The Difference between Cannabinoids and Terpenes (and why it’s important to know)

cannabinoids and terpenes

Each industry is accompanied by a unique set of terminology. Often cited in cannabis news, discussion, cultivation, and retail are terpenes and cannabinoids. The definition of these terms is highlighted here, as well as their importance to marijuana and connection to each other.

Interest in these compounds grows daily: in early 2019, the federal government announced plans to award $1.5 million in grants during the fiscal year to researchers who study how marijuana components, other than THC, affect pain. Specifically, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) said it was seeking applications from researchers to conduct studies on “minor cannabinoids and terpenes”, aiming to learn how these components work—separately and when combined—as potential pain-relieving agents.

Cannabis Terpenes

Terpenes, or terpenoids, are aroma compounds produced in the flower and leaves of the cannabis plant. These compounds define the flavor and fragrance of the plant and can alter the high from cannabis. Various researchers have emphasized the pharmacological importance of terpenes, which form the basis of aromatherapy. Around 200 cannabis terpenes are known, but only a few appear in amounts substantial enough to be detected by smell. The terpenes in marijuana have given the plant an enduring, evolutionary advantage. Pungent terpene oils repel insects and animal grazers, while other types prevent fungus.

Marijuana’s scent and particular psychoactive flavor are determined by the predominate terpenes in a strain. The terpene profile can vary; abandoning a suitable strain for one with higher THC and/or CBD content may not provide more relief if the terpene profile is significantly different. On the retail side, a growing number of cannabis consumers are specifically inquiring about terpenes in products. Concentrate manufacturers have responded by offering products which include a full range of terpenes similar to those from the flowers or raw plant material.


Cannabinoids are a class of components derived from hemp and cannabis which directly interact with the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex cell-signaling system identified in the early 1990s; experts are still trying to fully understand this human element. Currently, the ECS is known to be part of the body’s regulation of a range of functions and processes including sleep, mood, appetite, and memory, as well as reproduction and fertility. The ECS is active in your body whether or not cannabis is in use. Cannabinoids regulate how cells communicate, a.k.a. how messages are sent, received, or processed.

Research has found the cannabis plant produces between 80 and 100 cannabinoids. Different types of cannabinoids are present in different cannabis strains and produce varying benefits per cannabinoids which are present. The future of cannabinoids looks towards scientifically personalized formulations created for consumers’ unique needs.

Cannabinoids and Terpenes: Better Together

Cannabinoids and terpenes both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, and kill respiratory pathogens. When combined together, terpenes and cannabinoids create something called the ‘entourage effect’. This effect describes how different cannabinoids and terpenes combine and lock onto different receptors in our brains to produce a unique high. A September 2011 report by Dr. Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology reports cannabinoid-terpene interactions “could produce synergy with respect to the treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.” Another discovered benefit of cannabinoid-terpene interactions is the amplification of beneficial cannabis effects while minimizing THC-induced anxiety.

Understanding of terpenes and cannabinoids is ever-evolving. For example, Beta-caryophyllene is found in the essential oils of black pepper, hops, oregano, cannabis, and in many green, leafy vegetables. It is gastro-protective, good for treating certain ulcers and offers great promise as a therapeutic compound for inflammatory conditions and auto-immune disorders. It is classified as a terpene… and a cannabinoid as well due to its interaction with receptors. New discoveries are made constantly in this field of research. Ensure regularly that all resources are utilized to stay informed.

Learn more at THE Cannabis Expo

Want to learn more about cannabinoids and terpenes? Trying to grow your cannabis business? Whatever the reason, don’t miss the CannaCon expo near you. Talk to industry experts, try out new products, and network with other cannabis business owners. Register today for CannaCon South.

1 Comment

  1. […] is extracted from the plant and pretty much left intact. All of the compounds found in cannabis (plant-based compounds called terpenes and cannabis-specific compounds called cannabinoids) will be present, including […]

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