Terpene Extraction — A Detailed Guide

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Added 13 November 2021

The cannabis industry offers an ever-expanding plethora of products for just about everyone. 

You’ve probably heard of terpenes making waves in the industry. 

Although they aren’t new by any means, more people are discovering the benefits of terpenes now. Of course, cannabinoids are famous already, but terpenes aren’t going to be left behind. 

Terpenes are great to add various flavors and aromas to your products, including concentrates, buds, edibles, and more. Through terpenes, it’s possible to enjoy the flavors of cannabis without having to use the herb itself. 

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about terpenes, including their benefits, extraction methods, and how they affect you. 

What are Terpenes?

limonene terpene

Terpenes are natural aromatic compounds found in plants. Not limited to cannabis alone, these fragrant hydrocarbons are found everywhere in nature, including plants, algae, and several other organisms. 

Terpenes add a distinct scent, flavor, and even colors in some instances. Whether you enjoy the fragrance of a rose, the taste of beer, strawberries, fruits, and herbs, it’s due to these wonderful terpenes. Since they are present everywhere, you probably ingest or smell terpenes every day. 

Plants produce terpenes to ward off predators, lure pollinators, and protect the plants from infectious germs. Terpenes like squalene, for instance, are also found in animals. 

Terps make up one of the most significant classes of natural products, thanks to their diverse chemical components that offer various health benefits. Currently, scientists have recognized almost 20,000 types of terpenes, and they are all unique with different health benefits. 

Although every plant contains terpenes, cannabis plants have a large concentration of these aromatic terps. Cannabis plants may contain more than 150 terpenes, which explains why the buds smell so fragrant and divine. 

Combining terpenes with cannabinoids or using all parts of the plant (full-spectrum extracts) is considered beneficial since terpenes enhance the medicinal effects of cannabinoids such as CBG, CBD, and THC [1]

Also known as the entourage effect, it simply means that the synergistic combination of terpenes and cannabinoids working together is much more beneficial than consuming isolated cannabinoids and terpenes. 

In simple terms, all the flavonoids, esters, alcohols, terpenes, and cannabinoids of the cannabis plant come together to offer a lot more benefits than using isolates like CBD, for instance. A recent study also highlights how terpenes can produce pain-relieving properties with fewer adverse side effects commonly associated with psychoactive cannabinoids like THC. 

Terpenes are far more extensive than the current catalog offered by companies. There are many more terpenes waiting to be discovered. Needless to say, we have just scratched the surface. 

Thanks to the wonderful healthful benefits of terpenes, they are often used in aromatherapy — a popular holistic healing procedure. Aromatherapy is a treatment that uses fragrant essential oils and other plant extracts derived from herbs to improve the health and well-being of users.

Extracting terpenes is not an easy process. You will require expensive equipment along with several years of experience in the field. 

This article will explore some standard procedures for terpene extraction as seen in cannabis plant tissue.  

Terpene Extraction Process 


For several years, cannabis and hemp manufacturers have tried to extract terpenes free from impurities like fat, chlorophyll, and other plant metabolites present in the plant without damaging terpene molecules. They achieved this feat earlier through conventional extraction techniques that involved placing condensers between the oven and the recirculation pump. 

Although this technique worked well, it retained some residue in the final product. Unfortunately, the result was incomplete because they lost a significant part of the terpenes in the process, yielding sketchy terpene profiles. Another major problem was that many terpenes escaped in the process, not to mention the risk of impurities. 

So, how do you get a clear substance that is free of pollutants in a short period and with less effort? 

Well, there are several ways to get pure terpenes, especially from a cannabis plant. While one technique may be better than the other, there’s no ideal way to extract terps. In addition, there are many factors to consider when extracting, including removing unwanted elements like chlorophyll and other metabolites in the plant without causing damage. The results you will get can be divided into two categories: solvent-based and solvent-less extraction. 

Terpenes have vast structures, and the procedures will depend on the chemical properties of the terpenes you are trying to extract, the quantity of the raw plants available at your reach, including instruments and chemicals available for use. Fundamentally, the extraction of a specific terpene will depend on its chemical properties. 

Solvent-less Terpene Extraction Methods

solventless terpene

To extract terpenes, you need to combine both heat and pressure principles. The procedures include steam and hydrodistillation methods. 

Steam Distillation

Terpenes break down faster than cannabinoids, so you must handle them gently. Steam distillation makes it possible for gentler handling, whether you’re extracting terpenes from fruits or cannabis. 

