Updated on December 15, 2017.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The aroma, and flavor, in most foods is a result of the naturally occurring oils in the food. Coffee has a strong aroma, while the smell of a fresh avocado is particularly faint. The cannabis plant also contains oils that produce a distinct smell. There are more than 200 terpenes, or essential oils, produced in the cannabis plant, each adding a different note to the aroma.
Different parts of the cannabis plant have varying intensities in scent. The buds, flowers or fruit of the plant are usually the most fragrant. The aroma of cannabis can vary from sweet and mellow to deep and musky.
The terpenes give off the same type of odor no matter which plant produces them. Cannabis typically contains a unique combination of terpenes that make up the aroma of each strain. Cannabis is unique in that it contains a combination of several terpenes, while most plants only have one or two.
What Is Cannabis Aromatherapy?
The aroma of cannabis is created by the unique combination and concentration of terpenes in each plant. When inhaled, the terpenes bind to certain cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The endocannabinoid system of the brain controls several functions. By binding with these receptors, the terpenes can affect mood and behavior.
Humans are attracted to the aroma of these terpenes, even when we experience it as distasteful. It’s similar to the harsh aroma gasoline and turpentine — even though they’re odd smells, there’s something about them that draws you in. Cannabis has that same attraction because of where it interacts in your brain.
The natural terpenes in cannabis modify the effects of the cannabinoids, the active elements in cannabis, and cause them to act differently. Cannabinoids extracted from cannabis aren’t as effective as those administered with the other elements of the plant.
How Is Cannabis Aromatherapy Made?
The same terpenes found in cannabis are also found in other plants. Specific terpenes from cannabis can be isolated, identified and sourced from things like lemon trees and lavender bushes. These terpenes are then extracted and concentrated in liquid form.
Terpenes are extracted from plants the same way any other oils are. Steam distillation or a strong solvent may be used to force the oil from the plant cells. The steam or solvent is then captured and purified to concentrate the oil. The resulting liquid containing a specific terpene can be mixed with others to replicate the complex aroma of a cannabis plant.
How Does Cannabis Aromatherapy Work?
Cannabinoids don’t work as well without terpenes. Terpenes seem to be the driving force behind the medicinal properties of cannabis, even though they themselves are not the medicine. They’re like the flavoring that makes it possible for you to swallow the medicine. The medicine is no good if you can’t stand to swallow it.
Terpenes enhance the work of the cannabinoids, so by adding extra terpenes, you can increase the output of your marijuana. The same terpenes found in cannabis are found in other herbs. By extracting those terpenes and spraying them on your marijuana, you’re turning up the flavor and modifying the effects.
Best Uses for Cannabis Aromatherapy
Cannabis oils are used for aromatherapy like any other essential oils. They can be used alone or to enhance certain aspects of your medical marijuana. There are several ways to use cannabis oil for aromatherapy, including:
Steaming. Add a couple drops to a humidifier and inhale the steam. A cool humidifier is best for this. Inhaling warm steam can be therapeutic, but if it’s too hot you could burn your nasal passages.
Massaging. Using cannabis oil for massage will increase your opportunity to inhale the terpenes and relax. When using cannabis oil topically, it should be diluted with another oil. Mix a few drops of cannabis oil into your massage oil before applying. The aroma therapy will linger on your skin even after the massage.
Spraying. You can buy cannabis oil in a spray bottle and use it to create your own aromatherapy tools. You may spray it on a cache to carry with you for stress relief or on a pillow case for a relaxing nap.
Diffusing. Put a few drops of cannabis oil on your diffuser and you can create a stress-free zone in your home. If you use an invigorating strain of cannabis, the oil will give you a lift whenever you smell it.
The best uses for cannabis aromatherapy are relaxation and invigoration. Depending on the type of oil you use, you can get a boost of energy or a calm, soothing effect from it. Cannabis oil is easy to dilute or apply at full strength and can easily be incorporated into your life. There’s no smoke or unpleasant odor, just the subtle healing terpenes.
Is Cannabis Aromatherapy Effective?
Cannabis aromatherapy is effective for certain conditions. It doesn’t have the full medicinal properties of cannabis, but it can relax or energize you. It can also enhance the effects of your medical marijuana. There are plenty of everyday uses for cannabis aromatherapy that will make you feel better and enhance your life.
To find out if cannabis aromatherapy is right for you, or if you’d benefit from some other form of cannabis treatment, contact a marijuana doctor. Qualifying for your state’s medical marijuana program is the first step in gaining access to high-quality, commercially produced marijuana products, like cannabis oil, for aromatherapy.
There’s still more research to do into the benefits of cannabis terpenes and their medical properties beyond aromatherapy. The evidence so far points to the idea that terpenes could unlock a whole new set of cannabis properties that are extremely useful for medical treatments. To learn more, contact a medical marijuana doctor today.