Updated on January 21, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
If you enjoy smokable bud, you fall into one of two categories. You are either a purist, who likes the aromatherapy of fragrant marijuana flower, or you aren’t bothered to pack a bowl with dried cannabis. To be clear, there isn’t a big difference between moist or fresh cannabis and dried stuff. Dried shake can be much more economical to buy at your local medical dispensary.
However, smokable cannabis provides a more pleasurable experience if your bud is fresh and not fried or overdried. The reason is that the smell of the terpenes and flavonoids enhance the flavor of your smoke. Some people enjoy the aromatherapy of fresh weed. And there is some science to that.
If you have just got home from the dispensary and you open your zip lock bag or container of smokable flower, breathe deep… and smile. You aren’t imagining it. The smell of cannabis has a number of aromatherapeutic benefits. Just the same way as natural essential oils like lavender, lemon, or sage create energetic or relaxing moods.
When you invest in a good quality airtight container for your whole-flower, you lock in the freshness of your cannabis. You also help preserve naturally occurring (and beneficial) cannabinoids and terpenes in your weed. Essentially, you are making sure that every bowl you smoke is packed full of healthy aromas, terpenes, and flavonoids that can improve the wellness benefits you get from your medical marijuana.
How Do Terpenes Provide Aromatherapy Benefits?
Different strains have unique aromas that can be therapeutic. And it comes down to the terpene content of the cannabis. Those terpenes do more than ‘smell good.’ They can make you feel good too. Some studies have shown that terpenes can influence behavioral and emotional responses, including improving alertness, energy, or focus. Or inducing a state of ease and relaxation.
The Japanese art of ‘forest bathing’ has physiological and emotional benefits. As you are walking through a forest, guess what is happening? That’s right; you are inhaling naturally occurring terpenes. A clinical study published in the Journal of Toxicological Research showed the practice of shinrin-yoku (Japanese forest bathing) provided anti-inflammatory health benefits.
Regular practice of shinrin-yoku was also found to reduce tumor growth and offer benefits to the neurological and nervous system. Scientifically documented evidence that terpenes provide valuable wellness benefits. As long as you store your cannabis correctly, you can experience some of those benefits without leaving home. Our brains (and cannabinoid receptors) are wired to benefit from inhaling or ingesting terpenes.
Fun fact, did you know that natural maple syrup has more than 300 naturally occurring terpenes? Makes sense, right? And if you have ever wondered why smoking resins, rosins, or shatter is so enjoyable, that would also be the high concentration of terpenes.
Did you also know that eating a mango before you smoke cannabis will increase the effects and health? It’s true! Mangos are high in myrcene, one of the most powerful naturally occurring terpenes. Think of it as plugging into a cannabis amplifier.
Five Different Terpenes and How They Enhance Moods and Brain Responses Through Aromatherapy
There are many different types of naturally occurring terpenes in cannabis. Review the list of the effects that some terpenes have on mood, energy, and relaxation. Then, when you visit your medical dispensary, you can ask for strains that have high quantities of the terpenes you want to try.
Let’s start with myrcene since it is one of the terpenes in some of the most popular strains of cannabis. You’ll know you have some weed that has a lot of myrcene if it has an earthy smell. It can be musky or smell like soil or cloves. Myrcene, when used for aromatherapy, can help you feel relaxed, lightly sedated, and help you get a better night of sleep. It is great for nighttime use.
Caryophyllene is the only terpene in cannabis that binds to the CB2 receptors. For aromatherapy, it has a spicy or pepper-like smell. It is also naturally occurring in spices like cinnamon, cloves, basil, and rosemary.
One of the common uses of Caryophyllene in aromatherapy is for addiction therapy. Some animal studies of mice indicated that caryophyllene reduces the ‘craving’ to intake alcohol. It has analgesic and anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties. Some physicians have suggested the use of caryophyllene to support rehabilitation for patients with alcoholism.
3. Beta Pinene and Alpha Pinene
If you haven’t guessed by the name of this terpene, they smell like pine trees. These twin terpenes are also present in herbs like rosemary, parsley, basil, and orange peels. Love smelling a fresh orange? So do we. And that’s thanks to the Pinene terpenes.
Have you ever smelled your glass of orange juice in the morning and suddenly felt like you were awake and more alert? Bingo! Some studies suggest that Alpha Pinene and Beta Pinene protect memory function in the brain. It has been used therapeutically to treat individuals with asthma and for patients with Crohn’s Disease.
