Terpenes explained: Frequently Asked Questions About Terpenes

PUBLISHED Apr 17, 2020

Thanks to the increasing attention on plant-based products and the growth of legal cannabis, terpenes are more popular than ever. But what do we actually know about these little molecules and how can they be utilized?

Have a question about terpenes? We’ve probably got the answer in this beginner’s guide. Here is a round-up of some of the most frequently asked questions about terpenes.

1. What are terpenes?

Terpenes are flavor and fragrance molecules found in all plants (and even some insects). Terpenes are the smell of the forest or your favorite local flower shop. Today, science has identified more than 20,000 unique terpenes in the world, but it is estimated we still have a long way to go before the full plethora of terpenes is really known.

Hemp and cannabis just so happen to have a robust amount of terpenes naturally, with each different cannabis and hemp cultivar containing a unique terpene profile. And as we’ll discuss later, terpenes are the modulators of the cannabis world. Different terpenes can enhance or provide distinct effects, fueling what is known as the “entourage effect.” The effects of terpenes can be therapeutic, like relaxation, or organoleptic, like flavor and fragrance.

2. Are terpenes legal?

This is a complex question given the fact that terpenes can be derived from any plant, including federally illegal ones like cannabis. In short, naturally-derived and hemp-derived terpenes are legal under current law. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, including hemp-derived CBD and terpenes. Cannabis-derived terpenes operate in a legal gray area. Some states have legalized cannabis and its terpenes, but the plant is still federally prohibited as of April 2020.

3. Do terpenes get you high?

Terpenes are small but mighty! They can carry bold flavors, pack pungent aromas and even offer therapeutic effects. While some terpenes may enhance the intoxicating or “high” feelings that cannabinoids like THC give off, terpenes themselves are non-intoxicating. Various terpenes can, however, promote feelings of relaxation, happiness and energy.

4. What do terpenes have to do with the entourage effect?

The entourage effect refers to the apparent synergistic connection between various terpenes and cannabinoids. It is thought that the effects a person feels when consuming something like cannabis or CBD, whether that’s intoxication or pain relief or relaxation, are the result of cannabinoids and terpenes working together. So when people say that THC makes you high, that is only partially true according to the entourage effect theory. What actually makes you feel “high” is a mix of the cannabinoid THC and the rest of that specific plant’s terpene profile.

5. How do you extract terpenes?

There are many ways to extract and isolate individual or strain-specific terpenes. Some terpene extractors opt for harsher methods, utilizing chemical solvents and extreme temperatures to break the plant down. While these methods may be cheaper for the extractor, they’re worse for the end buyer.

At Groff North America, we take a more sophisticated approach. We harness a proprietary “soft” isolation method for our terpenes that forgoes any solvents or harsh temperatures that will degrade the natural terpene profile or destroy the plant’s biomass to such a degree that it is unusable. This results in extracts that are 100% terpenes, free of any trace amounts of solvents or heavy metals. And it leaves the biomass in a usable form that can be returned to farmers and repurposed for the planet.

6. How can you use terpenes?

Terpenes and Food & Beverage
Terpenes can be used as a food-grade flavoring! You can see terpenes being used more and more in creative ways when it comes to food and beverage. Seasoned chefs, bartenders and craft brewers utilize terpenes to enhance the flavor, aroma and intended effects of their consumable creations.

Terpenes and Skincare
Terpenes are not only fantastic aromatic agents, but their natural properties can actually make skincare products more effective. Certain terpenes are known to boost absorption, promote hydration, alleviate inflammation, act as an antibacterial and more. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who suffers from extreme forms of psoriasis and found relief through terpenes, have really put this trend on the map.

Terpenes and Vaporizers
In 2019, the US saw a spike in vaporizer-related deaths. As a result, both the federal and state governments imposed a strict artificial flavor ban for vaporizers to try and curb the use of these products. Smart operators saw the potential in using terpenes, which can be used as food-grade flavorings, instead of artificial flavoring agents. In states like Washington, where the flavor ban was lifted after a few months, some operators made the switch to terpenes permanent.

Terpenes and Supplements
Similar to the way terpenes can enhance the effectiveness of skincare products, terpenes can boost the intended effects of health and wellness supplements.

Terpenes As a Cutting Agent
VapeGate, the colloquial internet name for the vape crisis of 2019, showed the world that non-legal vaporizer manufacturers can use harmful additives as cutting agents. Vitamin E oil, which is believed to be at the center of many of the vape-related deaths, is not safe for consumption or inhalation, yet black market vape makers were using it to dilute their products.

Terpenes are becoming more and more popular as a diluent to help enhance the viscosity of winterized products without affecting the smell, taste or effects of the product. In short, terpenes are being used as a safer alternative to other cutting agents.

7. Common Terpenes & Their Characteristics

As we mentioned, scientists have identified thousands of terpenes so far and still have a long way to go before we truly have all of them mapped. Listed below are a few of the most-discussed terpenes:

  • Myrcene
    Myrcene is a highly common terpene in cannabis, but it is also found in plants like thyme and lemongrass. It gives off a slightly sweet flavor and is thought to have therapeutic, calming effects.
  • Limonene
    Found in citrus fruits, peppermint, cloves, hemp and other plants, limonene is highly fragrant and flavorful. It is thought to provide therapeutic effects like stress relief. Some studies show that limonene can help boost immunity. Limonene is also used in a variety of products from perfumes to cleaning products.
  • Caryophyllene
    Caryophyllene is responsible for the spiciness in black pepper! But it is also a big component of cloves, hemp and hops. Unlike other terpenes, Caryophyllene can actually act like a cannabinoid by binding directly to endocannabinoid receptors. Initial studies show that Caryophyllene can be used, in conjunction with other terpenes and cannabinoids, to provide anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Terpinolene
    Terpinolene is a wonderfully complex and unique aromatic terpene that is found in many hemp cultivars in small doses. Small but mighty, terpinolene has a major effect on flavor and aroma, making it a popular addition in cleaning products and soaps.
  • Phellendrene
    Another flavorful and highly aromatic terpene, Phellendrene is often used as a food-grade flavoring for its spicy yet citrusy taste. The therapeutic effects of terpenes continue to be studied, but Phellendrene shows promise as an immune booster and anti-inflammatory.
  • Pinene
    As its name suggests, pinene is the powerhouse terpene behind the aroma of pine needles. It’s the most common terpene in nature, found in trees, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley and essentially any herb people commonly use in the kitchen. In conjunction with other terpenes and cannabinoids, Pinene is thought to play a role in the anti-inflammatory properties of hemp.
  • Humulene
    Of all the identified terpenes today, Humulene is perhaps one of the most researched from a therapeutic perspective. One study published in the journal of Cancer Medicine finds promise in Humulene’s analgesic and anticancer properties.
  • Linalool
    Used for centuries for its relaxing effects, Linalool is a major component of lavender, vitamin E and other spices. Studies have also shown Linalool to harness anti-inflammatory properties as well.

8. Where To Find Terpenes For Sale

Looking to buy terpenes? There are a lot of terpene wholesalers out there and not all of them are reputable, so be careful and do all of your research when choosing where to buy. If you’re a brand or manufacturer, mixing poor quality terpenes into your product puts your brand’s reputation at risk.


If you’re interested in hemp-derived terpenes and how they can be utilized in your product, download our FREE guide: How to Utilize Hemp-Derived Terpenes.