Terpenes and Marijuana Aromatherapy: The Definitive Guide

You know when you smell something really, really, REALLY amazing and it just kind of… makes you feel all warm and good inside — almost “healthier”? Well, as it turns out there’s some pretty cool scientific reasoning behind that.

Aromatherapy, as it’s called, is actually a very old medicinal and therapeutic technique that’s been used for decades to help treat things like insomnia, stress, anxiety, and other mental conditions. And, as you might’ve guessed, marijuana (and all of its wonderfully diverse oils and scents) is one of the most well-known and effective aromatherapies known.

In this article we talk about marijuana as an aromatherapy, and discuss a few things about our beloved medicinal herb that you likely haven’t heard about before. So open those nostrils wide and get ready to breathe in deeply, because hopefully this information will come as a great big breath of nice fresh air.

What is Aromatherapy?

Just by breaking the word down into its individual components, it’s not difficult to understand what aromatherapy is: “aroma” of course simply refers to smells, and “therapy,” well, hopefully we all know what the word therapy means.

Don’t be discouraged though if you’ve never actual heard of the expression “aromatherapy” before (Google actually defines it as “the use of aromatic plant extracts and essential oils in massages or baths), because as popular as medical marijuana has become over the last several years, it definitely has not been something that’s gained a lot of attention from mainstream media.

That being said, the benefits of aromatherapy – and specifically marijuana aromatherapy – are certainly no gimmick. In fact, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) describes the healing technique as “…the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.”

The actual term “aromatherapy” was believed to first be used by a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who published a book under the title “Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy” back in 1937. The volume included early theories that the aromatic incorporation of essential oils from both plants and herbs could lead to healing effects for a wide range of physiological ailments.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that Gattefosse made a conscious effort to distinguish between the terms “perfume” and “aromatherapy.” In addition to being a chemist the French scientist was also a “perfumer,” as he produced and marketed lovely-scented fragrances to rich fashionista types. However, he noticed something very different about the fragrant oils from specific herbs, namely that in addition to smelling great, they also seemed to possess some kind of “healing powers.” As such, there developed a newfound distinction between the two terms in the sense that “aromatherapie” (as it’s spelled in French) implied the “…therapeutic application [or medicinal use of] aromatic substances for holistic healing.”

As aromatherapy has advanced and become more and more recognized over the years, it has indeed evolved into a frequently used approach among holistic medicine practitioners who aim to provide natural therapy that embraces the entirety of the body, mind, and spirit. Here a few useful quotes that have been said about aromatherapy and its healing capabilities:

As a holistic practice, Aromatherapy is both a preventative approach as well as an active method to employ during acute and chronic stages of illness or disease … It is a natural, non-invasive [technique] designed to affect the whole person – not just the symptom or disease and to assist the body’s natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself by the correct use of essential oils.
– Jade Shutes, Director of Education, School of Aromatic Studies

“Aromatherapy is a caring, hands-on therapy which seeks to induce relaxation, increase energy, reduce the effects of stress, [and] restore lost balance to mind, body and soul.”
– Robert Tisserand, Essential Oil Educator, founder Tisserand Institute for Aromatherapy

“Aromatherapy is… the skilled and controlled use of essential oils for physical and emotional health and well being.”
– Valerie Cooksley, Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy

Marijuana Aromatherapy: How Does it Work?

First off, a distinction must be made between the healing effects of ingesting (or smoking) weed, and the healing effects of using it as an aromatherapy.

When you actually ingest weed (for instance whether by smoking it, eating it as an edible, taking it as an oil, etc), active compounds like THC and CBD end up in your bloodstream, where they bind to internal receptors to promote a wide range of chemical and physical therapeutic interactions. Aromatherapy does not offer this same kind of internal molecular action.

Rather, aromatherapy works via the subtle interaction of aromatic molecules with mood and behavior-oriented receptors in the brain. So in other words, when you take a deep whiff of your favorite marijuana strain, what you’re actually doing is inhaling airborne terpenes that galvanize a slight behavioral response in the central nervous system.

