Guide to Terpineol, the Terpene Alcohols That Smell Like Lilacs and Fruit

closeup of bush with purple flowers

Table of contents

  1. What Is Terpineol?
  2. Health Benefits and Uses
  3. Potential Risks and Side Effects
  4. Cannabis Strains High in Terpineol
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

The cannabis plant is a treasure trove of cannabinoids and terpenes that work together to contribute to each strain’s aromas, flavors, and effects. Terpineol, one such molecule, plays an important role, but this terpene isn’t as straightforward as others in cannabis.

Terpineol can refer to any one of four monoterpenes that occur in more than 150 plants, of which cannabis is one. The most common, alpha-terpineol (α-terpineol), features a pleasant citrusy aroma with hints of herbs. It can also smell sweet, fresh and a bit like lilacs or roses, and quite different to lavender (linalool). However, terpineol most commonly occurs in strains high with the potent-smelling pinene, so it’s hard to detect its more subtle scent in cultivars with both. 

Terpineol is found in cardamom, cajuput oil and pine oil. It has biological applications as an antioxidant, anticancer, anticonvulsant, antiulcer, antihypertensive, anti-nociceptive (pain reducing) compound.

What Is Terpineol?

Rather than a regular terpene, terpineol is an umbrella term referring to several terpene alcohols. A terpene alcohol shares many characteristics with regular terpenes, plus a distinct oxygen-containing hydroxyl on one side of the chemical.

Four different monoterpenes get grouped into the term “terpineol,” each with unique differences between their scents:

  • Alpha-terpineol features a light, lilac-like odor reminiscent of fresh peaches.
  • Beta-terpineol features a woodsy scent of fresh-cut trees.
  • Gamma-terpineol features a citrus-leaning aroma.
  • Terpinen-4-ol features earthy notes with a woody overtone.

Terpineol commonly occurs in more than 150 plants, including flowers, fruits, and spices such as apples, basil, limes, lilac, grapefruit, rosemary, eucalyptus, and pine trees.

The essential oil is often used in cosmetics or skincare products, such as soap, lotion, and perfume, and is favored for its soft lilac profile. Terpineol can also enhance skin penetration, making it a very useful terpene for topicals and beauty products.

Terpineol often occurs in different teas, most noticeably in lapsang souchong tea with its piney, smoky aroma. Terpineol is also often used as a flavoring element in condiments and baked goods.

Finally, some clinical research has pointed to terpineol as a helpful pest repellent against insects.

Health Benefits and Uses

Plants with terpineol have been used as natural remedies for centuries. The lime blossom flower, which contains high levels of terpineol, was traditionally used to treat colds and called the “nectar of kings” for its scent and therapeutic benefits. While sparse research, and few recent studies, examine the therapeutic potential of terpineol, the existing evidence points to many promising uses.

Two separate studies in 2007 and 2010, respectively, showed that alpha-terpineol features anti-inflammatory effects, the latter of which recommended further examination of alpha-terpineol as a potential component of new anti-inflammatory medications.

Terpineol also presents promising antioxidative properties: researchers in 2011 compared the antioxidant effects of alpha-terpineol and other terpenes and found that terpineol had the most substantial antioxidant effect, comparable to commercially sold antioxidants. 

Additional studies have pointed to terpineol’s potential in battling cancer cells. In the above analysis and a 2010 study, the evidence showed promising results in alpha-terpineol’s ability to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumor cells in vitro, suggesting its usefulness in treating certain types of cancer.

Finally, a 2012 study examining terpineol’s antimicrobial properties found that low terpene levels, alongside linalool, were an effective antibacterial agent in toothpaste and other mouth cleaning solutions.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

There are little-to-no risks known surrounding terpineol, but there are some side effects of which to be aware. Terpineol is often characterized as a relaxing terpene. In lab studies, it has been observed to sedate mice, so those seeking to maintain higher energy levels may want to avoid it.

There’s also the potential of mild skin irritation or dermatologic allergic response with topical use. If you think you may be allergic to terpineol, it’s best to test on a small patch of skin before use. 

Cannabis Strains High in Terpineol

Several well-known and loved cannabis strains contain high levels of terpineol. Often, the terpene appears in strains with high levels of pinene, and terpineol’s soft lilac smell plays second fiddle to the powerful pine aroma of the latter. 

Some cannabis strains with terpineol are:

  • Girl Scout Cookies
  • White Widow
  • Blue Dream
  • Skywalker OG
  • OG Kush
  • Jack Herer
  • Fire OG

Frequently Asked Questions

Is terpineol safe for humans?

Yes, terpineol is safe for consumption and topical use for humans. Terpineol has mild sedative effects, so cannabis users should avoid consuming the terpene whenever higher energy levels are required.

Is terpineol safe for skin?

Terpineol is generally safe for skin and topical use. However, some users may develop some skin irritation or an allergic response, so users should take care to test a product in a small area before use if an allergy is suspected.

Where is terpineol found?

Terpineol and its many types appear in more than 150 plants in nature, including several flowers, fruits, and spices such as apples, basil, limes, lilac, grapefruit, rosemary, eucalyptus, and pine trees.

Keep Reading