Simply put, cannabis terpenes — also known as Terpinoids Isoprenoids, and Squalenes — are organic compounds responsible for much of the scent and many of the recreational effects and medical benefits of cannabis. Terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis, though. In fact, most plants and conifers (cone-bearing seed plants like pine trees) contain terpenes. Some insects also emit terpenes as well.
So, when we say “cannabis terpenes”, we mean the terpenes found in the cannabis plant. There are well over 100 documents terpenes known to be contained in cannabis plants (yes, that includes hemp and CBD). If you have a solid nose, you will be able to tell that specific strains smell like other plants or products. For instance, some strains smell like beer (due to those strains and hops expressing alpha-humulene), others like pine trees (mostly due to alpha and beta-pinene), and still others like lemon-fresh home cleaners (since they both contain limonene).
Not all strains of cannabis are created equal. Different strains express diferent chemo-types, where the “chemo-type” is essentially a makeup of cannabinoids and terpenes. The amount of each terpene found within a particular cannabis strain is what helps make any one cannabis strain or product have a) a unique smell and b) produce medical benefits and recreational effects.
These compounds, and the ratios in which they are found within any given strain or product, help contribute to what is known as the “entourage effect”. The entourage effect is simply the notion that there are multiple variables that come into play when determining the medical benefits and recreational effects of any particular strain. For instance, a cannabis terpene like Ocimene on its own may serve as a decongestant, but in the presence of THC and CBD can act as an appetite suppressant. Essentially, terpenes “interact” with the other terpenes and cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant to create an emergent phenomenon that is much more expansive than the sum of its parts. One modification of a terpene, even just a minor one can cause a dramatically different scent and set of conditions.
Readers are probably more familiar with these compounds than you think. Many are known for their anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. As such, they are often used in cleaning products, providing both cleanliness and scent-boosting benefits.