Terpenes 101: What Is Limonene?

Lemon essential oil and lemon fruits on wooden background IStock / NikiLitov

Limonene is a type of terpene, which is an organic compound produced by plants. As cannabis lovers know, many of the health benefits and effects derived from weed come from terpenes. There are at least 100 terpenes in the cannabis plant, each one changes the effect of the strain. This article will focus on one of the most common terpenes, Limonene.

Limonene’s citrus oils influence the strain’s aroma. For instance, it is found in strains like Super Lemon Haze, which is not surprising since limonene gets its name from lemons. Or, more specifically, the rinds of lemons.

However, limonene isn’t limited to just marijuana, cloves, lemons, and oregano for example, also contain limonene. It also has many other uses such as cosmetics, perfumes, medicines, and cleaning products and can even act as a solvent to help remove oil and add aroma: it provides a turpentine-like effect.

Plants possess terpenes for a reason; limonene is used to ward off predators and dissuade insects from invading. It’s found in the rinds of citrus fruits (namely lemons and oranges), rosemary, peppermint, juniper, and in pine needles.


Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), lemon, vinegar and salt

IStock / Svehlik

Benefits of Limonene

1. Limonene as a Medicine

Historically, limonene has been used medicinally and therapeutically to aid in all sort of issues.

It also provides antifungal properties (because of its ability to permeate proteins) and antibacterial properties. It’s useful in reducing gastric reflux, thus minimizing the accompanying heartburn. It’s even believed to promote weight loss, treat bronchitis, increases attention span and even promote a healthy libido.

2. Limonene and Cancer

How can terpenes hinder cancer’s ability to either start or spread?

According to a study conducted by the Department of Biology at Purdue University, limonene does possess anti-tumor activity. In rodents, it offers chemopreventative benefits against skin, liver, stomach, and mammary cancer (the rodent’s version of breasts).

It’s believed limonene is effective because it promotes a process that results in carcinogen detoxification and leads to apoptosis, a circumstance where cancer cells go off and die. According to Self Hacked Science-Based Information, “Limonene prevents the growth of cancer cells by inhibiting G proteins that are involved in cell signaling pathways that induce cell growth.”

Limonene is also anti-inflammatory, something that may prevent cancers from occurring in the first place: per the National Center for Biotechnology Information, inflammation is a critical part of cancer development and progression. This is why so many cancers arise from sites of infection, chronic irritation, and long-term inflammation (short-term inflammation helps heal the body while long-term destroys its tissues).

Doctor explaining to patient the benefits of citrus

IStock / nensuria

3. Limonene and the Immune System

Of course, the immune system plays an instrumental role in cancer, perhaps explaining while there are reports of kidney cancers, breast cancers, testicular cancers, and melanomas going away without treatment. Another explanation is that tumors must acquire an increasing number of mutations to progress. The ones that fail to do this end up disappearing.

In regards to limonene and the immune system, a study conducted in 2011 at the University of Arizona found that it’s a terpene with the ability to modulate the immune system and enhance how the body uses it. A subsequent study two years later found that limonene was effective in preventing cancer cell proliferation and reducing the size of the tumor, suggesting that it works with the body to fight malignancy.

Lemon slices on a cutting board with marijuana

IStock / AHPhotoswpg

Strains High in Limonene

Now that you know why limonene is the desired terpene, you might be ready to run out and buy a strain filled with it. Your local budtender can help guide you in the right direction, but here are some strains worth giving a try:

Super Lemon Haze: Super Lemon Haze provides a social, uplifting, and energetic high that’s great for use during daylight hours or when you feel like engaging in conversation. It elevates the mood and helps relieve chronic stress, anxiety issues, and depression. It’s also used for minor pain relief as well as nausea and loss of appetite.

Lemon Kush: The high from Lemon Kush is a bit delayed, taking ten or so minutes to come fully into fruition (so be aware if you’re a first-time smoker). When it does, it offers acute and focused cerebral effects. It’s been used to compound creativity and help with free association of thoughts. Many users like it because of the clear-headedness it provides: you’re high but not so much that you can’t get anything done. It might even prove conducive to getting the mundane accomplished: smoke up before you conquer spring cleaning.

Lemon Skunk: Lemon Skunk is high in THC (hovering around 22 percent). It provides users with a sense of well-being, cerebral stimulation, and introspection. Some users experience frank exhilaration while others find that it inspires creativity. It can be somewhat sedating, which you may or may not like. New users should reserve this strain for nighttime use until they build up a bit of tolerance. This strain is known to cause dizziness too, especially in high doses. Just something to know in the event you’re planning to drive, operate heavy machinery, or walk across a tightrope without a net below.

lemon cannabis, lemon marijuana aroma, a curative marijuana bud

Istock / Yarygin

Even though there is a lot of research to be done on the effects of limonene, we do know that it is a beneficial terpene with a wide range of uses.

Terpenes 101: What Is Limonene? was last modified: by
Jenn Keeler
About Jenn Keeler
Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.