Learning How to ID Terpenes

A terpenes banner with many different color-coded symbols representing different terpenes

“Have you ever wondered how a chemist can just look at a molecule and say hey, that’s a terpene?” is the question Riley answers for us in this video. First, she lets her viewers know how chemists can do this. Afterwards, she teaches how we can do it, too!

Isoprene Units

Being able to identify an isoprene unit is key to being able to identify a terpene. It is basically the basis and building block of terpenes. All terpenes are made from isoprene units. When adding two or more isoprene units together, they form in a “head to tail” fashion. Using an image of the isoprene unit structure, Riley shows her viewers how the head of the unit creates a “>” shape and the tail of the unit is a singular “/” shape. Every time a head attaches to a tail, it creates a new bond.


Using limonene as an example, Riley highlights all of the isoprene units in the structure. In this specific terpene, there are two different isoprene units. Riley highlights one unit in pink and one unit in yellow, which makes it clear to see how each unit attaches to each other to create bonds. To create new bonds, enzymes stitch together each isoprene unit in the “head to tail” manner. While identifying terpenes is entirely possible and maybe even easy to the trained eye, it can be hard to do because terpenes are altered by enzymes. 

Keeping Up With Riley

You can keep up with Riley Dee on her Tik Tok account named Cannabichem, as well as right here on the Arbor Vita8 website! 

Still have more questions? Do you know someone in the field that’s looking to take their industrial hemp efforts to the next level? Have them reach out to us today! Our network of credentialed associates are here to help you. Head over to our contact page now for more information.

Clip Transcript

Riley Dee:
Have you ever wondered how a chemist can just look at a molecule and say, “Hey, that’s a terpene.” Probably not, but let’s learn how to identify them.
So it all comes down to being able to identify this. It’s called an isoprene unit and it’s the building block of terpenes. So they’re all made of this building block. Okay, what’s really important is, when we’re adding these isoprene units together, they’re going to add in a head to tail fashion.

So the head of the isoprene unit is where the V is right here, and the tail is going to be this portion. So if we look at where the two isoprene units are here, you’ll notice it’s going to go head to tail, new bond, head to tail.
Okay, let’s look at an example, like limonene from our last video. Do you see any isoprene units? Obviously okay if you don’t, we’re going to point them out. So the first one’s going to be the pink one here, you’ll notice the head’s at the bottom, it’s a V-shape. Then it goes to the tail, creates a new bond and then attaches to the head of the second isoprene unit.


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