Terpenes: Unraveling The Aromatic Wonders Of Nature

Have you ever been curious as to the reason why certain plants and herbs smell a certain way, and what this function serves? If so, you’re likely going to be intrigued by terpenes. In this guide, we'll take a closer look at terpenes, exploring what they are, why they are important, how they work, their benefits and potential downsides, and alternatives that you might wish to explore.

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The Definition: Terpenes are aromatic compounds found within herbs, plants, and even some animals. Their purpose is to protect plants from predators and germs while also helping them heal and promoting pollination. Humans can leverage the wide range of benefits that terpenes have to offer for themselves as well. 

The Process: Terpenes are extracted by breaking down plant matter, applying a solvent to extract the compounds within the plant, and separating the specific terpenes from other compounds to produce the final product.

How To Take: There’s no guidance when it comes to taking terpenes as they’re different from supplements and other compounds you might encounter. Rather, pay attention to the directions on product packaging if you buy something that only contains terpenes. 

History: Terpenes have been used for thousands of years for aromatic purposes as well as healing ones. They can be found in Ancient Greek culture as well as utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The Breakdown: What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are organic compounds found in a wide range of plants, herbs, and even some animals, including cannabis, conifers, and many fruits and vegetables.1 They are responsible for the scents that you encounter. In simpler terms, terpenes are the aromatic building blocks of nature, contributing not only to the fragrance but also to the potential health benefits associated with certain plants.


Why Are Terpenes Important?

Speaking to the role of terpenes in nature, terpenes are essential to the functioning of many plants. In some cases, terpenes serve to attract pollinators, while other terpenes are designed to drive away predators. Many terpenes are also beneficial for plants, defending them against germs and helping them recover from minor damage. 

In regards to humans, many terpenes are bioactive and believed to offer potential therapeutic properties. This is enhanced when the entourage effect occurs and terpenes mix with other compounds like cannabinoids. The entourage effect refers to the synergistic interaction between different compounds in the plant, enhancing their overall effectiveness. Terpenes are believed to play a crucial role in modulating the effects of cannabinoids like CBD and THC, offering users more benefits than if the terpenes were eliminated from the equation.


What Are Terpenes?


How Do Terpenes Work?

Terpenes are absorbed into the bloodstream (although believed to interact with the endocannabinoid system as well, in the case of terpenes in cannabis) and interact with connective tissues, organs, immune cells, and beyond. Terpenes are believed to exert most of their influence in the brain, where they interact with serotonin and dopamine systems to influence mood. 

Being aromatic in nature, terpenes are also leveraged in aromatherapy, where some are known to produce specific effects like relaxation. 

What Are The Benefits Of Terpenes?

While terpenes might seem like they only play a minor role in plant life upfront, they do offer a host of benefits for those who use them. Some of these benefits include: 


Terpenes are widely used in aromatherapy for their calming, uplifting, and soothing effects. For example, when terpenes are absorbed via the olfactory system, it’s believed that they can impact GABA receptors and TRP channels.1

Pain Relief

Certain terpenes, such as beta-caryophyllene and myrcene, may have analgesic properties, potentially aiding in pain management. This is important because, when combined with other compounds like cannabinoids (THC or CBD), terpenes might offer an effective alternative to traditional pain relief solutions that produce unwanted side effects.2

Stress Reduction

Some terpenes, like linalool and limonene, are believed to promote relaxation and reduce stress. This can be especially helpful for those who are looking for a product they can use throughout the day, regardless of the form the aromatherapy product comes in.3

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Terpenes such as alpha-pinene and beta-caryophyllene have shown anti-inflammatory potential. Various forms of administration have been studied (such as gel models to target skin-based inflammation) as well as systemic applications (studying terpenes and their effects on arthritis or their anti-inflammatory and potentially neuroprotective properties).4

Improved Sleep

Certain terpenes, like myrcene and terpinolene, may assist in improving sleep quality. In addition to relaxing and stress reduction benefits, this may make it easier for some users of products containing terpenes to fall asleep easier and stay asleep.5

Antioxidant Effects

Terpenes like d-limonene and beta-caryophyllene exhibit antioxidant properties, which can be beneficial for overall health, protecting the body against free radicals and preventing (or reducing) further damage that could lead to greater issues down the road.6 7

Are There Any Downsides To Terpenes?

While terpenes are generally considered safe, some individuals may experience allergic reactions or sensitivity to certain terpenes. Additionally, when using terpenes in concentrated forms, such as essential oils, it is essential to follow proper dilution guidelines to avoid skin irritation. 

What Are The Different Types Of Terpenes?

There are over 20,000 known terpenes, each with their unique scents and potential benefits. While it is beyond the scope of this guide to cover all of them, we will explore some of the most common types of terpenes found in nature. Here are some of the main terpenes to know.


