Can the terpinolene terpene do it all? Keep reading—it seems like it can. The cyclic monoterpene terpinolene is found in a wide variety of fruits, flowers, herbs, spices, and trees. Notwithstanding its presence in myriad flora, it is possibly most recognizable as a cannabis terpene. This lesser-known terpene possesses a multifaceted aroma and inhabits plants such as lilac, nutmeg, rosemary, turmeric leaf, tea tree, and conifer trees [1].

Known for its woody, fresh aroma with citrus undertones, floral notes, and pine scents, terpinolene is a popular scenting agent for cosmetics, soaps and perfumes, and is a common food-flavoring ingredient. Sometimes referred to as alpha-terpinolene, terpinolene is rumored to produce mildly sedative effects when consumed via cannabis through the entourage effect, yet further research is needed [2].

What are terpenes?

At their core, terpenes are molecules responsible for determining a plant’s smell. Additionally, they serve the plant by giving off scents that protect it from predators and help the plant attract pollinators. Particularly repellent smells, for instance, might act as insect repellents, thereby keeping a plant safe from being eaten. On the other hand, terpenes play a vital role in luring helpful insects to flowers to ensure the plant’s survival through pollination[3].

When you take a whiff of a vile of essential oil or hover your nose over a bloom, you’re smelling terpenes. Likewise, the terpene profiles of various cannabis strains determine its distinctive smell and taste. Additionally, terpenes have the potential to offer benefits that alter the overall experience of the cannabis plant as terpenes work alongside cannabinoids to amplify the effects while at the same time offering aromatherapy.

Jars of cannabis derived Earthy Terpenes

What is terpinolene?

Scientifically speaking, terpinolene is a p-menthadiene molecule with double bonds [4]. In layman’s terms, it is one of the aromatic chemical compounds that make up a given plant’s essential oil. Terpinolene’s aroma carries a crisp, fresh scent that some describe as a complex bouquet, incorporating the scents of flowers, pine trees, tea trees, and other plants.

A popular ingredient in commercial insect repellents, a plant metabolite, and a volatile oil component [4], terpinolene has made its way into cosmetics, cleaners, foods, and other products.

Cannabis consumers sometimes report they believe terpinolene plays a mild to a moderately sedative role when interacting with certain cannabinoids in the endocannabinoid system. However, just as often, it is reported to have an energizing effect. However, since everyone’s personal chemistry is different, it is expected that terpenes and other cannabinoids affect people differently. 

What are the main terpinolene effects?

Though researchers continue to study the effects of terpenes on human brains and bodies, additional study is needed to draw conclusions about what effects they may offer. Still, anecdotal reports indicate that terpinolene may possess sedative properties or stimulating potential for humans when consumed through the cannabis plant, though these outcomes may be due to their synergistic interplay with cannabinoids.

As with other cannabis terpenes, emerging research suggests that the terpinolene terpene may work alongside cannabinoids and flavonoids to create either an amplified sedative effect or stimulant effect, depending on the strain of cannabis. The entourage effect may be responsible for a terpene’s ability to enhance the specific effects of cannabinoids like CBD or THC [5].

A recent study indicated that inhaled terpinolene led to sedative effects in mice [6]. Likewise, terpinolene was found to act as a potent antiproliferative agent in cells in rats [7]. Full confirmation of these results is pending, and additional further investigation is needed to determine if similar conclusions may be drawn in the context of human use.

Reports regarding food, cleaners, and cosmetic products suggest that terpinolene may contribute to antimicrobial activity and provide defenses against product spoilage through its antibacterial activity. Thus, terpinolene is sometimes used as a flavoring agent or antifungal agent with the added benefits of offering antimicrobial properties to the chemical compositions of various products [8].

Most common terpinolene uses

Though terpinolene is not often found in comparatively high concentrations in most essential oils, terpinolene benefits everything from perfumes and soaps to household products. Due to its ability to ward off certain insects, it is sometimes used as an insect repellent [9]. Its fresh fragrance and unique chemical composition make it a popular ingredient in cleaning products and lotions.

Because of terpinolene’s reputation as having more sedative effects than some other terpenes, terpinolene is popular with cannabis consumers who wish to find calm or those who struggle with sleeping. Cannabis plants contain cannabinoids such as CBD and THC, which may interact with terpinolene or the other top 20 cannabis derived terpenes to elicit these and other potential effects, yet more research is needed for conclusive results to be accepted. .

