Excerpt from A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis: Using Marijuana to Feel Better, Look Better, and Get High Like a Lady by Nikki Furrer (Workman Publishing).
My mom visited Denver for my birthday. After dinner downtown, we walked to the car. “I smell a skunk,” she said. My mother has never smelled a skunk. She thinks camping is when the door to the hotel room opens directly to the outdoors.
“No, you don’t,” I said, as someone walked past us, a trail of smoke behind them. “You smell marijuana.” A few months later, we were walking through the botanical gardens in Saint Louis.
“I smell marijuana.” My mom sniffed the air.
“I think that might actually be a skunk,” I said.
Cannabinoids do the heavy lifting, but terpenes (pronounced TER-pen-eez, and the singular is TER-pen-ee) are a vital part of marijuana medicine and the compound that gives marijuana its distinctive odor. Our bodies love cannabinoids, but we love terpenes even more. Even if you have never tried cannabis, you have consumed terpenes in fruit, spices, beer, and perfumes. The glands that produce cannabinoids also produce aromatic organic hydrocarbons that smell like pine, hops, mint, and berries. Take a stroll down the essential oil aisle at Whole Foods to smell different terpenes.
Each strain of cannabis has its own particular terpene profile—a combination of dozens of terpenes that give each strain a distinctive odor. Most strains have some myrcene and pinene in them, but some might have just a bit of each while others have a high amount of one or the other. Lots of pinene gives us an alert, focused high while myrcene is sedating, so a jar of cannabis that smells like a pine forest will have a much different effect than a jar of cannabis that smells like cloves. A variety of marijuana strains will provide a well-rounded diet of terpenes. Almost all terpenes are anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, and powerful antioxidants, in addition to the unique medicinal benefits they each have.
When the lab tests for cannabinoid potency, they also test to see how much of each terpene is in the cannabis. Most cannabis strains have an abundance of one or two terpenes, a medium amount of two to three terpenes, and a small amount of three to four terpenes. If you are looking for one particular terpene, ask your budtender if any strain has a high amount of it. If she doesn’t know, and she doesn’t have potency testing for terpenes, go by smell.
Even without test results, your nose will tell you which terpenes are in the flower. A lovely citrus fragrance signals that you’re smelling limonene and that the strain is a sativa; if you notice a hoppy smell that reminds you of beer, then you’re smelling myrcene, which indicates the strain is an indica. Caryophyllene gives off a distinct black pepper smell, which makes it easy to find among the jars in the dispensary.
My favorite diet advice is to eat whatever you want because your body is telling you what you need. When it comes to marijuana, your nose will tell you what you need. Choose strains that smell good to you.
Myrcene is in almost every strain and is also found in mango, lemongrass, bay leaves, eucalyptus, thyme, and hops. It smells like cloves, with an herbal, musky odor that contributes to the typical skunk smell of marijuana. Myrcene is a sedative and muscle relaxant, so cannabis with high myrcene levels creates a relaxing, sleepy effect while low myrcene levels have a more energetic, creative effect. Terpenes that have a sedative effect are also usually anticonvulsant, which reduces seizures and overactive brain activity. Myrcene also works to reduce tumors and is a strong soldier in the fight against cancer. It is anti-
inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal.
The amount of myrcene is the main difference between an indica or a sativa strain. High levels of myrcene create a more relaxing indica high while low levels of myrcene result in more energizing highs, like sativa strains.
Try eating mango when using cannabis. Mango is loaded with myrcene, which lowers the blood-brain barrier resistance and allows cannabinoids and terpenes to quickly and easily cross the barrier, which speeds up the time it takes to get high and increases the high.
Pinene is in most cannabis strains and smells like pine, conifer, and fir, with a hint of sage. Pinene is in pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, and dill and is known for mental alertness, memory retention, and counteracting negative THC effects like anxiety. Many people use marijuana to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD), and pinene is the reason why. It helps us focus.
Pinene is an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative, and a bronchodilator, which increases airflow to the lungs and helps relieve asthma. Pinene may be one of the reasons why smoking marijuana has not been proven to cause harm to the lungs. It is usually abundant in sativa strains.
Limonene is the most important terpene for depression and anxiety and smells like its namesake—lemons. Limonene is in fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper, peppermint, and pine needle oils. When a strain is high in limonene, it produces a lift in mood and relieves depression, anxiety, and stress. It also dissolves gallstones and may treat gastrointestinal complications, acid reflux, and heartburn. Limonene increases blood flow from the heart, fights cancer, and stimulates the immune system.
Limonene is wonderful in skin treatments because it works synergistically to assist the absorption of other terpenes through the skin and suppresses the growth of fungi and bacteria, making it a powerful antifungal. Sativa strains are usually higher in limonene.
Caryophyllene gives black pepper a spicy kick and is also found in cloves, hops, cotton, rosemary, and basil. Caryophyllene is gastroprotective and helps relieve ulcers, autoimmune disorders, and gastrointestinal complications. This spicy terpene has anticancer properties, is a powerful muscle relaxant, and regulates lipids, which may mitigate or delay the onset of diabetes. Caryophyllene is the only terpene that interacts with the endocannabinoid system, as it binds to the CB2 receptors, making it both a terpene and a cannabinoid, like a mutant superhero. Indica strains tend to have more caryophyllene.
Linalool is the lavender of marijuana and a sedative that produces calming effects that relieve anxiety and depression and reduce seizures. Linalool strengthens the immune system, reduces lung inflammation, and is useful in treating Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Linalool is in birch trees, tropical plants, laurels, cinnamon, and rosewood. Read the ingredients on the shampoo bottles in your bathroom, and you’ll find linalool listed as linalyl alcohol, linaloyl oxide, and alloocimenol. Linalool is a terpene that gives indica strains their sleepy, relaxing effects.
Nikki Furrer is a cannabis lawyer, cultivator, and CEO of Fleur, a cannabis company that develops strains and products with a focus on women’s health. She has worked as a budtender and grower in Denver, standing behind the counter with every product on the Colorado medical market, helping patients find the best medicine for them. Her oils, edibles and topicals are popular cannabis products in Illinois. Before joining the marijuana industry, she owned Pudd’nhead Books, an independent bookstore. She currently lives in St. Louis, MO.