Woman standing in a lavender field smelling a bouquet of lavender

What are terpenes? All about their effects & connection with CBD

Published: 18.04.2023 (Updated: 18.07.2023)
Reading time: Min.
Dr. Harald Stephan
Dr. rer. medic. Harald Stephan
Health expert

Terpenes - The most important at a glance!

  1. Terpenes are secondary plant substances and important chemical compounds.
  2. Many volatile essential oils serve to communicate with the environment.
  3. The messenger substances contribute to the typical pleasant smell of forests, hay and herbs.
  4. In hemp, limonene, pinene, linalool and other terpenes are important for the medicinal effect and the entourage effect.
  5. The natural terpene mixture supports the relaxing and calming effect of CBD.
  6. CBD flowers and CBD oils from Lucky Hemp place special emphasis on preserving all naturally present terpenes.

The scent of hemp is unmistakable. With Lucky Hemp, not only the CBD flowers show their full aroma, but also in the full-spectrum CBD oil all important ingredients are preserved. This is ensured by the patented extraction process. This applies not only to cannabinoids like CBD, but also to the biologically active terpenes and terpenoids. The secondary plant substances optimise the medicinal effect and make the entourage effect possible in the first place.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are secondary plant substances. Secondary because, unlike carbohydrates, amino acids or DNA, they are not existentially important for growth, development and reproduction. The secondary metabolites take their name from the aromatic turpentine of conifers. As essential oils, terpenes provide the relaxing pleasant smell in forests and freshly mown hay.

As volatile chemical compounds, these aromas communicate with their environment: the multiply modified unsaturated hydrocarbons serve as messengers.

As secondary plant substances, terpenes are not directly vital, but they are essential for many metabolic processes. Many act as messenger substances that plants use to communicate with their environment.

Chemical compounds from nature's construction kit

About 60 percent of all secondary plant compounds are terpenes. They can be traced back to isoprene, a simple carbon skeleton with five atoms: four C atoms in a row, a fifth dances out of line and forms a branch.

Like a building block, isoprene can be combined with itself and other chemical compounds. Thanks to the branching, not only chains but highly complex structures are possible.

Terpenes that have been converted during biosynthesis are called terpenoids. Some form ring structures, lose C atoms and become alcohols, aldehydes or carboxylic acids through functional groups. In the meantime, more than 30,000 of these have been described; they also include the more than 100 phytocannabiniodes from the hemp plant that have been described so far. Cannabidiol (CBD) and some others have a ring of phenol and are therefore called phenol terpenoids.1

From a simple five-carbon atom construction kit, countless chemical compounds can be tinkered with. Functional groups make the diversity of carbon skeletons even greater: the known 8,000 terpenes and 30,000 terpenoids make up about 60 percent of all secondary plant compounds.

Lila Blumen im Wald; die Sonne scheint durch die Bäume durch

Aromatic active substances

Early humans certainly noticed the secondary plant compounds because of their distinctive aroma. The terpenes that you smell in the forest or after a downpour have such a relaxing effect that "forest bathing" is recommended against stress. Many herbs and spices are also aromatic, such as thyme, lavender, black pepper and cloves.

Hemp contains many aromatic substances. Humans recognised early on that essential oils have a beneficial effect. The terpene mixture is responsible for the aromas. Cannabinoids and terpenes are mainly concentrated in the star hairs (trichomes) of the female flowers.

Effect on the human body: Directly into the brain

Aromatic substances often have an effect through their smell alone. Aromatherapy or a calming walk in the woods work so well mainly because the information reaches the brain directly. The olfactory brain is the oldest part of the organ, which was primarily responsible for orientation: where is there something nutritious, what could be a threat?

This part of the brain was so important that it developed into our cerebrum. With the two olfactory nerves, it maintains direct contact with the outside world. Therefore, smells influence our mind and our feelings very directly. Some aromas get there not only when we sniff them, but also when we eat them, because many of them even cross the blood-brain barrier.

Where else do terpenes occur and what are terpenes good for?

