The aromatic compounds found in cannabis, called terpenes, have an increasingly appreciated role in the plant’s medicinal benefits. These terpenes fall into a different class than cannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBD), and perhaps for that reason, have received substantially less research attention.
Cannabis produces a wide array of terpenes, but today we’re focusing on linalool due to its emerging therapeutic benefits.
Scientists initially found that terpenes were responsible for cannabis’s smell and taste. However, more recent studies suggest that terpenes, like linalool, contribute to the user’s overall high and potentially add many of their own medical benefits.
There are hundreds of terpenes but most of them are only present in trace quantities. The individual effects of molecules are difficult to interpret because they are in such low concentrations. But, several compounds appear in large quantities where their individual effects may be apparent. Linalool and myrcene, for example, are among the most prevalent terpenes and may work alongside THC to offer a unique high.
What is Linalool?
When cannabis has a lavender scent, it is specifically due to the presence of linalool in that strain. While there is mixed scientific evidence supporting linalool’s effects in cannabis, it is presumed to add sedative or relaxing effects to the user.
Linalool is a naturally occurring compound found in 200 different plants, including jasmine, lavender, rosewood, basil, or thyme. This compound is so abundant in nature that the average person eats two grams of it per year. Unlike the molecule THC, which binds to fat tissue and can be detected several weeks later, linalool moves through the body rather quickly. Even in large quantities, linalool is a safe, organic, non-toxic compound that may offer its own beneficial effects.
Linalool actually refers to two different compounds known as R-linalool and S-linalool, also known as licaerol and coriandrol, respectively. These two different compounds are known as enantiomers and the easiest way to understand this difference is by looking at your hands. While the left hand and the right hand are essentially the same, they are mirror images of each other.
The structure of licaerol and coriandrol are also mirror images but such differences alter their neural effects; meaning, their scent changes. Like their names suggest, licaerol is abundant in lavender and provides its soothing aroma, and coriandrol is commonly found in coriander which offers a pleasant but different scent. Both of these compounds are found in cannabis, and are collectively referred to as linalool.
The aroma of linalool
Linalool is not specific to cannabis. Its characteristic lavender scent with a hint of spiciness is common to over 200 types of plants. In fact, it’s so common that even those who don’t use cannabis end up consuming over two grams of linalool each year through their food. That may seem like a lot, but there’s very little risk of adverse effects. Linalool doesn’t stick around in your body for long and doesn’t accumulate like the cannabinoids that get stored in your fatty tissues in the body and brain.
Cannabis strains containing linalool
Few cannabis strains contain high levels of linalool; it rarely breaks into a strain’s top three most abundant terpenes. But below, you’ll find a few strains featuring linalool as its third most abundant terpene.
- Scooby Snacks
The strain Do-Si-Dos contains a higher-than-average amount of linalool, but it’s still only the third most abundant terpene in its profile on average. It appears as the color purple in Leafly strain flowers, like Do-Si-Dos’ above.
Linalool’s potential benefits
Why would so many different plants produce linalool? Its anti-microbial properties are protective for the plant and represent a potential therapeutic use in people. Whether it was used as an early antibiotic is unknown, but linalool (often in the form of lavender or peanut stems and leaves) has been used in traditional medicine practices for its sedative and anti-epileptic properties.
Mice exposed to linalool vapors show reduced levels of anxiety and lower depression-like behaviors. In these tests, mice exposed to linalool vapors spend more time in fear-inducing environments, and they’ll continue to work to escape a seemingly hopeless situation. It’s not exactly like testing anxiety and depression in the clinic, but in these well-validated measures, linalool appears to help.
Linalool also makes the immune system more resilient to the destructive effects of stress. Stress causes a shift in the distribution of white blood cells in the body (i.e., the cells of the immune system); the percent of lymphocytes decrease, and neutrophils increase. In rats, linalool prevented this shift, and in doing so, prevented the stress-induced changes in how the rats’ DNA was expressed. Interestingly, the authors reasoned that this protection was mediated by linalool’s ability to activate the body’s parasympathetic response, which is activated when the body is resting and digesting food, thereby fitting with linalool’s anti-anxiety effects.
How does linalool affect the brain?
Studies indicate that linalool’s behavioral effects may largely be mediated by its effects in the brain. One way is through blocking the receptors for the primary excitatory brain chemical, glutamate, which could account for linalool’s potentially anti-epileptic properties in some forms of epilepsy. This terpene also has the ability to enhance the effect of other sedatives, such as pentobarbital.
Additionally, linalool may be muscle-relaxing and have pain-relieving effects through additional distinctive mechanisms. For instance, linalool reduces the signaling strength of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that’s required for muscle contraction and movement. Linalool can have anesthetic-like effects by reducing the excitability of cells in the spinal cord that transmit pain signals to the brain.
What is it Used For?
Besides an insecticide, linalool provides lavender with its indistinguishable scent which has been used in soaps, perfumes and aromatherapy treatments. Linalool is the main smelling compound found in lavender and, in its purified forms, has been shown to reduce anxiety in mice. While this finding has only been recently supported by science, lavender has been used for centuries for its aromatic appeal.
In cannabis, linalool will provide particular strains with a stronger lavender scent. Two strains that have such a scent are Master Kush and OG Shark. Both of which are recommended to user’s that want a relaxing or sedative high because linalool, among other benefits, has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety.