret the marijuana flavor without overwhelming it with the taste of smoke.” Yet another win for vaping over smoking (a fraught debate)!
Like cannabinoids, terpenes interact with our bodies in specific ways. A couple have been shown to fight tumors, and others might be able to ease nausea, enhance brain function, and soothe inflammation.
There are various theories around why the molecules are such potential powerhouses. Some scientists speculate that terpenes may increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, making it easier for beneficial compounds to reach the places where they can do the most good. When it comes to cannabis specifically, some studies suggest they could affect how THC affects us, even reducing short-term memory loss.
You may have heard that CBD and THC are extra beneficial when consumed together, rather than parsed out into distinct concentrates. The same can be said for terpenes, which may help reduce anxiety from the psycoactive effects of THC.
Unfortunately, as the Weedmaps article wisely points out, studies of phytochemicals usually take place in isolated conditions: what does THC do? What does beta-pinene do? This can make it tricky to really understand the “entourage” or “ensemble” effects of which whole-flower marijuana is capable. We do know enough to see the potential, though, and cannabis testing sites are beginning to include terpene percentages alongside THC and CBD.
Here are a few specifics on the most-studied terpenes in cannabis:
Marijuana Flavor With a Dash of Science
You can probably guess which scent and flavor α-pinene exudes. In addition to strains like AK-47, Blue Dream, and ACDC, you’ll find this terpene in pine needles, rosemary, and dill. If you’ve ever inhaled deeply in an evergreen forest, you might not be surprised to learn α-pinene is useful for enhancing alertness and memory retention. Preliminary studies suggest it might help treat asthma, inflammation, and anxiety. It has a fairly high vaporization temperature of about 311°F.
Another that’s easy to guess by its name, limonene is prominent in the rinds of fruit, as well as juniper and peppermint. Also a high vape-point strain, you probably won’t be surprised to learn this terpene can improve mood and relief stress, much like the citrusy fruit it’s smell evokes.
If you’re like me and have a bit of knowledge about terpenes, you may not have come across this one before (I hadn’t!). Sweet, herbal, and woodsy, ocimene is one of the underlying scent-makers in plants like mint, parsley, pepper, and orchids. It has a lot of potential benefits, including antiseptic, -viral, -fungal, and -bacterial properties. It’s also a decongestant! Sample the properties of ocimene, which vaporizes at a low 122°F, in White Fire OG, Chocolope, and Dutch Treat.
Featuring the spicy, musky undertones found in mangoes, thyme, and hops, myrcene delivers a chill, indica-esque couch-lock effect that promotes relaxation. Another with a high vape point, myrcene goes aerial at about 330°F and can be found in strains like White Widow and Jack Herer. How’s that for a delicious marijuana flavor?