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Can your favourite scents help you find your favourite cannabis?

Published on November 13, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Leafly terpenes fragrance perfume; perfume bottle spraying aromatic plants
Jesse Milns/Leafly

Not that far behind all those big headlines touting the miracle that is CBD, the second-biggest buzz in the cannabis space is all about the terpenes. Terpenes, for the uninitiated, are those wonderful little cannabis compounds that give each strain its distinct aroma and flavour (for better or worse!).

“Many people think terpenes are a new concept because of all of the terpene-buzz in the world of cannabis, but terpenes have been around forever and exist in most plant life,” says Melanie Smith, innovation lead at Truss Beverage Co., a company that is set to launch multiple branded cannabis beverages in Canada. “Terpenes are basically the essential oils of a plant and in the cannabis plant, they contribute to the smell and taste.”

Terpenes also play an important role in our experience of cannabis, so we tend to lean on a strain that contains terpenes that we are currently craving, much like aromatherapy, believes Sam Jones, BSc., and a holistic practitioner. Jones gives the example of someone who likes the sweet smell of lavender, but they may actually be craving it because physiologically they need assistance calming down. This could also be helpful for someone who is looking to get a more relaxed feeling when consuming cannabis.

And terpenes are also believed to impact the physiological effects of THC and CBD as well, which is just one of the reasons why cannabis is such a personal experience. “Everyone’s taste preferences are different and what one finds appealing or delicious can be quite different from the next person,” Smith states.

What is also fascinating is that terpenes essentially have twin scents in the world of perfumery. “If somebody likes a particular terpene, are they more apt to like that fragrance family,” says Jones. And Smith agrees. “People are often drawn to scents based on their genetic makeup and memories or associations they have with them,” she adds. “Because many of the different scents of terpenes are so recognizable to us given they are commonly found in nature, we often have associations with them.”

“We find terpenes in the essential oils of different plants like lavender, and you can find them in pine trees, or hemp, and even hops have certain terpenes, like humulene,” says Andrew Defries, a PhD in botany, who studies cannabis.

What are cannabis terpenes and what do they do?

Defries mentions that caryophyllene, for example, gives off a peppery scent, and linalool can be found in lavender, hence why this terpene is always likened to the sweet, soothing flower. Terpenes you’ll find in Canada , like ocimene, myrcene and pinene all have twin notes in the fragrance world — think woody notes, mango and pine, respectively.

Depending on your favourite terpenes or your favourite fragrance notes, you’re likely to find a match made in scent heaven below. So the next time you’re looking for either a new strain or a new perfume, try one that contains a terpene or note that you can’t get enough of.

If you like the scent of mango, lemongrass, and thyme

Your favourite terpene might be: Myrcene

Your cannabis: You’re in luck here, since myrcene is cannabis’s most commonly-expressed terpene. Find it in many cultivars, including Blue Dream, Pink Kush and Tangerine Dream.

Your fragrance: Look for an eau that relies heavily on fruity notes for a sweet smelling fragrant treat. The Body Shop’s Mango eau de toilette really hits the nail on the head here.The Body Shop Mango Eau de Toilette, $15

If you like sweet scents with woody undertones

Your favourite terpene might be: Ocimene

Your cananbis: With notes of mint and undertones of wood, ocimene is one of the cannabis plant’s rarer terpenes; when it is present, it typically contributes to a strain’s aroma without dominating it. The same goes in the fragrance world, where ocimene is used to round out perfumes with its woody undertones. Find ocimene in Super Lemon Haze.

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Your fragrance: Tom Ford took woody notes to luxurious heights when he concocted his Oud Wood eau de parfum. Oud wood is actually quite rare and found in the Southeast Asian agar tree. When a certain type of mold takes over the tree, a deep, dark resin is released, and from that resin comes the oud wood note. This scent also has rosewood and sandalwood in its scent profile. Tom Ford Oud Wood Eau de Parfum, $185

If you like everything rose

Your favourite terpene might be: Geraniol

Your cannabis: Like ocimene, geraniol shows up more in perfumes than in cannabis, but it still plays a role in the scent and flavour of some strains, including MK Ultra.

Your fragrance: Florals are clearly your thing. And Floral Street’s Chypre Sublime may just be your new favourite scent. Not only is the British brand heavily focused on sustainability (their packaging is either reusable, recyclable or compostable, and their ingredients are all sourced from sustainable raw materials), but, they know how to mix notes — in this case rose absolute, incense and patchouli. Floral Street Chypre Sublime, $99

If you like the soothing smell of lavender

Your favourite terpene might be: Linalool

Your cannabis: If your cannabis smells like a spa, it may contain linalool. Find this lavender-forward terpene in Pink Kush strains, as well as Broken Coast‘s Gabriola and Sunset by LBS.

Your fragrance: Created by powerhouse Barb Stegemann, each of The 7 Virtues ingredients is sourced directly from farmers from countries like Afghanistan, Haiti, Madagascar and more, to help said farmers earn a living wage for themselves and their families. And Rose Amber contains rose, yes, but also has a crisp hit of lavender in the heart of the fragrance. The 7 Virtues Rose Amber, $97

If you like uplifting hits of lemon, lime, or juniper

Your favourite terpene might be: Limonene

Your cannabis: Limonene-forward strains are typically associated with energizing, euphoric effects—and, perhaps not surprisingly—a whiff of citrus. Find limonene in Sundial Cannabis’s Lemon Riot.

Your fragrance: Hits of citrus are often paired in fragrances thanks to their energizing qualities. Look to Goop for a unique twist on a traditional fruity fragrance. Edition 02 Shiso contains shiso leaf, for a spicy, fresh green note, alongside citrus lemon and juniper.Goop Eau de Parfum Edition 02 Shiso, $220

If you like the smell of black pepper

Your favourite terpene might be: Caryophyllene

Your cannabis: If your cannabis has strong notes of black pepper or clove, it likely contains caryophyllene, a terpene with serious anti-inflammatory properties. Find caryophyllene in LA Confidential and Super Skunk.

Your fragrance: Pepper as a note in fragrance is made for adding some kick and sophistication to the juice. Lancôme’s Miracle pairs pepper with jasmine, ginger, amber and musk. Lancôme Miracle, $120

If you like the great outdoors and the scent of pine

Your favourite terpene might be: Pinene

Your cannabis: Not only does it smell like a stroll in the forest, but pinene may also combat the short-term memory loss associated with THC. Find this terpene in Blue Dream, Pennywise, and Cannatonic.

Your fragrance: Pine needles are at the heart of Byredo Gyspsy Water Eau de Parfum, a woody, aromatic scent, nestled in alongside bergamot, vanilla and amber. Byredo Gyspsy Water Eau de Parfum, $250

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Michelle Bilodeau
Michelle Bilodeau
Michelle Bilodeau is a fashion, beauty, and lifestyle journalist living in Toronto. Bilodeau is also co-host of the On A High podcast.
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