Found in citrus fruits, limonene offers a fresh, citrusy aroma and is believed to have uplifting and stress-reducing properties. It is commonly used in aromatherapy to promote a positive mood and increased energy.


Abundant in hops, mangoes, and lemongrass, myrcene is associated with a herbal and slightly spicy scent. It may promote relaxation and act as a sedative, making it a popular choice for those seeking calming effects.


As the name suggests, pinene is present in pine trees and has a distinctive piney scent. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and may also aid in respiratory health.


Commonly found in lavender and other floral plants, linalool has a delicate, floral aroma and is associated with calming effects. It is often used in aromatherapy to reduce stress and promote relaxation.


Present in black pepper, cloves, and cannabis, beta-caryophyllene offers a spicy and peppery scent. It is unique among terpenes as it can interact with the body's endocannabinoid system and has potential anti-inflammatory effects.


Found in hops, coriander, and sage, humulene emits an earthy and woody scent. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is also being studied for its potential appetite-suppressing effects.


Terpinolene is commonly found in nutmeg, lilacs, and cumin, and it has a fresh and herbal scent. It may have a sedative effect and is often used for relaxation.


Present in camphor trees, fir needles, and cypress, camphene has a herbal and slightly pungent aroma. It is used in some traditional medicine practices for its potential antioxidant properties.

How Can You Take Terpenes?

Terpenes can be enjoyed in various ways, depending on the desired effect and the source of the terpenes. Some of the ways you can incorporate more terpenes into your day include:


Inhaling the aroma of terpenes through essential oils or diffusers is a popular way to experience their potential benefits. Aromatherapy can be a relaxing and therapeutic practice that helps create a pleasant environment that can be uplifting, relaxing, or simply enjoyable.

Topical Application

Some terpenes, when diluted properly, can be applied to the skin in the form of lotions or balms for targeted effects. Topical application allows for localized benefits, such as soothing sore muscles or promoting skin health.

Edibles And Beverages

Certain terpenes are used in cooking and added to foods and beverages to enhance flavors and aromas (generally in the form of the herbs or plants they’re found in). Enjoying terpenes through edible products or recipes and potentially beverages can be a flavorful and enjoyable way to experience their effects.

Supplements And Tinctures

Terpenes can also be found in supplement form or as tinctures, making it convenient for individuals to incorporate them into their wellness routine. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions closely so as to not take too much or take it in the wrong way.

How Long Do Terpenes Last?

The duration of terpene effects can vary based on factors such as the method of consumption and individual metabolism. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Inhalation: Inhaling terpenes through aromatherapy may provide relatively quick effects that could last for an hour or two. The rapid onset of inhalation allows for immediate absorption of terpenes through the olfactory system.
  • Topical Application: When applied topically, the effects of terpenes may be localized and could last for a few hours. The duration may depend on factors such as the concentration of terpenes and the application area.
  • Ingestion: If ingested through edibles or beverages, terpenes may take longer to take effect but could last for several hours. The digestive process can slow down the absorption of terpenes, leading to a more prolonged experience.
  • Terpene Stability: The stability of terpenes can vary, and they may degrade over time or when exposed to heat and light. Storing products properly can help preserve their terpene content and ensure their potency over time.

What Do Terpenes Smell Like?

Terpenes have an incredibly diverse range of scents. While it's impossible to describe all the scents of the 20,000 terpenes out there, here are some common terpene scents and their sources:

  • Citrusy: Citrus terpenes, like limonene and citral, emit vibrant and tangy aromas reminiscent of oranges, lemons, and grapefruits. These uplifting scents are often associated with feelings of energy and positivity.
  • Earthy: Terpenes such as humulene and myrcene exude earthy and woody scents, reminiscent of the forest floor after a rain. These grounding aromas can evoke a sense of calm and connection to nature.
  • Floral: Floral terpenes like linalool, geraniol, and nerolidol give off sweet and delicate scents akin to lavender, roses, or chamomile. These floral aromas are commonly used in aromatherapy for their calming and soothing properties.
  • Spicy: Some terpenes, like caryophyllene and pinene, have peppery and spicy scents, similar to black pepper, cloves, and pine trees. These invigorating scents can add a bit of zest to a room or environment.
  • Herbal: Terpenes found in herbs like basil, thyme, and sage offer fresh and herbal scents that evoke a sense of nature and the outdoors. These herbal aromas are often used in culinary practices and herbal remedies.
  • Minty: Terpenes like menthol, found in peppermint and spearmint, emit a refreshing and cooling sensation. These minty aromas can provide a sense of revitalization and clarity.

What Is The History Of Terpenes?

