This week our terpene of the week is Linalool. Linalool is a primary component in lavender and responsible for much of the wonderful aroma associated with it. But more importantly, Linalool is a terpene, and a very active one.
Terpenes have typically been thought of as merely contributing to the subjective experience of cannabis by enhancing its aroma and flavor. Recently, terpenes have gained attention from the awareness of the “entourage effect,” which suggests that cannabis’ therapeutic benefits are improved by the addition of multiple cannabinoids and terpenes compared to single cannabinoids on their own. This suggests that terpenes may modulate the strength of the individual cannabinoids on brain and body targets. But the entourage effect doesn’t preclude direct actions of the terpenes themselves on different targets in the body.
Linalool is not at all specific to cannabis. Its unique lavender scent with some 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 eating over two grams of linalool each year through their food. 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.
So, why is Linalool so common? Its anti-microbial properties are both protective for the plant and represent a potential therapeutic use in people. 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.
When mice are exposed to linalool vapors they show reduced levels of anxiety and lower depression-like behavior. In 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 testing anxiety and depression in the clinic, but in these well-validated measures, linalool certainly looks like it helps.
Additionally, linalool may be muscle-relaxing and have pain-relieving effects through additional mechanisms. For example, linalool reduces the signaling strength of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that’s needed for muscle contraction. Linalool can also have anesthetic-like effects by decreasing the excitable nature of cells in the spinal cord that transmit pain signals to the brain.
Some of Linalool’s pain-relieving abilities can be ascribed to its elevation of adenosine levels, an inhibitory brain chemical that is notably blocked by caffeine.
These effects provide foundational support for linalool’s benefits in pain therapy. In one study, obese patients who underwent gastric banding surgery were either exposed to linalool-rich lavender oil vapor or an unscented control. Only 46% of the patients who inhaled the lavender oil required post-operative opioid medication, compared to 82% of the control group. Further, the morphine needs of those in the lavender group were nearly half that of the control group, together suggesting that linalool can reduce the need for post-surgery opioid-based pain treatment.
Perhaps the most exciting therapeutic use for linalool is its emerging potential as a novel Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and currently irreversible disease caused by the buildup of brain plaques and cellular tangles that lead to brain degeneration. This degeneration causes severe memory and cognitive impairment. There are currently no cures for Alzheimer’s disease and current treatment strategies are largely ineffective at recovering function. This has set scientists on a quest to identify techniques that reduce plaques and tangles in an effort to reverse the disease’s course and recover normal brain function.
And Linalool is one of many terpenes being found to have medicinal effects. The entire spectrum of terpenes in cannabis may prove to be a treasure chest of healing for the future.