Terpenes and terpenoids interact with animate and inanimate nature in many ways:1

  • Protection against pathogens and pests. Tannins taste bitter, alkaloids and pyrethroids are poisonous, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) drives animals away from flowers. Plants warn each other when they are threatened by fungi or insects.
  • Attract pollinators and seed dispersers. Essential oils and aromas are mostly monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. They are responsible for the smell of flowers and fruits and serve as attractants.
  • Protection against UV radiation and free radicals. Colourants such as carotenoids, anthocyanins and flavonoids make flowers, leaves and fruits colourful and protect them from the sun. Their antioxidant properties are also important for human nutrition and our immune system.
  • Medicinal substances. Many terpenes are used medicinally, such as ginkgolides from ginkgo, curcumin from turmeric and cannabinoids from the hemp plant.
  • Building materials. Lignin makes wood and grass blades stable, and suberin in cork protects against evaporation.
  • Hormones. Sex hormones are also derived from terpenes, as are pheromones, which are scents that attract mates.

Thefunction of terpenes can also be seen in their distribution in a hemp plant: at the height of the flowers, limonene and pinene repel insect pests; at the bottom of the leaves, bitter sesquiterpenes repel grazing animals.

Classification of terpenes

Terpenes are lipids and thus only slightly soluble in water. The classification of terpenes is based on the number of C5 isoprene units they contain:

  • Monoterpenes (C10) consist of two,
  • sesquiterpenes (C15) consist of three,
  • diterpenes (C20) consist of four and
  • triterpenes (C30) consist of six isoprene units.

These four groups occur most frequently in the hemp plant and provide the characteristic scent as a mixture of terpenes. Depending on the strain, location, weather, season and many other factors, the profile of cannabinoids and terpenes changes.2

Molekularstruktur von Limonenen

Effect of terpenes on the human body

Among the more than 200 volatile substances of hemp flowers, 58 monoterpenes and 38 sesquiterpenes have been identified. The most important are:3

Terpene English name present in Effect Remarks
limonene limonene citrus, peppermint, spruce needles, coriander, caraway, basil, juniper, laurel Immune system stimulating, anxiety relieving, antidepressant, antibacterial, fungicide, analgesic, anti-inflammatory lavender-like odour, most common monoterpene
β-myrcene β-myrcene Hops, pine, ginger, star anise, fennel, sage, mint, caraway, wormwood, tarragon, mango, lemongrass Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, calming, relaxing Odorous substance often used in perfumes and medicines
α-Pinene α-Pinene Coniferous trees, myrtle, coriander, caraway, wormwood, fennel, rosemary Anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, memory enhancer, antibacterial Belongs to the pinene family
Linalool α-linalool lavender, black pepper, saffron, savory, oregano, thyme, marjoram, hops, nutmeg, cinnamon, laurel, peppermint Anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, calming, analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective Flowery-tart, precursor of vitamin E and important odourant in wine.
α-terpinolene α-terpinolene Parsley roots, parsnip, Scots pine, grapevine, juniper, sage, lilac, apples, tea tree oil soothing, fungicidal, antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, wound-healing Citrusy and flowery smelling hydrocarbon.
α-Caryophyllene (Humulene),

α-caryophyllene (humulene)

black pepper, hops, cloves, sage, ginger, lavender, star anise, rosemary, cinnamon, oregano, caraway, hops, basil, lemon balm Anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, analgesic, stomachic, wound-healing, neuroprotective Isomers; essential oils of many plants, most important aromas in hemp
Caryophyllene oxide caryophyllene oxide as before antibacterial, fungicidal, analgesic, repellent, anticoagulant Oxidation product of the caryophyllenes, repels malaria vectors.

Terpenes and terpenoids are responsible for the typical aroma of the hemp plant - not cannabinoids. In the trichomes of the female flowers, they account for up to 10% of the content. Phytocannabinoids are derived from diterpenes and make up a good quarter of the secondary plant compounds.

What is the entourage effect?

