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Limonene: The Terpene With Uplifting Citrus Flavor

limonene terpene title

Limonene is one of the most common terpenes in the world. It is very common among cannabis varieties and can be found in strains of all origins thanks to extensive hybridization. Finding a cannabis strain that doesn’t have limonene is actually more difficult than finding strains that contain this uplifting terpene.

Outside of cannabis, limonene can be found in citrus fruits and coniferous and broadleaved trees. Many trees produce the terpene, including red and silver maple, cottonwoods, aspens, sumac, spruce, various pines and firs, cedars, and junipers.

Table of Contents

The Limonene Molecule

Limonene Overview

What Are Terpenes?

All plants contain aromatic and flavor producing molecules called terpenes. They are the largest group of plant chemicals, with up to 20,000 different terpenes that have been characterized [3]. Terpenes are found in the essential oil of plants or can be manufactured as concentrated terpene isolates. CBD isolate products do not contain terpenes, which is why they do not have a very good flavor.

Some terpenes are thought to act in synergy with cannabinoids, or in a complementary fashion [3]. Indeed, terpenes are also a large part of the experience and effects of particular cannabis strains.

Unlike cannabinoids, terpenes have a special FDA clearance called “GRAS.” This means they are “Generally Regarded as Safe” in terms of consumption. Because of this terpenes can be used as common food and supplement ingredients and do not face strict legal restrictions.

What is the Entourage Effect?

The “entourage effect” is why full-spectrum cannabis products have good activity at medium doses (like a bell-shaped curve). By contrast, isolated cannabinoids generally have the best activity at either low or very high doses (like a “u” shaped curve).

Researcher Ethan Russo reviews some of the synergistic effects of limonene:

The Benefits of Limonene

Limonene has very high bioavailability and is highly non-toxic [3]. What this means is that the terpene is easily absorbed and utilized by the body and has a good safety profile. Those traits make limonene of interest for therapeutic uses. Limonene can irritate skin and lead to rashes, so it needs to be diluted down before using it.

Mood Improvement

Limonene is a powerful anxiolytic agent (anti-anxiety) [1, 3]. Limonene essential oil has been found to improve mood disorders like anxiety and depression by increasing serotonin in the prefrontal cortex, and dopamine in the hippocampus. Interestingly, the terpene does this by acting on a pathway called 5-HT1A, which is the same mode of action CBD is thought to utilize to produce the same effects.

Antioxidant Ability

Limonene has antioxidant properties that are of interest for cancer prevention and for combatting microbes like skin fungus [1, 3]. The terpene has been tested against breast cancer cells in clinical trials. While high doses were needed, limonene did encourage those cancer cells to self-destruct (apoptosis).

Anti-Inflammatory Action

Limonene is suspected of having anti-inflammatory action [1, 2]. The terpene has been observed exerting this effect in many animal models. Researchers note that the terpene reduced the presence of TNF-a, a cytokine (a cell secretion that affects other cells) that instigates inflammation [2].

Concluding Thoughts

Limonene is thought to have energizing and uplifting effects as part of a cannabis terpene profile. However, the overall effects of a strain will depend on the whole plant’s composition of other terpenes and cannabinoids. Limonene is not specific to a strain’s geographic origin or plant appearance (indica or sativa).

Limonene Hemp Strains

Limonene Marijuana Strains


  1. Hartsel, J. A., Eades, J., Hickory, B., & Makriyannis, A. (2016). Cannabis sativa and Hemp. In Nutraceuticals (pp. 735-754). Academic Press.
  2. Kummer, R., Fachini-Queiroz, F. C., Estevão-Silva, C. F., Grespan, R., Silva, E. L., Bersani-Amado, C. A., & Cuman, R. K. (2013). Evaluation of Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Citrus latifolia Tanaka Essential Oil and Limonene in Experimental Mouse ModelsEvidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM2013, 859083.
  3. Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effectsBritish journal of pharmacology163(7), 1344-1364.
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