Terpene Molecular Types

Updated: May 7

Beyond major and minor categories that indicate their relative presence in the cannabis genome, scientists sort terpenes in several different categories based on their molecular and chemical characteristics.

Isoprene Units

Isoprenes, often called isoprene units, are simple molecules that join with others to form more complex chemical compounds. Isoprene molecules feature five carbon atoms with double bonds. Thus, the most simple terpene category, monoterpenes, features two isoprene molecules. The most sophisticated (and molecularly heavy) terpene type, tetraterpenes, feature eight isoprene units.

The types of terpene molecules, as defined by their isoprene compounds, are listed below:

  1. Monoterpenes: Most simple and lightest terpene type. Examples: Camphor, citral, limonene, menthol, nerol, and pinene. Two isoprene units; 10 carbon atoms.

  2. Sesquiterpenes: Examples: Farnesol, ginger, and nerolidol. Three isoprene units; 15 carbon atoms.

  3. Diterpenes: Examples: Phytol and vitamin A. Four isoprene units; 20 carbon atoms. Really just two monoterpenes combined.

  4. Sesterterpenes: Rare among terpene compounds. Examples: Mangicols and neomangicols. Five isoprene units; 25 carbon atoms.

  5. Triterpenes: Examples: Malabaricane and squalene. Six isoprene units; 30 carbon atoms.

  6. Tetraterpenes: Examples: β-carotene, lycopene, and lutein (which are also categorized as carotenoids.. Eight isoprene units; 40 carbon atoms .

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