What’s odd, though, is that as humans we’re drawn to the various aromas of cannabis even if we don’t find them to be particularly appealing. Here’s an interesting quote from MarijuanaDoctors that helps to kind of sum up the natural human affinity for aromatic marijuana compounds:

“[As humans], we are attracted to the aroma of these terpenes even when we experience it as distasteful. It’s similar to the harsh aroma of gasoline and turpentine – even though they’re odd smells, there’s something about them that draws [us] in. Cannabis has that same attraction because of where it interacts in your brain.”

In short, there is something about cannabis terpenes that the brain absolutely loves, and responds positively to in a healthy, naturally therapeutic manner.

How to Use Marijuana for Aromatherapy

If you’re wondering how to use cannabis oil or marijuana as an aromatherapy, there’s actually a few different ways you can go about it. Here’s a short list of the most effective methods for using the pungent aromas of cannabis to relieve stress and anxiety, increase health, and promote overall well-being:

    • Steam it: Very few people know that you can actually add several drops of cannabis or hemp oil to a humidifier, and inhale the steam for a calming, therapeutic effect. While a low-temperature humidifier is recommended, using warm steam can also be therapeutic – although if it’s too hot you may risk singing the airways in your nose, so be careful.
    • Use it for Massaging: Perhaps there’s no other better way to experience the aromatherapeutic effects of cannabis oil than by using it during a massage. The up-close interaction allows you to inhale the natural terpenes for the entire duration of the experience, and the soothing, healing effects will linger on your skin long after the massage has ended. It’s worth noting however, that you should dilute the hemp oil with water before applying it topically.
    • Spray it: You can either purchase liquid cannabis oil that’s already packaged in a spray bottle, or you can dilute it down and put it in your own bottle to make your very own concoction. Either way, there’s no end to the number of things you can do with an aromatic hemp spray: spray it on your pillowcase for a soothing night’s sleep, on your shirt collar to keep you from losing your mind at work, or even into a handkerchief for instant stress relief while out in public.
    • Diffuse it: This is actually our favorite way to use cannabis oil as an aromatherapy: simply put a few drops into a diffuser, and let the natural aromatic terpenes waft all throughout the room to create a natural, peaceful, and stress-free environment.

Does Cannabis Aromatherapy Work?

One of the unique things about using marijuana as an aromatherapy is the fact that each individual strain contains different aromatic terpenes that produce different behavioral/emotional responses in the brain. Cannabis strains that are high in the terpene pinene, for example, are known to produce alertness and enhance focus and memory. Here’s a short list of a few other common marijuana terpenes that provide various therapeutic effects:

  • Myrcene: Strains that are high in mercene will have that traditional musky, earthy, herbal clove smell (sometimes with fruity hints), and will produce a very sedating, relaxing, sleep-inducing effect. Great for use with a diffuser in the evening to help you drift off into a natural sleep
  • Limonene: Strains that are high in the terpenoid limonene will (you guessed it) smell like lemon or general citrus, and are generally known to be mood boosters and provide a tangible degree of stress and anxiety relief. A good choice for day-to-day use at home or in the office
  • Linalool: Cannabis strains high in linalool will have a sweet, flowery, sugary smell almost like candy, and will provide a calming and mildly sedative effect. Good for relieving anxiety while not totally making you want to fall asleep

Final Thoughts on Marijuana for Aromatherapy

While marijuana aromatherapy doesn’t provide the same pain-relieving or physiological effects that you get when you actually smoke it (or take it as an oil or edible), it can definitely act as an awesome relief for mild anxiety and everyday stresses, if given the chance and done correctly.

Also, it can be an excellent mood-booster for those days at school, home or work when you’re just totally “over it.” put it in a diffuser at home (and/or have your loved one give you a nice hemp oil massage), turn on some soothing music, and your spirits will be uplifted and you’ll be feeling better in no time.

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