Terpenes and Flavonoids: Why Cannabis Smells Like Cannabis

As it pertains to cannabis, we live in exciting times. As the world exits the “Dark Ages” of marijuana, it’s increasingly possible to invest in the proper scientific research required to unlock (or arguably re-discover) all the health benefits of cannabis. And this includes the terpenes and flavonoids found in its resin.

In your quest to become a better cultivator, processor, or dispensary, you have no doubt heard words like “terpenes” and “flavonoids.” But why are cannabis connoisseurs so interested in them, and processors willing to go to the effort to save and reintroduce them into extracts and oils?

The color of dank buds, their flavor, and aroma are about to be demystified.

Why Plants Create Terpenes

The term “terpene” can be traced back to the Greek word “terebinthine,” which means resin. (Sound familiar?) If you’ve ever picked up a pine cone or touched a pine tree, that pleasant pine scent is a type of terpene found in the sap or – you guessed it – resin.

Cannabis plants use terpenes the same way all other plants do. They attract creatures that aid in pollination, and they deter insects and creatures that would otherwise eat the plant. Maybe you enjoy the scent of peppermint or pine, however insects and rodents hate it.

Along with other compounds produced by trees, cannabis plants, and other plants found throughout nature, terpenes also protect plants from harsh amounts of UV rays, as well as seal the plant’s surface in the instance of physical harm.

Terpenes Are Ubiquitous

As you can see, terpenes and flavonoids exist everywhere, all over the botanical kingdom. The fruit sitting in a bowl on your table, the plants growing outside your home, and the spices you cook with – all contain terpenes and flavonoids.

They provide the aroma given off by fruit, they are in the fresh air you breathe while walking your pet in the park, and they even provide some of the colors that define specific herbs and spices.

Sure, there are cannabis-specific terpenes and flavonoids, however, the plant kingdom shares many of the terpenes found in the cannabis you are cultivating and processing. Here are a few examples:


Although pinene is not the most prevalent terpene in cannabis, it is the most abundant terpene produced naturally by plants. This compound is found in pine trees and basil and is known for its influence to help us stay alert and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Cannabis plants containing this terpene pass these benefits on when vaping or consuming a full spectrum product that contains this terpene.



You probably won’t be surprised that this terpene is found in lemons and other citrus fruits. Essential oils from lemons that concentrate this terpene are known for their energizing effects, as well as it’s natural anti-fungal properties.



Unknowingly popular for playing a role in the aroma of hops and the herb sage. Too many beers may give you a hangover, however humulene is well known for it’s pain-relieving properties.



Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis. Myrcene assists in natural pain relief as well as also having anti-inflammatory properties. Myrcene can be found in hops, mangos and many other fruits and vegetables.


There are many, many more terpenes, but you get the idea. They are literally everywhere. For cannabis cultivators, naming a particular cannabis bud prior to sale almost always involves taking the plants terpene profile into account.

Waiter, There’s a Flavonoid in My Soup!

Whether you’re eating soup from a take-out restaurant or snacking on an apple – you’re eating the same flavonoids found in many cannabis plants!

Like terpenes, flavonoids are also part of every plant’s biology. Nearly 10% of the chemical components found in the cannabis trichome are flavonoids. These also help protect plants from UV rays, as well as providing some of the colors associated with various plants.

Flavonoids that are exclusive to hemp or other cannabis strains are called “cannaflavins,” however many are commonly found in other plant species. Quercetin, for example, is a powerful antioxidant and is naturally created by apple trees, Camellia plants (green and black tea,) as well as a host of other fruits and vegetables.

The Entourage Effect

Whether you are consuming medical cannabis or a CBD isolate – you are taking in one or more cannabinoids. Each has distinctive benefits to the the endocannabinoid system. Some are anti-inflammatory, others greatly reduce pain, while some help provide stress relief.

The entourage effect occurs when someone introduces ALL the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids of a cannabis strain to the CB1 and CB2 receptors located throughout your body.

“Full Spectrum” cannabis products contain everything the cannabis plant has to offer. All the cannabinoids of that strain and all the terpenes.

“Broad spectrum” cannabis products contain “some” of the cannabinoids and often some of the terpenes found in the original cannabis strain. Most distillates are broad spectrum as it takes a bit more effort to preserve all the plant’s cannabinoids.

The easiest way to experience the full spectrum of cannabinoids, including the terpenes and flavonoids, is to vape carefully cured flower. However, the convenience of other delivery methods (such as edibles or tinctures) often compels top-shelf processors to capture and include all the terpenes and cannabinoids in their oils and extracts.

Your Nose Knows Terpenes

As the old saying goes, “If it smells like a lemon, tastes like a lemon, and looks like a lemon – it’s probably a lemon.” This isn’t far from the truth for cannabis.

Next time you observe some marijuana that has an aromatic scent of lemon, pine, or other familiar scents, it’s very probable that it smells that way because the strain you are about to purchase contains some of the same terpenes found in your favorite fruits, spices, and vegetables.

If you’re operating a dispensary or retail adult use shop, be sure to check out our article on “Nose Blindness” so you can get the most out of shopping for buds with various terpene profiles.

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