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What Are Terpenes and Terpenoids?

While the terms are often used interchangeably, terpenes and terpenoids are different.

The cannabis industry has opened up a vast world of study into various botanical compounds. For obvious reasons, many are primarily concerned with cannabinoids like THC and CBD. However, overlooking compounds like flavonoids, polyphenols, and terpenes means you’re missing an important part of the picture. 

That’s why we’re taking the time to explain an often misunderstood concept: terpenes and terpenoids are NOT the same thing. Yes, the terms are often used interchangeably. As terpene scientists, however, we’re here to set the record straight.

Reading Time - 3 min

Terpenes vs. Terpenoids

Terpenes are the natural hydrocarbons present in the essential oils of most plants. On top of their evolutionary functions, like defense (1) and reproduction, they’re what dictate the unique aroma and flavor of different plants, including cannabis. So, what are terpenoids then?

In the simplest sense, terpenes are hydrocarbons and terpenoids are oxygen-containing terpenes. Essentially, terpenoids ARE terpenes, but they’ve been denatured by oxygen. This is often done through the drying or curing of herbs and flowers. 

For example, Citral (C10H16O) is technically a terpenoid because it contains oxygen. So is Geraniol (C10H18O), Menthol (C10H20O), and α-terpineol (C10H18O). However, because they don’t contain oxygen, Beta-Caryophyllene (C15H24), D-Limonene (C10H16), and Myrcene (C10H16) are technically terpenes. 

Terpenoids and terpenes are further classified depending on the number of isoprene units (an isoprene molecule contains five carbon atoms with double bonds). 

Types of Terpenoids/Terpenes

Monoterpenes, for example, are those with ten carbon atoms and two isoprene units. “Within each group, the monoterpenoids may be simple unsaturated hydrocarbons or may have functional groups and be alcohols, aldehydes, and ketones” (2). Oftentimes, these are the terpenes with strong, distinctive aromas and flavors. This includes isolates like Myrcene, Citral, Linalool, α-terpineol, D-Limonene, etc.

On top of their flavor and aroma, these terpenes have other important properties. “Most of the monoterpenes are active biologically with strong antibacterial activities. Several studies have shown in vitro and in vivo antitumor activity of many essential oils obtained from plants. The antitumor activity of essential oils of many species has been related to the presence of monoterpenes in their composition” (3).

Sesquiterpenes, on the other hand, have three isoprene units. This includes isolates like α-Humulene, β-Caryophyllene, α-bisabolol, etc. Like monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes have a surprisingly long list of properties that are being investigated as we speak. 

According to a review by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, “Sesquiterpenoids, and specifically sesquiterpene lactones from Asteraceae, may play a highly significant role in human health, both as part of a balanced diet and as pharmaceutical agents, due to their potential for the treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancer.” Various sesquiterpenes have been linked to properties like reduced inflammation, reduced tumorigenesis, antimicrobial properties, and more (4).

It doesn’t stop there though…

  • Diterpenes have four isoprene units (cafestol and kahweol).
  • Triterpenes have six isoprene units (squalene)
  • Tetraterpenes have eight isoprene units (carotenoids)

There are even sesterterpenes, hemiterpenes, and more. While some are mainly aromatic compounds, classifications with many isoprene units (polyterpenes) are used for adhesives and rubber (5).

Abstrax Tech is Leading the Terpene Industry

With the most advanced 3D analysis from flower to essential oil, we're the leader in botanical extraction, terpene and aroma compound research. Our technology, research, and manufacturing makes it possible to reproduce each cultivars' unique profile using botanically derived formulations.

We would love nothing more than to discuss terpenes all day, so contact us today if you have any questions about adding terpenes to your products. 

READ MORE → What Are Sesquiterpenes Good For?


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