4. Eucalyptol or Cineole
Two names, same terpene that also naturally occurs in the eucalyptus tree. It has that fresh, mouth-washy minty scent. When applied as a topical, it can tingle a little bit on the skin. Most strains of cannabis have about 0.06% of naturally occurring Cineole.
What researchers know about Eucalyptol/Cineole is that it can relieve pain when applied to the skin. That’s why you will find strains with a high content of this terpene in THC + CBD topicals at your local dispensary. Some studies have also suggested that eucalyptol can fight the growth of bacteria or fungus.
Do you have a comfy couch? Good, because you are going to need it if you are smoking or using terpineol for aromatherapy. This terpene is responsible for the “In-Da-Couch” experience that predominantly Indica strains of cannabis provide. It’s seriously relaxing. Make sure you put your snacks on your coffee table before you combust a strain with a high level of terpineol. You’re going to be sitting there awhile.
Terpineol has a smell that is pleasurable and slightly floral. It can smell like fruit blossoms or lilacs, with a soft hint of lemon. If you are consuming strains with high terpineol content, it will taste a little like mint. Some clinical studies suggest this terpene offers antibiotic and antioxidant wellness benefits. No wonder one of the most popular strains of medical marijuana is OG Kush. It’s super high in terpineol.
4 Ways to Use Cannabis for Aromatherapy at Home
There are many different ways that you can enjoy the aromatherapeutic benefits of terpenes in cannabis. The first way involves an accessory, like a glass pipe. Pack the bowl, and off you go. However, when you inhale a freshly packed green bowl, you should pause and exhale through your nose. The mucus membrane in your nose will rapidly absorb the cannabis. And you will also enjoy the scent of the terpenes in your smoke.
You may not be interested in ingesting cannabis to get the therapeutic benefits of aromatherapy. If that is true for you, there are some other ways you can use cannabis like any other essential oil or herb. You do not have to smoke it to enjoy some of the psychoactive and physiological effects of cannabis.
It is important to note that the psychoactive properties of cannabis that are not smoked for many people are minimal. If you want to enjoy both benefits, you can opt to smoke or vape some cannabis first, then sit close to a diffuser to inhale the terpenes.
1. Spray the Liquid Cannabis Oil
Some dispensaries sell liquid cannabis oil that is packaged in a spray bottle. You may opt to add water to dilute the oil, which is lighter and vaporized more easily. Some ideas to enjoy the terpenes naturally, including spraying your pillow, a scarf (for daytime use), or even a small piece of cloth that you can store in a sealed container. You can remove the fragrant cloth and do deep breathing exercises. Just remember, cannabis oil has an odor, even if you are not combusting it.
2. Massage Oil
Have you ever had a hot oil massage? Now, imagine a therapeutic massage using terpene-rich cannabis oils? Topicals are often available in dispensaries, and massage oil may be one of the products you can buy locally. If not, you can try to order high-quality hemp oil online for home massages.
Both hemp and cannabis oil can be kind of thick and sticky. So again, you will want to dilute the oil before using it. Or, you can use the full potency of the hemp or cannabis oil for massage. Just prepare to have a shower to rinse it off when you are done.
3. Diffuse It Into Your Environment
Feeling stress? Get a tabletop diffuser and choose a rich terpene strain of cannabis or cannabis oil to use. Just like any other home fragrance, the diffuser will vaporize the oil and fill your room with the relaxing or invigorating scents of the natural terpenes. If you work from home, choose an energetic terpene to stay alert and focused.
4. Take Out Your Face Steamer
Do they even sell those things anymore? You may have to steal it from your mom or grandmother’s house. Facial steamers look like a plastic face rest. You put your forehead forward and then enjoy a gentle steaming of your skin. In the fluid reservoir for the steamer, you can add cannabis oil. Then simply breathe deep and relax, allowing your body to absorb healthy terpenes.
5. Cannabis Shampoo, Soaps, and Conditioners for Aromatherapy
Your daily shower is essentially one big vaporizer when you think about it. So, if you have purchased quality hemp or cannabis products like soap, shampoo, or conditioner, you can turn your shower into an aromatherapy session. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Want a really easy way to diffuse your cannabis for aromatherapy? You can also explore recipes for hot beverages like cannabis-infused tea. Pick some natural organic teas that are high in terpenes (orange peels, clove, cinnamon, etc.). Add a little decarboxylated cannabis to your brew. Steep, inhale, and sip. Who needs a spa when you can Zen out at home?