How can we combine aromatherapy oils and terpenes to personalize medicine?
This may not surprise you, but essential oils and cannabis may be the perfect combo. When combined, these natural substances trigger the olfactory and endocannabinoid systems. Cannabis, as well as many other plants, contain terpenes. Manufacturers take terpenes from these other plants to create essential oils. Terpenes have myriad therapeutic effects, which have recently become a growing area of research. Within cannabis, these flavor and scent producing compounds also may help to enhance the psychoactive effects of THC.
Terpenes are so much more than this, though. Plants develop terpenes to fight off predators, but also to attract the types of predators and pollinators that can help a plant prosper. These compounds play an important medicinal role for cannabis patients with their contribution to the entourage effect.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy has recently taken the spotlight for its therapeutic potential. Essential oils used in aromatherapy include lavender, eucalyptus, and sage. And now, cannabis oils too. Patients can apply essential oils topically or by inhaling. Massage therapists also often use essential oils. The specific uses and applications of these oils tends to depend on the patient’s desired effects.
Healing scents aren’t exactly new. Aromatherapy calms pathways in the brain. The effectiveness of aromatherapy will depend on the individual, but there is certainly some evidence that these aromatic essential oils can help with anxiety, tension, and promoting relaxation.
Benefits Of Aromatherapy Oils
Aromatherapy primarily works through targeting the olfactory receptors in the nose. Everything you smell triggers these receptors, communicating information about the smell to the brain. Mitral cells send signals from the olfactory bulb to an area of the brain known as the olfactory cortex where smells are perceived and distinguished from one another. These mitral cells also take these smell signals to other parts of the brain such as the limbic system and amygdala – an area of the brain associated with stress and fear, as well as memory and learning.
Have you ever experienced a sense of nostalgia from a certain smell? That’s because of how your olfactory system interacts with areas of the brain like the amygdala. Even those with degenerative brain disorders can still have memories associated with smell. Due to the connection between the olfactory system and the brain, aromatherapy is thought to help ease stress, help induce relaxation, and improve mood.
The Synergy Of Aromatherapy Oils And Terpenes
Both the olfactory system and the brain are rich in cannabinoid receptors, particularly the CB1 receptor. When you inhale essential oils that contain cannabis, these molecules bind to cannabinoid receptors. And because the limbic system and amygdala contain CB1 receptors, cannabis-infused essential oils can induce responses similar to consuming cannabis through other methods.
There are nine primary terpenes in cannabis that are believed to be best for aromatherapy. Some of these include alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, alpha-bisabolol, borneol, caryophyllene, humulene, myrcene, and limonene. Although the research isn’t extensive, there is evidence that these terpenes, in isolation or in combination, have benefits. For example, pinene has been shown to work as a decongestant, helping to increase airflow to the lungs and clear the sinuses.
Borneol widens lung capillaries and increases the speed at which medicinal compounds in cannabis can enter the bloodstream. Research has shown limonene as a powerful antioxidant, as well as having anti-inflammatory properties. Oxidative stress is one of the primary drivers of aging, and so anything that reduces oxidation may help slow aging.
Terpenes and cannabinoids work synergistically together to provide therapeutic effects. For example, cannabidiol (CBD) decreases the psychoactive effects of THC. Terpenes like alpha pinene and beta pinene similarly lessen the THC’s medicating effects. THC binds to areas of the brain that are involved in perception, such as the brain stem controlling sleeping, breathing, heart rate. THC also binds to areas in the limbic system that control emotions, as well as the cerebral cortex, which is where we do most of our thinking. So alpha pinene and beta pinene can counteract the psychoactive effects without lessening the medical benefits.
How Terpenes Could Help Personalize Medical Cannabis
When cannabis is consumed, THC acts as a partial CB1 receptor agonist. Terpenes also bind to endocannabinoid receptors and can modify their output. In other words, the amount of THC “allowed” to pass through the blood-brain barrier and affect neurotransmitter levels could be contingent on the presence or absence of certain terpenes. This has led to speculation that terpenes control the wide variety of effects of different cannabis strains.
For example, the terpene beta-caryophyllene binds selectively to CB2 receptors. Activating CB2 receptors reduces inflammation, which means that it could work with other compounds that also reduce inflammation. By focusing on this terpene for a patient who has chronic inflammation, it may be possible to improve the medicinal value of cannabis as an anti-inflammatory agent.
People naturally gravitate towards specific terpene profiles for different conditions. And of course – if a product calms you down and brings positive effects, you’re going to want more of that particular product. It’s clear that certain strains have different effects on different people. More clinical studies will most likely take place in the near future that will help to establish a distinct association between certain terpene profiles’ affects on health conditions.
Modern medicine is moving closer towards personalization. The rise of using terpenes as a means to personalize the medicinal benefits of cannabis is an example of this. And combining the terpenes of cannabis and aromatherapy could be one of many ways to give a patient personalized treatment for their health condition(s).