We often refer to cannabis as a “weed,” but this magical plant is actually a flower that contains 140 different essential oils. The practice of aromatherapy, also known as essential oil therapy, is the science of extracting aromatic essences from plants to promote balance in the body and mind. The main therapeutic agents in essential oils are known as terpenes, which have a wide variety of uses, from hygiene products to food flavorings. The Egyptians, well known for their aromatic oils and ointments, used essential oils as early as 4500 BCE. Essential oils can be extracted from all parts of the plant: petals (rose), rind (lemon), bark (cinnamon), roots (ginger), wood (cedar), or needles (spruce). Of all these plants, only cannabis produces such a wide variety of different terpenes.
The two most effective means of using essential oils are inhalation and topical application. When inhaled, the oils pass through the mucous membranes in the nose, to the olfactory nerve and finally into the limbic system of the brain, which is responsible for hormone regulation and other important bodily functions. Smelling a flower, smoking, or diffusing essential oils will produce the desired effects almost instantly. Cannabis salves, which contain both terpenes and cannabinoids, can be used topically to alleviate pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Terpenes and cannabinoids have different molecular weights. The smaller terpenes pass through all three layers of the skin and enter the bloodstream, while the larger molecules of cannabinoids cannot. For this reason, you will not test positive for THC as long as the product is applied to unbroken skin. Topical application is doubly effective, being both absorbed by the skin and inhaled.
Each strain of cannabis has a different essential oil profile, which can have thousands of effects, ranging from a clear focused mind, distracted giggly brain, relaxed but functional body, or a severely heavy body that feels no pain. Of the 140 essential oils found in cannabis, there are four major terpenes, commonly found in the female plant. Here’s a brief breakdown of those four terpenes:
Pinene comes from conifers or pine trees. Pinene is the most widely encountered terpene in nature. It can be extracted from the needles of conifers or even the pine nut itself. It is known to help memory, alertness, and awareness. Pinene is also a bronchodilator, and can help breathing conditions like asthma or shortness of breath.
Limonene is found most commonly in lemons, and provides stress relief and mood lift. One whiff of a lemony cannabis strain will provide you an immediate mental boost. It is also a powerful antimicrobial. Think of all the lemon “cleaners” on the market. Limonene is also very high in antioxidants, which remove potentially damaging oxidizing agents from the body.
Lavender, or linalool, is found in as many as 80 percent of all hygiene products, such as soaps, detergents, lotions, and shampoos. Some cannabis strains, like Grape Ape, test high in linalool and can provide a relaxing and chatty evening with friends. More than 200 species of plants produce linalool. It provides sedative, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (pain-relieving) effects.
The fourth major terpene is myrcene and is the most common terpene found in cannabis, which is great news because it is a powerful painkiller, antibiotic, and antianxiety agent. Myrcene smells hoppy like an IPA, and is responsible for the heavy-bodied, “couch lock” effect associated with cannabis Indica. Myrcene also maximizes the absorption of other cannabinoids like CBD in the brain.
Advances in cannabis medicine make this industry dynamic. Four years ago, terpenes were only thought of as smelly and tasty molecules. Current studies have shown that terpenes actually play a large role in the high associated with cannabis. Understanding this, one can predict effects. If a cannabis flower smells like lemon, one can assume the mood lifting properties of limonene are contained within the plant. If it smells like hops, you know that it contains myrcene and you will likely absorb more THC and be couch-bound for the next couple hours.
Next time you stop and smell the flowers, particularly cannabis, try to identify the different combinations of essential oils this majestic plant contains. Cannabis research is only beginning to gain traction due to federal mandates against medical studies. We are only scratching the surface of the immeasurable benefits and healing effects of cannabis and its essential oils. Moving forward, many more discoveries are just waiting to be found.
Since 2009, High Country Healing has dedicated their time and energy to creating the best and most effective medicine possible. These stores feature a live grow, visible to patients, where one can directly observe the cultivation of cannabis by hand. This transparency allows patients to see the love and care that goes into their medicine. Visit HighCountryHealing.com for more information or call (970) 468-7858 to talk to a professional.