Top Terpenes in Cannabis

Terpenes are the compounds responsible for the way most plants smell, including cannabis. In some legal markets, like Canada, terpene percentages are even noted on the packaging, with some even listing the batch’s dominant terpenes.

by Dessy Pavlova · March 23, 2023

Top Terpenes in Cannabis

It’s not all about potency–these terpenes add depth to the cannabis experience

Terpenes are the compounds responsible for the way most plants smell, including cannabis. In some legal markets, terpene percentages are noted on the packaging, with some even listing the batch’s dominant terpenes.

Different blends of terpenes in varied percentages will create new, interesting flavor profiles. For example, some sweet, limonene-dominant strains crossed with spicier, caryophyllene-rich cultivars will generate new cuts with entirely unique terpene characteristics. Here are a few of the top terpenes that you might be familiar with in some of your favorite strains – if not by smell, by suspected effect.


Myrcene is the most abundant terpene in cannabis, and different concentrations in a given strain or batch can produce different effects. A small amount can be rejuvenating but look for more than 0.5% for sedative effects. Myrcene is responsible for the earthy musky aroma of mango-the fruit as well as mango-flavored cannabis strains like Mango OG and Mango Haze–and the spicy pungency of herbs like bay laurel and thyme.


Known for its lemon or citrus aroma, limonene has purported uplifting effects and a characteristic zestiness that’s easy to distinguish. It’s often used in household items as a flavoring, and to give cleaning products a fresh scent. It’s arguably the easiest aroma to detect in cannabis, clear and pronounced in strains like Lemon Skunk and Frozen Lemons. It exists naturally in many plants and products — bet you can name a few!


If you like the smell of pine and mint, this terpene is for you, and you should be able to sniff it out when produced in abundance. Known for its distinguishable sharp, fresh smell, it’s one of the most widespread and naturally occurring terpenes, found in coniferous trees and plants like rosemary and sage. Romulan is a good example of a strain where pine and conifer notes are at the forefront, and along with caryophyllene and limonene, pinene likely contributes to the intoxicating, fuel-like aromas of OG Kush varieties.


Best known for its floral, lavender-like aroma, it’s no surprise this terpene is used in many perfumes and shampoos. It’s often used in industrial production to develop other terpene aromas and is a key compound for pollination in many other plants. Whether it plays this same role in cannabis pollination, however, is unclear. Linalool will give cannabis floral perfumed notes, noticeable in strains like Lilac Diesel and the most appropriately-named Lavender.


Giving some strains their characteristic spicy, peppery aromas, Beta-Caryophyllene can also be found in plants such as cloves, rosemary, and hops. There is some research that it can bind cannabinoid 2 receptors, which may have medical and therapeutic applications.


Known for its ‘fresh’, herbal scent, one would think terpinolene would be energetic and uplifting, but it seems to produce more sedative effects. Found in many plants from rosemary and nutmeg to apple and tea trees, its fragrance has notes of floral and citrus and is less identifiable on its own, as it’s often accompanied by greater amounts of other terpenes.


This terpene has a characteristic sweet woody scent, and may contribute to the fruity, warm, aromas reminiscent of apples, cherries, or baked goods in some strains of cannabis. Farnesene is thought to have calming, soothing properties.


This terpene can be described as herbaceous, woody, or floral, ocimene can have uplifting effects often associated with sativa strains. While more research is needed, ocimene seems to have therapeutic effects, showing itself to have potential anti-microbial properties.

Once you know about these terpenes you might start seeing them, or smelling them, in cannabis or other plant life you encounter. Keep your nose up and see if you can smell a bit of what gets us high.