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Cannabis Basics: Your Guide to Terpenes

Like any recreational activity or medical practice, cannabis use has its fair share of terminology. Some of the jargon is pretty simple to parse (we all intuitively know what a “strain” refers to, for instance). But other words might seem like someone speaking in Greek: trichomes, phenotypes… and the focus of our article today, terpenes. 

Terpenes are one of the most fundamental elements of the cannabis experience, but they’re little understood among the general public. In an effort to empower new and seasoned users, let’s change that. 

Here’s your short guide to cannabis terpenes. 

What Are Terpenes, Exactly? 

Terpenes are an organic, natural compound found in several plants. They’re responsible for heightening the pigmentation of plants and – critically – for giving them their distinct aromas and tastes. As such, terpenes play a significant role in the wild, helping plants survive by boosting their attractiveness to some animals while scaring off others. Luckily, we humans count ourselves among the creatures that enjoy (most) terpenes. 

Cannabis is a veritable buffet of different terpenes. From strain to strain, you’ll find a diverse array of terpenes – and, therefore, a diverse palate of tastes and aromas. And according to some, terpenes also exhibit various anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects. 

A Short Guide to Different Terpenes

If you’ve ever put your nose in a sprig of rosemary and caught that piney aroma, you’ve smelled the pinene terpene. If you’ve ever enjoyed a hoppy IPA, you’ve caught the bitter, peppery taste of humulene. We’re surrounded by terpenes. And knowing which ones you prefer can give you a leg up at your local cannabis counter. Here are a few terpenes common to cannabis that you should know about: 

  • Limonene: a citrusy, lemon-like aroma commonly found in, you guessed it, citrus fruits. 
  • Myrcene: The most common terpene found in cannabis, myrcene has a musky, peppery and sometimes fruity aroma. 
  • Linalool: that classic floral smell you might traditionally associate with lavender (or shampoos, many of which use linalool in their formulas). 
  • Beta-Caryophyllene: Think basil, cloves and cinnamon – those sharp, spicy yet herbaceous notes are a hallmark of Beta-Caryophyllene
  • Pinene: That woodsy, piney aroma that takes us back to summers at the cottage. 

If one or more of these terpene flavors appeals to you, ask the budtender at your local cannabis store to point you toward a good strain. 

How to Maintain Terpene Flavor in Cannabis

The best way to maximize the flavor and potential adaptogenic qualities of your cannabis is to manage moisture. When cannabis dries, it loses those complex aromas you know and love. It also declines in overall potency. 

To manage moisture, keep your flower in a tightly sealed jar or dedicated humidor with a humidity control packet between 55% and 62% RH (relative humidity). You can find fantastic two-way humidity control packets at specifically for cannabis – choose 58% for a less squishy flower, or 62% for sticky, fluffy cannabis. The packets start working immediately, maintaining fresh flower or reviving dried-out cannabis. After a short “schvitz” in the container, your terpenes should be bright, bold and effective. 

Next time a friend or cannabis merchant asks you what kind of taste you like, you can break out your knowledge about terpenes. Choose your cannabis based on what flavors you enjoy most, and store your flower with a moisture control packet to ensure those flavors stay fresh.