Of the many natural plant compounds gaining popularity in the alternative medicines market
today, one of the most notable is terpenes, due to their legality in all 50 states, lack of a serious
side effect profile and versatility in everyday usage. But while they’re rapidly gaining public
interest due to emerging scientific research and celebrity endorsements, many consumers are
still unclear as to what exactly terpenes do.
A crash course on terpenes
Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons that naturally occur in all plant life, including in
trees, fruits, herbs, and spices. They range from being mildly fragrant to being one of the
primary components of a plant’s defense mechanism against herbivorous predators.
They also function as a mechanism to attract pollinators. Terpenes can be classified as
monoterpenoids, diterpenoids, or sesquiterpenoids depending on the number of
isoprene units in their structure.
Terpenes are distinguishable not only by their aromas and flavors but by their
respective physiological actions as well. Some terpenes, for instance, can increase skin
permeability — making them a perfect infusion into topical products like lotion, insect
repellent, and muscle gels. Other terpenes can lower resistance across the blood-brain
barrier, working perfectly in conjunction with ingested cannabinoids to maximize their
While they are often taken for granted, people interact with and utilized terpenes
throughout their daily lives. Drinking lemon tea to supplement a healthy diet makes use
of the terpene limonene’s antioxidant properties to purge damaging free radicals. Adding
fresh mint dressing to a fattoush salad utilizes the flavor and aroma of alpha-pinene to
enhance a melange of complementary ingredients. Some of our favorite bath products,
including shampoos and bath bombs, are infused with one or several terpenes to
enhance their therapeutic and relaxant effects.
Terpenes are slowly but surely growing into a billion-dollar industry in themselves, averaging a
compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 11 percent in recent years, and slated to
increase to a CAGR of more than 14 percent going forward. But how did terpenes break into the
American mainstream? This post goes over the role of terpenes in two highly popular categories in
natural medicine; namely cannabidiol (CBD) products and essential oils.
Can You Acquire Individual Terpenes?
Several reputable companies sell both terpene isolates and blends as desired by consumers.
Daniel Gordon, the founder of True Blue Terpenes, is an example of a terpene retailer committed to
producing quality isolates and strain profiles with no synthetic additives like propylene glycol.
Terpenes & Essential Oils
The single most widely represented class of hydrocarbons found in essential oils are terpenes.
In fact, the primary difference between essential oils and terpenes is that the former is largely
comprised of terpenes, but contains other plant compounds as well.
Aroma aside, the therapeutic effects attributed to essential oils — whether when used with a
diffuser, in baths, or directly on the skin — come largely from terpenes.
● Beta-pinene: This terpene is also found in pine needles and is responsible for pine
cones’ woodsy scent. It has anti-inflammatory and bronchodilatory properties and can
be found in fir balsam, hyssop, and helichrysum essential oils.
● Myrcene: This terpene is found in hops, basil, and mango, and can be described as
having a musky aroma. It has been shown to produce potent analgesic effects and can
be found in verbena, juniper, and ylang-ylang essential oils.
● Borneol: This terpene is found in rosemary and tea tree oil and is noted for its
camphoraceous scent. It’s currently being studied for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic
properties and can be found in cardamom, mint, and ginger essential oils.
● Linalool: This terpene is found in lavender, and gives it its distinctive floral scent. It has
historically been utilized for its sedative and pain-relieving properties, and is commonly
found in bergamot, coriander, and lavender essential oils.
● Eucalyptol: This terpene is found in eucalyptus oil and is instantly recognizable by its
minty aroma. It has expectorant, anti-inflammatory, and bronchodilative properties, and
is available in abundance in peppermint, rosemary, and sage essential oils.
Terpenes & CBD Products
Terpenes have long been researched for their role in the therapeutic potential of cannabis. In
fact, the term Entourage Effect was coined to describe the mechanism by which terpenes
synergize with cannabinoids like CBD and THC to effectively enhance their neurophysiological
The role of terpenes in the so-called “entourage effect” is the primary factor behind the
preference in strains of seasoned marijuana consumers and connoisseurs. When consumed
with either CBD products, hemp, or even marijuana flower, terpenes provide flavor, aroma, and
added therapeutic benefits to the cannabis experience.