Top terpinolene sources

Terpinolene occurs in varying concentrations in:

  • Wild parsnip
  • Tea tree oil
  • Cannabis
  • Celery
  • Scots pine
  • Nutmeg
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Valerian
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet basil
  • Sage
  • Lilac
  • Wine grapes
  • Ginger [10]

Cannabis strains high in terpinolene

Though terpinolene does not occur in high concentrations in many cannabis strains, some that contain larger to trace amounts include Jack Herer, Canna Cake, Cherry Soda, Hawaiian Haze, and Lifter.

Regardless of a strain’s classification as indica or sativa, terpinolene is found in all kinds of cannabis. Even so, terpinolene is more often found in higher concentrations in THC-dominant strains. It is less commonly found in high concentrations in CBD-dominant strains [11].

Cannabis terpenes and beverage and hemp leaf, Earthy Now logo

Entourage effect

Originally proposed in 1999, the entourage effect describes a mechanism by which cannabis compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids act synergistically with cannabinoids to modulate the overall effects of the plant [8], whether those may be mood-altering or not. It follows that terpenes would add to the entourage effect because they are part of the overall composition of the plant material [12].

Is terpinolene right for me?

The best way to find out how terpinolene may benefit you is to try a product with higher concentrations of it. Whether that product is an especially good-smelling lotion or a Canna Cake pre-roll, the aromatherapy it provides, along with other potential sedative or stimulating effects, will give you an idea about whether it’s a good fit for you. 

Luckily, there are around 400 other terpenes to choose from, and those are just in cannabis! So if you decide you’d like a slightly different smell or experience, there are a lot to explore. Happy experimenting! 


Medical Disclaimer / Legal Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice or medical advice. We attempt to be accurate and up to date but the legality of cannabinoids and the science of cannabis is evolving. The author is neither a legal professional nor a medical expert. Before buying or using any products, you should check with your local authorities and medical providers.

References

  1. https://www.trulieve.com/discover/blog/why-you-should-know-about-terpinolene-and-its-benefits
  2. https://bloommedicinals.com/cannabis-education/what-are-the-terpinolene-terpineol-terpene-effects/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terpene
  4. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Terpinolene
  5. https://www.leafly.com/news/strains-products/least-common-terpene-terpinolene-effects
  6. http://europepmc.org/article/MED/23339024 
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24084350/ 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4323317/
  9. https://incatrailterpenes.com/products/terpinolene#:~:text=As%20an%20essential%20oil%2C%20terpinolene,pests%20like%20mosquitoes%20and%20weevils
  10. https://www.cibdol.com/cbd-encyclopedia/what-is-terpinolene#:~:text=Terpinolene%20appears%20in%20various%20plant,levels%20of%20terpinolene%20in%20nature
  11. https://www.caliterpenes.com/blog/en/what-is-terpinolene-the-world-of-terpenes/#:~:text=Regardless%20of%20its%20classification%20as,CBD%20and%20also%20high%20Terpinolene
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entourage_effect#:~:text=The%20entourage%20effect%20is%20a,psychoactive%20effects%20of%20the%20plant
  13. https://www.trulieve.com/discover/blog/why-you-should-know-about-terpinolene-and-its-benefits
  14. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/terpinolene

Frequently Asked Questions

CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are both naturally-occurring cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, and both have the same molecular structure. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the differing effects on your body.

Even when terpenes are extracted from marijuana, they do not contain THC and are not psychoactive in and of themselves. However, they may affect the way you experience THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids because of their role in the entourage effect—the way in which other compounds in cannabis work together synergistically to enhance the effects of the plants.

Terpenes are one of the main constituents of essential oils, which are extracts of plants. As such, terpenes are “natural” and are best described as a “natural flavor” for foods, beverages, and vapes alike.

Terpinolene has been studied for its antifungal effects on conditions like toenail fungus but its efficacy is not fully established by research [13].

Terpinolene has been studied to assess its antioxidant properties but its efficacy is not fully established by research [14].

Cannabis users have anecdotally reported both sedative and stimulative effects from consuming or inhaling cannabis with moderate amounts of terpinolene; however, this may be due to the entourage effect.

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