What Is Limonene? Everything to Know About the Citrus Terpene

Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Nov 17 2021 - 4 min read

Limonene is a naturally occurring oil most commonly found in the peels of citrus fruits like oranges or lemons and is often used to treat a wide variety of health ailments and issues. What many might not know, however, is that limonene is also abundant in some strains of medical cannabis. 

Not only will you find this fascinating chemical compound in cosmetics, fragrances like perfumes and deodorants, some beverages like tea, and essential oil-infused supplements, but you can find it in your cannabis products on the next trip to your local dispensary.  


What Is Limonene? 

At its purest essence, limonene is an oil most commonly found in orange peel and other citrus fruits like lime, lemon, or grapefruit. People have been using this compound for natural treatments and symptom management for thousands of years now.   

When it comes to cannabis, this ultra-aromatic terpene usually appears in strains with fruity, sweet flavoring and smells and makes up about 2 percent of the flower’s dry weight. While that might not be a lot compared to the other cannabinoids found in most strains, with THC dominating at between 10-30 percent of the dry weight, it’s still more than enough to make a difference for patients. 

While the limonene itself is not psychoactive, it will enhance and change the effects of cannabis just like any other terpene. Not only will it add a fruity, refreshing scent and flavor to the cannabis products, but limonene is effective at helping reduce anxiety and improve mood. Evidence shows that limonene is an analgesic, anti-cancer, can reduce cholesterol, and is an anti-inflammatory. 

Health Benefits of Limonene

Limonene has long been used as a naturally occurring, holistic treatment for issues like gallstones, stomach and digestive problems, weight loss, issues related to inflammation, anxiety, and even cancer prevention.

These benefits come from both internal and external use. While smoking cannabis strains and compounds with limonene is an option, it’s just as effective when used on the human body’s most prominent and most visible organs: the skin.

Creams infused with limonene are shown to be incredibly effective when it comes to inflamed and irritated tissues on the surface of the skin. Research shows that creams that utilize high doses of limonene are effective for contact dermatitis, exposure to skin-irritating substances, and other skin issues without many of the side effects of other medications.    

To dig a little deeper into those issues, let’s break them down one by one and go over the science that either does or doesn’t back up those claims. 

Alleviates Anxiety

Early research on limonene shows that high doses of limonene are linked to chronic stress-induced memory impairment and anxiety in animal studies featuring rats and mice. The research indicates that rats dosed with 10 mg of l-limonene, a chemical compound from limonene, every six hours for 21 consecutive days. At the end of the study, the animal’s doses with limonene did more to reduce anxiety than the control group. 


A recent study showed that limonene could potentially be used as an anti-inflammatory compound for asthma patients, which is excellent news on paper for medical cannabis patients consuming limonene-rich strains. Another recent study showed the effectiveness of d-limonene when it comes to anti-inflammatory and anti-angiogenic effects on the skin’s surface.


Recent research shows that limonene has potential as a painkiller. This research shows that those who consume foods that have large amounts of limonene or take doses of the essential oil itself experience some analgesic-like activity. While more research needs to be done, the early signs show that hydrocarbon limonene present in oranges, papaya, and pineapple have some pain-killing effects in large doses.


The most shocking of limonene’s supposed side effects is its links to cancer-killing and tumor growth-inhibiting properties. Early research shows that limonene is linked to slowing and reducing the size of cancerous growths, particularly in breast tissue. Other researchers have also found links to reducing prostate cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer

While the research is still in incredibly early stages, the links are substantial and should be researched for their potential. 

Potential Risks and Side Effects

While the research showing the links between limonene and so many of these positive effects we just broke down, it’s important to note that more research needs to be done to figure out if those links are as substantial as they appear. 

Organizations like the Food and Drug Administration have yet to approve or back up any of these scientific links and studies. That means that there has not yet been enough peer-reviewed, substantial research to prove that limonene does what those studies have shown often and consistently enough. 

How to Dose Limonene

While you can always take in limonene in the form of essential oils or another topical cream, for example, the most consistent way for medical cannabis patients to get large doses of limonene is via cannabis. 

Specifically, you’ll want to get your hands on a limonene-rich strain like: 

    • Lemon G
    • Banana OG
    • Berry White
    • Emerald Jack
    • Cookies and Cream
    • Black Cherry Soda
    • Do-Si-Do
    • Purple Hindu Kush
    • Shining Silver Haze
    • Liberty Haze
    • Wedding Cake
    • White Fire OG

Those are just a few of the strains with the highest limonene content. 

Just like any other form of medication or medical cannabis product, you’ll want to consult with your healthcare provider and work with them to figure out the right dose for yourself. When it comes to dosage, we highly recommend the “slow and low” approach of starting with a small amount of cannabis, seeing how it affects you, then increasing the dosage little by little until you get the desired effect. 

Written by
Joe Evans
Joe Evans

Joe Evans is a journalist, writer, editor and contributor for Leafwell. He has, to date, more than 5,000 articles published online under his byline on topics like cannabis, local and National news, politics, automotive news, sports, pop culture and even a cult.

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