When choosing cannabis strains in Colorado, follow your nose

Cannabis terpenes, organic compounds in the plant, are responsible for aromas, flavors and various cannabis effects.

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Tumbleweed Dispensary

While CBD and THC get most of the mainstream credit for the effects people experience from cannabis, those in the legal marijuana industry in Colorado are talking a lot about terpenes these days.

Have you ever wondered why certain strains of marijuana smell like citrus, while others smell more musky or grassy? At play are the terpenes, the organic compounds that produce various aromas. A large variety of plants, not just marijuana, have terpenes.

With marijuana, we’re discovering that terpenes are responsible for a lot more than just a certain smell. Terpenes can interact with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which can complement or hinder the effects felt by a marijuana user.

“Terpenes can certainly alter your high,” says Greg Conley, a budtender at Tumbleweed Dispensary, which has locations in Avon, Carbondale, Frisco, Edwards, Parachute and De Beque. “Terpenes, extracted from plants, are the most important components found in the use of herbal medicine.”

For plants, terpenes serve as a defense mechanism. As cannabis grows, matures and flowers, terpenes protect the plant from predators and infestations, says Dani Rodriguez, a budtender at Tumbleweed Dispensary.

For marijuana users, terpenes serve a much more blissful purpose. There are more than 100 known terpenes in cannabis, each providing a distinctive taste and smell.

“In addition to these unique flavor signatures, terpenes also provide bewildering variations in psychoactive effects,” Rodriguez says.

Feeling and smelling the effects

With so much emphasis on terpenes in the cannabis industry, people are also now examining the best ways to experience them. Cannabis growers in Colorado are honing in on techniques that achieve optimal terpene concentrations.

The ways terpenes are consumed are important, too. A flower with a deliciously aromatic terpene profile could get roasted if it burns too hot, says Edwin Ledezma, a budtender at Tumbleweed Dispensary. This also would drastically decrease its flavor.

Terpenes are also responsible for different therapeutic effects – this is also the basis for aromatherapy – and research shows they can have varying effects on pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction and other ailments.

All of these benefits aren’t universal, though. Tumbleweed Dispensary budtender Barbara Bancroft notes that some people might be allergic to certain terpenes.

Personal preference

Bancroft happens to love all cannabis terpenes, but she finds there are more appropriate times than others for consuming specific terpenes. Because they can interact differently with people’s receptors, personal preference is our basic method for determining which terpenes are best suited to meet our needs. It’s like the smell of perfume – one person might love it while it can quite literally make another person feel sick.

That’s why it’s important to follow your nose – choose a strain that above all else smells good to you.

Here are some of Bancroft's favorite cannabis terpenes and their effects, also based on reports from Leafly. (This cool graphic by Leafly shows various terpenes and their flavor and aroma profiles.)

  • Limonene — citrus aromas; stress-relief, elevated mood, anti-anxiety, helps with gastric reflux
  • Pinene — pine aroma; memory retention, alertness, anti-inflammatory
  • Myrcene — musk, clove, herbal and citrus aromas; sedating, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, relaxing, enhances THC psychoactivity
  • Linalool — floral, citrus and spice aromas; sedating, calming, good for insomnia, stress, anxiety
  • Humulene — woody, earthy aromas; suppresses appetite, anti-inflammatory