Most manufacturers use steam distillation to extract terpenes by using a combination of steam and pressure. However, they must take care not to break the terpene structure. Through vapor pressure, the terpenes are pulled out after separating them from other parts of the plant. 

First, the plant material is suspended above a pot of boiling water. Then, steam is forced through the plant material. The steam traps terpenes, moves out of the distiller, and comes immediately in contact with a chilled condenser to liquefy the oils and water. 

At this point, you can see lighter oils suspended on the surface, making it easier to collect them. However, a fraction of those oils that are insoluble in water will remain. These are called hydrosols or water extracts and are generally used in cosmetics and other applications. While terpenes are usually clear in appearance, hydrosols are a bit milky. 


Some companies also use hydrodistillation to extract terps. Hydrodistillation is like steam distillation, except the plant material is dipped directly in boiling water. Terps are extracted by adding sufficient water to the cannabis plant. Then the water is boiled until the oil extract is drawn out completely. 

There are a lot of benefits from this method of extraction. However, one disadvantage is that operating at such high temperatures beyond 100C or 212F can adversely alter the plant compounds. As a result, the terpenes extracted at the end may not even smell as expected or resemble the source material due to the damage. In addition, the terpenes may also lose their medicinal qualities, making them undesirable for customers. 

Solvent-Dependent Terpene Extraction Methods

The main advantage of extracting terpenes without using solvents is that it allows you to operate at lower temperatures, which means removing terpenes without damaging them. Solvents such as carbon dioxide and hexane are used for this process. 

Solvent-less extraction methods using hexane are generally less expensive than other methods. In addition, it’s not as time-consuming; however, the yield is not as high as steam or hydrodistillation techniques.

How to Extract Non-Polar Terpenes

Most of the primary linear terpenes and cyclized terpenes that have no unique design and structure are exclusively made up of hydrocarbons. So, they are non-polar. The terpenes with 15 carbons or less may be volatile because of their small size and low level of polarity.

Before you can proceed with the extraction process, you need the following material:

  • Glass wool
  • Glass Pasteur 
  • Liquid nitrogen 
  • Gaseous nitrogen 
  • Silica Gel 
  • Extraction solvent (preferably hexane)
  • Water 

You can extract non-volatile terpenes by using a non-polar organic solvent like hexane. Manufacturers also use silica to remove these terpenes from other compounds present in the whole extract. 

Terpenes with a high carbon level will often escape more slowly than those with lower molecular weight compounds. But cyclized terpenes can escape even faster than non-cyclic terpenes with the same carbon number because of their compact size. 

Most companies shy away from using hexane due to the possibility of residual solvents in the final product. In any case, they need to get their terpenes tested from third-party labs to ensure they are safe for consumption. 

Using Carbon Dioxide Extraction Machine for Terpenes Extraction

CO2 extraction allows you to extract terpenes while saving time and energy. This technique uses heat and pressure to convert gaseous carbon dioxide (CO2) into a supercritical liquid. This supercritical liquid or fluid functions as a solvent for plant materials. This method of cycling the CO2 through the plant material generates a compound that needs refining through a process of "winterization." 

Winterization is a process that helps you to separate the plant lipids and fats from the target terpenes. CO2 is non-flammable, which makes it safer than other extraction processes. However, the process of refining and winterization may yield inferior terpenes due to a loss in the terpene profile.

As explained earlier, using an extraction machine will be the best method of extracting terpenes because of their nature and chemical properties. If you’re looking to extract terpenes free from impurities, using a carbon dioxide extraction machine may yield good results. 

CO2 extraction machines are suitable for extracting terpenes from plant materials. The techniques permit simple fractional extraction and basic separation methods that prevent the plant oils from being damaged after the whole process and shield them from a high temperature that is even higher than the extraction temperature. 

Other extraction machine manufacturers often engage high temperatures in the extraction and separation containers with boilers or boiled water to make the CO2 expansion cooling uniform. Higher temperatures allow light terpene oils to escape and also remove any color from the terpenes. 

Most terpene companies use CO2 subcritical extraction methods to derive terpenes. Unfortunately, the extractors are very expensive, so it isn’t viable for smaller companies. Another disadvantage is that you cannot process both frozen and wet material efficiently.

In addition, CO2 reacts with water to form carbonic acid that alters the pH of the terpenes. Simply put, the taste of the terpenes change due to the acidity.  

How to Extract Terpenes from Cannabis at Home?


As you can surmise by now, extracting terpenes is a complex process, not to mention the cost involved. Typically, it’s challenging to extract terpenes at home unless you have the capital to purchase super expensive extraction machines. 

