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Terpene Compounds in Cannabis

The Inconsistency Problem with Terpene Content in Cannabis Strains

Although I have been a cannabis consumer for over 45 years, I will be the first one to admit that I knew little about the science of the cannabis plant beyond its THC and CBD content. My introduction to terpenes and to the Entourage Effect was a revelation in understanding just how complex the cannabis plant is. More and more patients are realizing the importance of the terpenes in their cannabis strains and are choosing strains based not only on the cannabinoids ratios but also on specific terpene content. This article provides information not only on which terpenes are most abundant but also discusses the fact that the terpene content in any particular strain is very difficult to control. I offer suggestions on how you can boost your terpene intake using other food sources in addition to cannabis.

I have written several articles not only defining terpenes but also showcasing some of the more popular compounds. However, my previous articles did not go into much depth in explaining their chemical compounds which I will tackle in this article.

Terpenes and Terpenoids

Terpenes are a type of organic compound made up of only hydrogen and carbon molecules. Terpenoids are very similar to terpenes in that they contain hydrogen and carbon molecules but differ by the presence of an additional molecule such as oxygen. For our purposes, the term terpenes will be used when referring to both compounds in order to keep it simple.

As terpenes are formed from a 5 carbon building block, we have the following:

  • Monoterpenes with 2 blocks = 10 carbons
  • Sesquiterpenes with 3 blocks = 15 carbons

A study at the Institute of Biology at Leiden University in Leiden, The Netherlands, researchers were able to detect 27 different terpenes; 13 monoterpenoids and 14 sesquiterpenoids.

Here is the list:

  • α-Pinene
  • β-Pinene
  • Myrcene
  • α-Phellandrene
  • Δ3-Carene
  • α-Terpinene
  • β-Phellandrene
  • Limonene
  • cis-Ocimene
  • Myrcene
  • Terpinolene
  • β-Caryophyllene
  • α-Guaiene
  • Humulene
  • δ-Guaiene
  • Elemene
  • Guaiol
  • γ-Eudesmol
  • β-Eudesmol
  • Agarospirol
  • Bulnesol
  • α-Bisabolol
  • An additional 4 terpenes with an unidentified structure

More than likely, other cannabis testing companies have discovered additional terpenes, but that information has not been made public.

Which Terpenes Are the Most Abundant?

It turns out that there is a huge difference between the quantity of the most abundant terpenes vs the least abundant ones in cannabis strains. The 5 most abundant terpenes that we currently know about are as follows:

  • Myrcene               8mg/gram of cannabis
  • Terpinolene          2mg/gram
  • α-Pinene              1.75mg/gram
  • β-Caryophyllene  1.60mg/gram
  • Limonene             1.50mg/gram

The least abundant terpenes were detected as containing only 1% of the amount contained by the top 5. Also notable is that the strains with the highest content of the top 5 terpenes were heavily on the indica side or hybrids. Please note that these numbers are a typical terpene content across all strains, based on an average of all strains that were tested.

Terpene content varies from one strain to another. Here are some examples:

  • Myrcene, the variation was almost 20mg/gram on the high side to less than 1mg/gram on the low side.
  • Terpinolene, the variation was 12 mg/gram to 2 mg/gram
  • Pinene, the variation was 7mg/gram to about .5 mg/gram
  • Carophyllene, the variation was 3 mg/gram to about .5 mg/gram
  • Limonene, the variation was 5mg/gram to 1mg/gram

Terpene content varies within the same strain. This is due to differences in the growing conditions, the harvesting process, the drying process and storage conditions. In fact, there is so much variation that patients should be aware that they should never expect to see the exact terpene content duplicated in any strain or product they purchase.

There are also differences in the way each cannabis lab reports the terpene content in a strain. Some labs list a single value while others list a range of values. In order to adequately convey the variability of the terpene content in any strain, giving patients a range seems to be a more accurate assessment of the terpene content contained in the products they are purchasing.

The delivery method also affects the terpene content; vaping vs edibles vs tinctures. We will leave that discussion for another article.

Suggestions for Increasing Your Terpene Content

  • Choose strains with higher levels of your preferred terpenes. For some growers, breeding plants that produce higher levels of certain terpenes has become their priority.
  • Use products that list the terpene ratio, if possible
  • Supplement your terpene intake by using other sources that containe terpenes; fruits and vegetables, herbs and essential oils
  • Mango, citrus fruits, spearmint and peppermint, pumpkin, papaya, grapes, figs, broccoli and sweet potato are some examples of sources with significant amounts of terpenes

Source:, Terpene Content in Cannabis – The Variability Problem, July 3, 2017

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