WTF is a Terp?

Wayne Green


Ever wonder what makes Cannabis strains so different they can smell like a skunk, a pineapple, rat piss or a blueberry?  Or why Blue Dream make me chill but causes my friend to get dizzy?  WTF is going on with this plant! There’s a lot more unknown about the chemical compounds found in Cannabis than known.  What was coined as the “Entourage Effect” to describe the synergy in the full spectrum of chemicals from Cannabis and their effects on the human body might as well have been called the “I Have No Clue Effect”.  Research is slowly teasing apart the mysterious evolutionary dance Cannabis and Humans have had but many more lifetimes of research are ahead of us.

The well known star of Cannabis most recently has been tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.  Recreational breeding during prohibition focused on THC almost exclusively as the main psychoactive compound driving your high.  Prohibition’s easing across the country has provided opportunity to explore and understand the diverse array of compounds found in Cannabis.  Cannabidiol or CBD has recently moved into the spotlight as another cannabinoid with medicinal benefits linked to helping with seizures, anxiety and inflammation to name a few.  THC and CBD are only two of over 100 known compounds in this one class of chemistry from Cannabis.  The full spectrum of cannabinoids together interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce some of the medicinal or recreational effects for which Cannabis has been utilized for.

Terpenes are another class of chemical compounds that are a large component of plant essential oils and are all derived from a similar structural formula called an isoprene unit.  Like a nerd with a box of legos, the molecular machinery inside of the Cannabis trichome can piece these isoprene units together to form a large variety of terpenes found in nature.  Cannabinoids alone are mainly tasteless and flavorless.  Terpenes, along with the diverse array of compounds in the essential oil extract of Cannabis, provide each strain with its aroma, flavor and many medicinal and recreational attributes.   

Over 30,000 terpenes have been discovered so far and by some accounts Cannabis can make over 90% of terpenes on Earth...hence why one strain can smell like diesel and another like strawberry.  Just understand that like an iceberg, much of what is there is unseen, or unknown, in Cannabis.


Flavor, aroma and effect are the three distinguishing characteristics of essential oils.  Limonene is a terpene found in high concentrations in citrus fruit giving them their distinctive fruit flavor and scent.  Lemon Haze and Jack the Ripper are some strains with high limonene concentrations, as well as our Tahoe OG.  Take a sniff of these buds or extracts and you’ll have a scent reminiscent of squeezing a lemon or lime.  Behind this citrusy smell you’ll also find nuances from the myriads of other compounds present giving each strain its uniqueness.

Citrus essential oils have been used in many cultures to provide medicinal benefits and high limonene concentrations in your strains or extracts can be similar.  The energizing effects associated with sativa strains allowing for daytime concentration are attributes of limonene in essential oils.  As well, many calming and stress relieving properties have been associated with citrus oils.  I’ve placed some of our Tahoe OG terps on my temples and have had a relaxed feeling come over me...but I may be biased!  We’ll get into the science behind limonene and stress in a bit, but first I’ll try and answer a question I get every day. 

Synergy Evolved


Why Are Cannabis Terpenes Different?  

Can’t I just take some myrcene, limonene and pinene bottles, mix them together and get the same result?  In our FAQ you will start to see answers to many of the questions my partners and I have fielded from customers all over the world this past year.  It’s still a work in progress and please ask us your questions as that’s the reason for the blog, to educate.  But let me take you through the answer to this difficult question with limonene.

The limonene molecule looks kind of like a stick figure missing its arms - but if you split it in half you can see that it’s just two isoprene molecules stitched together.  Think back to the nerd with the legos, each lego has the same shape but there are different colored legos or some may come with lightsabers.  So if you and a friend get a pile of legos to make the Death Star you can end up with similar shapes, but with different colors and maybe yours has Darth Vader on top...similarly, not all molecules are exactly the same.  The genes that encode “MAKE LIMONENE” in Lemon Haze and Jack the Ripper may have a similar story, but the words that make up that story differ slightly.  Like the game telephone, the book of life started the same but through whispers from animals to plants to bugs the wording changed. 

Our genomics effort has been looking at the genetic code of Cannabis strains in order to understand the biochemical pathways behind the generation of this Synergy Evolved.  By reading the genomic code responsible for creating the molecular machinery making all of these delightful compounds in the trichomes we have seen some exciting differences between even closely related strains.

Take a look at the genes that encode “MAKE LIMONENE”, called limonene synthase, from the strains Lemon Haze and Jack the Ripper.  Above  you can see the yellow letters representing the amino acids that make enzymes.  Enzymes are magic...these molecular machines take two compounds and stitch them together to make new compounds.  Back to the yellow letters, you can see most of the letters from the top row and bottom row align.  This represents a piece of the enzyme that is the same between the two strains.  Now look again and you can see some missing letters or a change in letters between the two codes.  This can make all the difference in the resulting enzyme that takes the two isoprene molecules and stitches them together.  One molecule could have the “legs” in President Skroob with his transporter accident in’s a big change!  The way the two limonene molecules are shaped and interact with its environment can be dramatic. 

Take the human environment and the interaction of two forms of limonene and the body’s response to stress.  d-Limonene, the naturally expressed form of this chemical found in citrus and many sativa strains may not be responsible for the stress relief it’s associated with.  Rather, when your body internalizes and metabolizes the compound, enzymes in your cells modify the molecule and change it to perillyl alcohol.  Research suggests that when this molecule is changed within animals associated anti-stress behavior is observed.  In essence a very similar molecule, just place an alcohol group on the head.  What causes the stress relief?  Is it this new molecule or is there an effect caused by the body converting the limonene molecule?  More research is needed and this is where the confusion really begins.  Each extract, even if very high in limonene, have hundreds of other compounds that are also affecting the body in many interesting ways.  Add this to the fact that your genetic composition is unique and different from every other person around you and how they interact with their environment.   

Let’s keep it simple, come back next week and learn about another terpene and always keep it terpy. 


Smell the fresh aroma of Tahoe with this citrus-pine scented and flavored strain. This highly concentrated alpha pinene terpene will make your senses soar! Tahoe OG also contains other compounds like myrcene, linalool and limonene that enhance the health benefits of terpenes while boosting the natural flavor profile.


Director of Science & Innovation, Kush Bottles

Co-Founder, Trinity Terpenes    


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