Comparing all techniques, the safest way to extract terpenes is through a steam distiller. Any steam distiller used to extract essential oils will do the job. You will also derive hydrosols as a by-product. Steam distillers cost anywhere from $200 to $500, depending on what you’re looking for. 

However, remember that the results will not be as precise as commercial terpenes because they employ expensive extraction machines to extract pure terpenes. 

Types of Terpenes and Their Effects 

There are many types of terpenes, but some are more abundant in cannabis plants. Here are some of the most common cannabis terpenes:



Pinene smells like fresh pine trees in a forest. It comes in two forms — Alpha and Beta Pinene — and is known for its antimicrobial [2], anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial [3] properties. Used in aromatherapy for its potential to manage depression and anxiety, Pinene is also abundant in pine trees. It may also work to address respiratory problems. 



Limonene is one of the most popular and abundant terpenes in cannabis. Also found in the rinds of citrus fruits, limonene smells like a beautiful combination of fresh lemons and oranges, which explains why many cannabis strains smell like freshly-squeezed lemons! Most cosmetic and household products contain limonene due to its “fresh” fragrance. As a result, limonene is used to uplift your mood. One of its benefits is the therapeutic properties that aid digestion and reduce acidity [4].



Myrcene is the most prominent terpene found in most cannabis strains. Amounting to more than 60% of the terpene profile, you’re likely to find this musky earthy and woody-smelling fragrant terpene in almost every cannabis strain. Also found in mangoes, myrcene is chock full of healthful benefits. 

The most significant advantage of using myrcene is that it improves the penetrating abilities [5] of cannabinoids so you gain more benefits. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties are further enhanced when it interacts with cannabinoids, including CBD, CBG, and THC. Myrcene is regarded for its sedative characteristics in particular since it puts you to sleep faster and lets you sleep for longer periods. 


beta caryophyllene

Beta-caryophyllene is unique because it’s one of the only terps that interacts with receptors [6] present in our body. In other words, it acts like cannabinoids. Found in varieties of plants, including rosemary, hops, black pepper, and cloves, this spicy terpene relieves cold and reduces congestion. In addition, the compound is popular for its anti-inflammatory effect and may help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.



Found primarily in hops — the plant used to make beer — humulene is responsible for making beer taste Also found in ginseng, humulene has been used in ancient medications for its benefits. Primarily, it acts as an appetite suppressant and also contains anti-inflammatory benefits. 



Linalool possesses numerous biological effects, including its anti-inflammatory properties. The compound is found in more than 200 species of plants, including lavender and citrus fruits. In addition, linalool is famous for imparting a characteristic cannabis fragrance we have all come to love.  

Benefits of Cannabis Terpenes 

The cannabis plants are rich in terpenes, and each of these terps has its unique effects on the human body. Some of these terps in cannabis plants can also be found in other plant species.  Some of the health benefits of cannabis terpenes are:

  • Anti-inflammatory 
  • Can serve as sedatives 
  • Help with anxiety and depression 
  • Can help manage chronic pain 

Can Terpenes Make You High?

No, terpenes do not make you high. 

Terpenes are produced by the trichomes of the cannabis plant — the same gland that produces cannabinoids as well. Since both components are found in the same area, it’s natural to wonder if terpenes can make you high. 

In fact, no cannabis-derived terpene can produce psychoactive effects. However, terpenes extracted from other plants may produce intoxicating effects. For example, salvinorin A derived from the salvia plant can produce hallucinating effects. Another terpene called myristicin found in nutmegs can also be hallucinatory, much like LSD. 

The only cannabinoid associated with a high in cannabis plants is THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC interacts with the receptors present in the body to produce a high. However, terpenes do not bind to any endocannabinoid receptors like THC. Beta-caryophyllene binds to receptors but it doesn’t produce a high. Therefore, terpenes cannot produce narcotic effects. 

In short, terpenes do not have the ability to induce a high on their own. Although terpenes are more beneficial when combined with cannabinoids, you can still consume cannabis-derived terpenes without having to worry about any side effects. From pain relief [7] to improving insomnia and providing a restful sleep, many terpenes can work wonders. 

How to Buy Terpenes

If you want to taste cannabis strains without using the herb, terpenes are made just for you. Several manufacturers sell isolates and blended combinations of many popular strains. However, since the industry is regulated poorly, you may come across companies selling synthetic terpenes masked as true terpenes. Here are a few tips to follow when purchasing terps:

  1. Buy only from reputed companies

Instead of experimenting with new companies, go for established companies with a solid reputation. Companies with several years of experience in this field will manufacture high-quality terpenes compared to those just getting started. 

