The Benefits of Terpenes in Cannabis Essential Oil

Most of us are familiar with essential oils. You have likely enjoyed the smell of lavender, sage or eucalyptus essential oil.

Essential oils are basically the juices extracted from plants either through steam distillation, CO2 Extraction or through a press.

The main therapeutic agent in essential oils are the terpenes.

Terpenes are the life force, the quintessential 5th element or the spirit of the plant. – Ethan Russo

They are delicate, organic compounds, known as phytochemicals or metabolites.

Physiologically, Terpenes are involved in Three Crucial Processes.

  • Communication between symbiotic organisms 
  • The Attraction of Pollinating Insects
  • Plant Interactions such as creating defense mechanisms for predators. 1

Terpenes are well known for giving the plant, its unique aroma signature. These essences activate the olfactory system, which when inhaled can send messages to the limbic system of your brain, resulting in a cascading effect of positive benefits.

These fragrances may release stored memories, change your mood, calm you down in stressful times, among other physiological and physical benefits.

Dr. Ethan Russo, Neurologist and Medical Scientist, suggests that “terpenes are potent agents for animal and human behavior transformation when inhaled at ambient air level serums.”

Russo mentions that terpenes are a crucial aspect of the entourage effect that is a significant component to the therapeutic qualities of the cannabis plant.

He believes that the crucial connection between cannabinoids and terpenes is what gives cannabis its healing power, for things like: cancer, epilepsy, viral infections, depression, anxiety, and addiction.2

Terpenes are foundational components to a thriving eco-system and optimal human health.

For example, Artemisia was a sesquiterpene used to fight Malaria. Another terpene known as Yew,  has been recognized for warding off ovarian and breast cancers. Terpenes extracted from Foxglove were used in over 1 million heart disease cases. 1

Depending on which terpenes are present in each cultivar the essential oil will have a unique essence and signature.  I’ve often heard in the industry that there are over 700 cultivars of cannabis! That is some serious medicine available to the human species. That’s why you can smell sweet, earthy, skunky, pine-like, and fruity cannabis among many other essences.

Here are just a few of the main terpenes present in the blossoms of cannabis essential oil and their respective health promoting benefits.

Cannabis Essential Oil Terpene Benefits | Infographic

Cannabis Essential Oil Terpenes Infographic

In order to distinguish which terpenes are in any given essential oil, a lab analysis should be done as there are over 200 known terpenes in the cannabis plant. There are well over 19,000 terpenes in the plant kingdom.

Lastly, terpenes are volatile and vaporize at even moderate temperatures. In the middle of a hot summer day, for example, you won’t smell the aroma as much. However, in the ambrosial hours when things are cool and a dew sets over the plants the pungent terpene aromas can be better experienced making it the best time to harvest medicinal plants – such as cannabis – rich with terpenes.

Cannabis Oil

Full Spectrum Cannabis Oil & The Entourage Effect

Cannabis contains hundreds of chemical compounds with diverse health benefits. As a remedy, cannabis compounds work best 
together– not extracted one by one. 1  This principle is aptly called “the entourage effect” to suggest that these compounds support each other, flock together, and combine forces to heal us.

For this reason, products such as “full-spectrum” cannabis oil preserve the integrity of the plant and its medicinal potency– and are far more effective than isolates or refined oils.


While cannabis therapies work best when the product maintains a full range of compounds, the culture of pharmaceutical drugs encourages a completely different mindset.

Consumers habitually check their over-the-counter drugs for the list of “active ingredients,” and the most prominent chemical is often seen as its most helpful. 2 We assume that the more of it there is, the “better” the drug will be.

This mentality does not apply well to cannabis treatments– and is likewise the root of the problem with pharmaceuticals that target the symptoms, not the cause.

Though cannabis remains an “alternative” therapy to the mainstream world of medicine,  it is still very common for manufacturers of cannabis products to respond to this popular perception.  They market isolate products as “refined,” as if freed from some impurity and reduced to the most essential elements.

But stripped of its complexity, cannabis loses its power to heal. 3


The best cannabis remedies are whole plant extracts, such as full-spectrum oil, whose potency comes from the interaction of many compounds in the entourage effect.   A study by the Hadassah Medical School at the University of Jerusalem showed how whole plant extracts reduced inflammatory conditions in mice to a far greater degree than purified cannabidiol when administered orally or by injection. 4

Cannabidiol (CBD) is commonly used in medical products, and belongs to a class of better-known compounds called cannabinoids. 1 CBD is the second most studied compound after THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)– widely recognized for its psychoactive effects and the most sought after compound in recreational use.

Today researchers have identified 144 cannabinoid compounds that are not found in any other plant.  However, cannabis includes a wealth of compounds far beyond cannabinoids.  As many as 1,088 non-cannabinoid compounds engage in complex ways and contribute to the entourage effect.

Terpenes and flavonoids are two major non-cannabinoid groups with aromatic and anti-inflammatory properties.  Though terpenes have psychoactive effects like THC, they can temper some of THC’s potentially negative effects by reducing the anxiety and paranoia that cannabis smokers sometimes feel.  A terpene called Pinene counteracts anxiety by providing mental alertness and focus, while others like Myrcene and Borneol are sedative and calming. 2

Flavonoids likewise balance the effects of THC, but also serve as antioxidants and estrogen regulators, among many other benefits.  Most flavonoids exist in in a wide variety of plants, though a specific type called canniflavins are exclusive to cannabis, and provide relief for inflammation.


Cannabis compounds interact dynamically when left intact in a product as they grew in the plant itself.  Though different people and conditions will not respond the same way to cannabis treatments every time, products like full-spectrum oil allow the maximal scope of benefits for everyone.  Whole plant extracts bring the whole “entourage” of chemical compounds together, and with it, the greatest chance for healing.

Whole-Plant Cannabis Concentrates Become Gold Standard. Medical Jane. Published January 23, 2014. Accessed November 5, 2016.
Beyond Cannabinoids: Flavonoids, Terpenes & Terpenoids Of Cannabis. Zamnesia. Published June 20, 2014. Accessed November 5, 2016.
Cannabis Study: Full-Spectrum Cannabis Extracts More Medically Effective than CBD Alone | Caregivers For Life Medical & Recreational Marijuana Center. Caregivers For Life. Published September 9, 2015. Accessed November 5, 2016. [Source]
Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol . Published February 2015. Accessed November 5, 2016. [Source]