Terpenes have a rich history dating back thousands of years, where they have been utilized for various purposes by ancient civilizations and traditional healing practices. Some times throughout history where terpenes were utilized include:

  • Ancient Aromatherapy: Ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, used aromatic plants and their essential oils for therapeutic and spiritual purposes. These civilizations recognized the powerful effects of terpenes in promoting relaxation, improving mood, and supporting overall well-being.
  • Traditional Medicine: Traditional healing systems, like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, integrated the use of aromatic plants and their extracts to treat various ailments. Terpenes were valued for their medicinal properties and were believed to balance the body's energies and restore health.
  • Perfumery And Cosmetics: Throughout history, terpenes have been essential in creating perfumes, cosmetics, and beauty products. Their pleasant scents and potential skin benefits made them valuable ingredients in these formulations.
  • Cultural And Ritual Significance: Terpenes played a role in religious ceremonies, rituals, and cultural practices, symbolizing purity, protection, and spirituality. They were often used in incense and oils for sacred purposes.

What Is The Current Environment Of Terpenes?

In recent times, terpenes have experienced a resurgence in popularity due to the growing interest in natural and holistic approaches to wellness. Several factors contribute to the current environment of terpenes:

  • Rise Of Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy has gained mainstream acceptance as a complementary therapy for stress relief, relaxation, and emotional well-being. Terpene-rich essential oils are now widely available and used in diffusers, massage oils, and bath products.
  • Cannabis Legalization: The increasing legalization of cannabis in various regions has brought terpenes into the spotlight. Cannabis enthusiasts and medical users seek strains with specific terpene profiles to experience distinct effects and flavors.
  • Wellness Industry Integration: The wellness industry has embraced terpenes as valuable ingredients in various products, including skincare, hair care, and wellness supplements. Terpene-infused products cater to individuals seeking natural alternatives.
  • Research Advancements: The scientific community has shown a growing interest in terpenes, leading to more research on their potential health benefits and therapeutic applications. This research has further fueled the interest in terpenes among health-conscious individuals.
  • Sustainability And Natural Focus: As environmental awareness grows, consumers are seeking sustainable and natural alternatives to synthetic ingredients. Terpenes, being derived from plants, align well with these values.

What Is The Future Of Terpenes?

The future of terpenes looks promising, with exciting possibilities and potential developments on the horizon:

  • Innovative Product Formulations: As research on terpenes progresses, we can expect to see more innovative product formulations that harness the potential of terpenes in novel ways. 
  • Integration Into Mainstream Healthcare: With growing scientific interest, terpenes may find their way into mainstream healthcare as complementary or alternative therapies. They could become key components in personalized wellness plans, catering to individual needs and preferences.
  • Enhancing Functional Foods: Terpenes may play a more significant role in the development of functional foods and beverages, offering not just flavor but also potential health-enhancing properties. These products could revolutionize the way we approach daily nutrition and wellness.
  • Terpenes And Mental Health: Research on the impact of terpenes on mental health may lead to new therapeutic approaches for managing anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders. Terpenes may become part of mental wellness strategies alongside other interventions.
  • Environmental Impact: The importance of terpenes in plant ecology and their role in protecting plants from environmental stressors may drive research on sustainability and conservation efforts. Understanding terpene dynamics could have implications for environmental preservation.

At FOCL, we provide a comprehensive selection of high-quality hemp products made to improve your general wellness and assist you in addressing particular aspects of your health, such as stress, focus, and sleep. 

You may read also our other related blogs:

FOCL FAQs: Terpenes

Do terpenes only occur in cannabis?

No, terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis. They are present in a wide range of plants, including fruits, vegetables, and other herbs.

Are terpenes psychoactive?

Generally, terpenes are not psychoactive. However, they may influence the effects of other compounds like cannabinoids.

Can terpenes be used in cooking?

Yes, many terpenes are safe for culinary use and are commonly found in herbs and spices used for cooking.

Are terpenes legal?

Terpenes derived from legal sources are themselves legal to use. However, legality may vary based on the country or region and the source of the terpenes (for example, cannabis).

Can terpenes be used for skincare?

Some terpenes, like linalool and limonene, are used in skincare products for their potential beneficial effects.

Can terpenes be harmful when inhaled?

When used appropriately, terpenes are generally safe to inhale. However, it's essential to avoid excessive exposure to concentrated forms.

Do terpenes have medical applications?

While more research is needed, some terpenes show promise in certain medical applications, particularly in combination with other compounds.

Are terpenes sustainable?

Terpenes are natural compounds derived from plants, making them a renewable and sustainable resource.

Can terpenes be used in pet products?

Yes, terpenes can be found in some pet products, such as calming treats or aromatherapy sprays designed to soothe and relax pets. However, it's essential to use pet-safe products and consult with a veterinarian before using any new supplements or treatments for your furry friends.

Are terpenes diluted in products, or are they used in pure form?

Terpenes are often used in diluted forms in products like essential oils, aromatherapy blends, and wellness products. This dilution ensures safe usage and reduces the risk of skin irritation or sensitivities. It's crucial to follow product instructions and use them as directed.


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