Check for testimonials posted on third-party sites to see how others users rate their experience. Does the company answer questions? Are they transparent about their company? Do they mention how they source their plant material? Are the terpenes derived from hemp? This is not to say that terpenes extracted from other plants are bad; however, cannabis terpenes offer more benefits due to the entourage effect.

  1. Third-party tests

There are many ways to extract terpenes, and every method has its pros and cons. Therefore, it's essential to check for third-party tests to identify contamination from pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, microbes, fungi, and more. Most brands usually get their tests from independent labs that honestly publish test results. Third-party tests also give you the satisfaction of purchasing terps that are totally worth your hard-earned money.

  1. Be aware of fake terpenes

Extracting terpenes is an expensive and time-consuming process. Therefore, some dishonest brands may use synthetic fragrances that mimic natural terps to reduce their costs. Synthetic terpenes usually smell and taste way too aggressive, whereas real terps are milder. 

For instance, if you buy a strawberry terp that tastes extremely sweet with an equally intense fragrant profile, you could be dealing with fake terps. Most floral terpenes are very aromatic, but synthetic terpenes can smell sickly sweet. 

Although there is no evidence to prove that synthetic terps are bad for you, some studies [8] show they can be harmful when introduced to high temperatures. Dabbing, in particular, involves heating the concentrates at extremely high temperatures. Therefore, make sure you’re not using fake terpenes if you dab frequently. In addition, synthetic terps may irritate your lungs and offer no health benefits whatsoever.

Another way to identify fake terpenes lies in the price. As you know by now, extracting terpenes is not easy. It requires large amounts of plant material for minimal yields. Therefore, most manufacturers charge appropriate prices; however, you will find some companies selling terpenes at dirt-cheap prices or at rates that are significantly lower than the market value. In such cases, check for more details about the company. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s best to walk away and choose another brand since it’s not worth your money. 


In conclusion, people are interested in terpenes extraction because of its various benefits in food, industries, and vaping in terms of pleasure. Terpenes give different plants their unique aroma, and this unique fragrance depends on the terpenes ratio each plant has. It is what we call a terpene profile.

Terpenes play an important role in how every cannabis strain tastes, apart from the scent. In addition, they serve as a protective means for the plant, helping the plant evade predators. 

If you’re interested in experiencing the benefits of the cannabis plant without consuming the herb itself, you can purchase terpenes from any company. However, make sure you purchase from a trustworthy company. 

References Cited

  1. Ferber, S. G., Namdar, D., Hen-Shoval, D., Eger, G., Koltai, H., Shoval, G., ... & Weller, A. (2020). The “entourage effect”: terpenes coupled with cannabinoids for the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Current neuropharmacology18(2), 87-96.
  2. Rivas da Silva, A. C., Lopes, P. M., Barros de Azevedo, M. M., Costa, D. C., Alviano, C. S., & Alviano, D. S. (2012). Biological activities of α-pinene and β-pinene enantiomers. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)17(6), 6305-6316.
  3. Salehi, B., Upadhyay, S., Erdogan Orhan, I., Kumar Jugran, A., LD Jayaweera, S., A Dias, D., ... & Sharifi-Rad, J. (2019). Therapeutic potential of α-and β-pinene: a miracle gift of nature. Biomolecules9(11), 738.
  4. Sun, J. (2007). D-Limonene: safety and clinical applications. Alternative Medicine Review12(3).
  5. Surendran, S., Qassadi, F., Surendran, G., Lilley, D., & Heinrich, M. (2021). Myrcene—What Are the Potential Health Benefits of This Flavouring and Aroma Agent?. Frontiers in Nutrition, 400.
  6. Irrera, N., D’Ascola, A., Pallio, G., Bitto, A., Mannino, F., Arcoraci, V., ... & Squadrito, F. (2020). β-caryophyllene inhibits cell proliferation through a direct modulation of CB2 receptors in glioblastoma cells. Cancers12(4), 1038.
  7. Liktor-Busa, E., Keresztes, A., LaVigne, J., Streicher, J. M., & Largent-Milnes, T. M. (2021). Analgesic Potential of Terpenes Derived from Cannabis sativa. Pharmacological Reviews73(4), 98-126.
  8. Meehan-Atrash, J., Luo, W., & Strongin, R. M. (2017). Toxicant formation in dabbing: the terpene story. ACS omega2(9), 6112-6117.





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