Beyond Indica/Sativa: Terpene Profiles and Strain Selection

With the explosion of the recreational market, consumer choice in Cannabis has never been greater. You can go with A Super Lemon Haze, A Jack Herer, A Hindu Kush, A Girl Scout Cookies… but what do these actually mean? Why does this strain affect me in a way that this one doesn’t? We have heard the classic Sativa, Head high and Indica, In-Da-Couch moniker, but what do these really mean? And with the hybridization of every strain it can get even more muddled. Everyday I see more and more companies putting out proprietary strain phenotypes with less and less obvious naming conventions leading to consumer confusion and paralysis. This forces consumers to make uneducated choices in their consumption which can lead to anxiety, irritation and long-term doubt in the industry and Cannabis. This is my little primer on how I choose Cannabis for people and why.

The main thing to understand is that every strain phenotype and really every individual plant will be slightly different, but with a little bit of insight we can infer certain characteristics and how they will interact with people. The first thing I always run into are what I call ‘Number Hunters.’ These people have typically been smoking for a while and are knowledgeable in what they like but not necessarily the specifics of why. These people will look for the highest THC percentage number listed in your shop. These people, while well meaning, are a little misinformed. The differences in THC percentage between Cannabis flower will be felt negligibly at best. When you think of a 10% difference by mass of THC, you really are not talking about milligrams but micrograms. A strain at 28% will not necessarily get a person higher than a strain at 18% but instead might taste harsher and make them cough more. And with the numerous testing facilities being shut down due to fake number reporting, I always take them with a grain of salt. The variables that will truly affect your consumption are going to be the strain genotype (Indica v. Sativa) and more specifically the terpene profile of the Cannabis (Also how fully developed the buds are but that is another article). THC and cannabinoids all act in 1 specific way on your body. The terpenes are agent that tells you how that high will affect you. AS a friend of mine said "THC is the wind and the Terpenes are the Rudder"

Now we have all heard the moniker Sativa, Uplifting and Indica, In-Da-Couch... I really hate these but they are a simple way for people to remember. The more specific phrase would be Sativa is more affecting of the head and Indica is more affecting of the body. Now why would THC be more affecting of the head or the Body? The Terpenes. The natural oils in the Cannabis (that are also found all over nature) that truly guide the high that you are experiencing. There are over 60 Terpenes found in Cannabis but I am going to go through the main 6, briefly, here. They are Limonene, Pinene, Myrcene, Linalool, Caryophyllene,  and Terpinolene. These are crudely split into the two genotypes, Sativas containing more Limonene, Pinene and Terpinolene and Indicas typically higher in Myrcene, Linalool and Caryophyllene. It is the percentage ratios of these oils that guide your high and are sought after when hybridizing strains.

                Limonene – This is my favorite terpene. As the name suggest it is the more citrus-y terpene commonly found in Citrus named strains and Cookie strains. This terpene is great for anti-anxiety/anti-depressant effects and will truly lead to a better mood. Have you ever smelled a fresh citrus peel and felt that energy rush? This is what happens when you consume Limonene and why strains high in limonene are typically more uplifting and giggly.

                Pinene – This is one of the other more common terpenes. Pinene, again as the name suggest is typically found in pine trees and is a very minty and gassy tasting terpene. Pinene is the brain activator terpene. It is uplifting and can be almost racy in some strains. While very mentally stimulating, people who complain about anxiety with weed would do well to stay away from high pinene strains, like Sour Diesel or Acapulco Gold. This is my go to terpene for creativity and getting things done but be cautious with new smokers with regards to the anxious tendency of these strains.

                Myrcene – This is the most common terpene found in all cannabis strains as well as Hops and mangos. Myrcene is a very earthy and musky terpene found in most old school Afghan strains and most Blue/Purple Strains. It works as a great anti-inflammatory and as a body sedative. This is a great terpene for people seeking relief from physical pain and looking to go to sleep. Due to the highly physically sedative nature of this terpene, it is a very common one to be hybridized.

                Linalool – This is actually a more rare terpene but one of my favorite. Mainly found in Lavender, Linalool is a very mentally relaxing terpene leading to a semi-hazy feeling in some people. It is a great addition to many Indica strains for a more mental relaxed high. Typically found in haze’s and some OG Kush Phenotypes, this is a great terpene for people just looking to relax after a day of work.

                Caryophyllene – This is one of the loudest tasting terpenes. Typically found in Black Pepper Corns, this terpene has very awesome anti-anxiety and anti-fungal properties. It is responsible for much of the loud skunky tastes common in OG Kushs and Train Wrecks. I typically recommend this to people who are wanting to stay mentally stimulated but chilled without the heavy Indica feeling.

                Terpineol – This is one of the most interesting terpenes and one of the most underappreciated. It is a great euphoric high that does not lead to too much anxiety. Found mainly in Jack Herer and Jack crosses, its pine-y and sweet taste does much to replace the classic pinene found in more racy strains. I always recommend these strains for people dealing with anxiety but who still want some mental stimulation and a more modern, sweet tasting sativa.


There are many, many more things to be said about Terpenes and Cannabis but I have rambled enough and I hope I have given you a little bit of insight into how I recommend cannabis for different people. Remember, it all depends on where you want to go after this high. Ask your shop for terpene testing information or start looking up some of your own favorite strains and their more common terpenes. Start figuring out your profile and you can then be confident in any strain you buy. Just like Beer and Wine, different strains will lead to different experiences and we should take care to pair them well. Enjoy and stay high guys!