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

cannabinoids and terpenes

In every industry, a unique discourse emerges to discuss its intricacies. When it comes to the world of cannabis, terms like terpenes and cannabinoids are frequently used to describe relevant news and discussions. To a novice, these terms may not mean much, but for an expert, terpenes and cannabinoids completely are key to understanding cannabis.

Why Understanding Cannabis Terpenes and Cannabinoids is Important

With dozens of states legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana use over the last decade, the cannabis industry is booming. With increasing popularity comes the demand for information and updated research. In early 2019, the federal government announced plans to award $1.5 million in grants during the fiscal year to researchers studying 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.

More recently, Congress introduced the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (H.R.8454), which would help scientists access funding for cannabis-related research. This process has been difficult due to the compounds’ Schedule 1 classification. While there has been over one billion dollars of federal funding dedicated to cannabis research, the majority of it has been politicized to highlight negative effects.

Understanding the medical potential of cannabinoids and pure cannabis terpenes is more important now than ever. As marijuana becomes increasingly accessible to the general public, access to valid information and research is crucial in moving toward federal deregulation and providing medical care to needy patients.

What are Cannabis Terpenes?

Terpenes, or terpenoids, are aroma compounds produced in the flower and leaves of the cannabis plant. These remarkable compounds are responsible for defining the distinct flavor and fragrance of each cannabis strain and play a pivotal role in modulating the plant’s psychoactive effects. Recent research has also highlighted the pharmacological importance of terpenes, reinforcing their prominence in the world of cannabis.

While more than 200 unique terpenes have been identified in cannabis, only a select few are found in amounts substantial enough to impact the aroma of cannabis strains. These terpenes have evolved to serve the cannabis plant in various ways. Some pungent terpene oils are known to repel insects and animal grazers, while others protect against fungal threats and infestations. What’s truly fascinating is that the predominant terpenes in a strain not only determine its aroma but also influence the psychoactive experience it delivers.

On the retail side, consumer interest in terpenes has skyrocketed. Today, many cannabis consumers specifically inquire about terpene profiles when shopping for products. In response to this demand, concentrate manufacturers have introduced products that include a full range of terpenes, providing consumers with a more holistic experience.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a class of components derived from hemp and cannabis that directly interact with the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). Whether you’re a cannabis user or not, the ECS is a complex cell-signaling system that works tirelessly to maintain homeostasis throughout the body. This intricate system is pivotal in regulating bodily functions and processes including sleep, temperature control, mood, appetite, memory, immune responses and more.

While CBD and THC often take the spotlight in discussions of cannabinoids, research has found more than 100 cannabinoids in cannabis plants. These cannabinoids play a key role in how our cells communicate, essentially governing how messages are sent, received and processed within our bodies.

Each cannabis strain contains different types and levels of cannabinoids. This diversity yields a fascinating array of benefits with varying effects and therapeutic potentials, depending on which cannabinoids are present.

Looking ahead, the future of cannabinoids is poised for innovation, with a strong focus on developing scientifically tailored formulations. These formulations promise to meet individual consumers’ unique needs, offering a personalized approach to harnessing the full spectrum of cannabinoid benefits.

How do Cannabinoids and Terpenes Work Together?

Cannabinoids and terpenes work in tandem to enhance the physiological effects of cannabis. Cannabinoids and terpenes increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity and kill respiratory pathogens. When combined, terpenes and cannabinoids create something called the “entourage effect.” This effect describes how different cannabinoids and terpenes combine and lock onto different brain receptors to produce a unique high.

More importantly, ever-evolving research demonstrates the medicinal effects of cannabinoid-terpene interactions. A September 2011 report by Dr. Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology reports that cannabinoid-terpene interactions “could produce synergy with respect to the treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”

For example, Beta-caryophyllene is classified as both a terpene and cannabinoid due to its interaction with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. It is found in the essential oils of black pepper, hops, oregano and cannabis. It is gastro-protective, good for treating certain ulcers and offers great promise as a therapeutic compound for inflammatory conditions and auto-immune disorders.

Learn more at THE Cannabis Expo: CannaCon!

The field of pure cannabis terpenes and cannabinoids is a dynamic landscape, with ongoing discoveries constantly shaping our understanding of cannabis. Keeping Informed on these breakthrough studies is crucial for the progress of medicinal cannabis treatment and the industry’s growth as a whole.  If you’re eager to dive into the world of cannabinoids and terpenes or looking to build your cannabis business, don’t miss the upcoming CannaCon expo near you. Engage with industry experts, explore new products and network with other cannabis business owners at CannaCon. Register today for an upcoming CannaCon conference to stay at the forefront of this evolving industry.

CannaCon originally published this article Sept. 20, 2019. It was updated Sept. 19, 2023.

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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