The sum of all secondary plant substances of the hemp plant works better than the isolated cannabinoids: There are many indications for this entourage effect, but it has not yet been scientifically proven. However, it is known that terpenes are biologically active. Many of them enhance the effect of cannabinoids like CBD and act synergistically in relaxation, against stress and to promote concentration.4

In the human endocannabinoid system, many terpenes bind to the same receptors as cannabinoids. Therefore, they can also modulate the effect of the phytocannabinoids. A good indication is a study according to which a cannabis extract is twice to four times as effective as THC alone.5

Because of the entourage effect, Lucky Hemp places special emphasis on preserving all naturally occurring terpenes. This applies not only to the natural CBD flowers, but also to the full-spectrum CBD oils. This is ensured by the unique patented extraction process, which treats the secondary plant substances particularly gently. Our high-quality products therefore do not need artificially added terpenes.

Terpenes and CBD: State of research in general

Research is increasingly interested in secondary plant compounds from hemp. This is not only true for the cellulose and hemicellulose of hemp fibres. The plant grows quickly and is considered to be particularly sustainable. The use of terpenes as biofuel is relatively new. In plant protection, one tries to use the chemical compounds specifically for what the plants actually produce them for: Phytoncides have an antibiotic effect and keep bacteria and fungi away.

Cannabinoids like CBD and THC influence the human metabolism. They imitate the body's own endocannabinoids, which regulate many processes as messenger substances. This makes them increasingly interesting for medical purposes, for example for pain, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.6

Terpenes and CBD: All the good stuff from the hemp plant

Every walk through a forest shows how the smell of terpenes can relax. In aromatherapy, essential oils such as lavender or peppermint are used. It is similar with the secondary plant substances in cannabis: humulene, myrcene, pinene & co. are also medicinally effective. They work together with the cannabinoids against stress and anxiety and make the entourage effect possible in the first place. The smell of CBD flowers is often enough for this.

The process used by Lucky Hemp to extract the terpenes and CBD is unique and patented. It preserves secondary plant compounds from hemp as well as possible. Our high quality full spectrum CBD oil does not contain any added terpenes or residues of petrol or alcohol that other companies use.

Sources, links and further reading

(1) Tetali, S. D. Terpenes and Isoprenoids: A Wealth of Compounds for Global Use. Planta 2019, 249 (1), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-018-3056-x.

(2) Sommano, S. R.; Chittasupho, C.; Ruksiriwanich, W.; Jantrawut, P. The Cannabis Terpenes .Molecules 2020, 25 (24), 5792. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25245792.

(3) Russo, E. B. Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects .Br J Pharmacol 2011, 163 (7), 1344-1364. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x.

(4) Grof, C. P. L. Cannabis, from Plant to Pill .Br J Clin Pharmacol 2018, 84 (11), 2463-2467. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcp.13618.

(5) Carlini, E. A.; Karniol, I. G.; Renault, P. F.; Schuster, C. R. Effects of marijuana in laboratory animals and in man. British Journal of Pharmacology 1974, 50 (2), 299-309. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.1974.tb08576.x.

(6) Baron, E. P. Medicinal Properties of Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids in Cannabis, and Benefits in Migraine, Headache, and Pain: An Update on Current Evidence and Cannabis Science. Headache 2018, 58 (7), 1139-1186. https://doi.org/10.1111/head.13345.

Dr. Harald Stephan
Dr. rer. medic. Harald Stephan
Graduate Biologist, Medical Information Processing Officer and Doctor of Health Sciences
About the author

After studying in Saarbrücken, Dr Harald Stephan worked in research and teaching at the Universities of Marburg and Bochum as well as at the University Hospital in Essen before becoming a self-employed publicist in 2016. He sees acquiring and passing on knowledge as his life's work.

In addition to his publications on cell biology and tumour research in renowned specialist journals, hundreds of his articles on health topics can be found on the internet. In them, he explains the causes of diseases, laboratory values, diagnoses as well as traditional and novel therapy options.