By Christina Miyabe Shields, PhD (Director of Education)

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Terpenes are chemicals that are naturally produced by many different plants, including Cannabis. Terpenes are what give the different strains of Cannabis flower its distinctive smells, tastes, and arguably can contribute to the overall effects. (1)

When Cannabis distillates are made of pure THC or CBD, the terpenes are left out of the party. There’s growing evidence that whole-plant extracts are more efficacious than the pure distillates, and one major player could be the terpenes! (2) In fact, a significant portion of cannabis smokers report feeling a slight psychoactive effect after smoking placebo marijuana that only contained terpenes (3). This indicates that a portion of the therapeutic effects of Cannabis could be coming from these aromatic compounds!

In the image above, the most common terpenes found in Cannabis are shown with the effect that their pure extract has. These terpenes are believed to be the mechanism of action of essential oils. In a recent study, lavender essential oil was shown to have a beneficial effect on anxiety disorders (4). Although these terpenes are not as well-characterized in most Cannabis, they are present in every strain.

It is quite likely that one of the contributing factors to the Entourage Effect is the terpene profile of that specific Cannabis strain.


(1) Aizpurua-Olaizola, O., et al (2016) Evolution of the Cannabinoid and Terpene Content during the Growth of Cannabis sativa Plants from Different Chemotypes, J Nat Prod 79(2), 324-331.

(2) Blasco-Benito, S., et al. (2018) Appraising the “entourage effect”: Antitumor action of a pure cannabinoid versus a botanical drug preparation in preclinical models of breast cancer, Biochem Pharmacol, ePub.

(3) Kowal, M. A., and Hazekamp, A. (2016) The Development of a Cannabis Placebo, Oral Presentation at the International Cannabinoid Research Symposium. 27 June 2016.

(4) Malcolm, B. J., & Tallian, K. (2017). Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders: Ready for prime time? The Mental Health Clinician7(4), 147–155.