Those with a passion for botanicals have probably already come to know and love lavender. And who could be blamed for that? Lavender’s fragrance is delicious, almost entrancing; once inhaled, its aromas instill peace and calm.
Much of lavender’s goodness can be credited to a plant compound called linalool, which belongs to a special class of molecules called terpenes. Here’s some more info from our article on that topic:
While terpenes are found throughout much of the natural world, they’re especially prominent in the cannabis plant. In fact, cannabis is unique — it contains many terpenes that are normally only found in one or two other plant species […] For conceptual purposes, you can think of terpenes as being very similar to essential oils.
As you might suspect, linalool is sometimes called the lavender terpene. That’s because it’s responsible for much of lavender’s essence, including its distinctive smell and impressive ability to uplift.
In lavender, linalool has a rich therapeutic history. Throughout the Middle Ages, it was used almost religiously to ward off ‘evil spirits’ (today society calls them viruses). Even prior to that, Roman physicians prescribed lavender to injured soldiers. Perhaps the herbalist John Parkinson phrased it best when he described lavender as having “especially good use for all griefs and pains of the head and brain”.
Looking towards more modern times, it’s also telling to note that lavender’s essential oil is approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as herbal medicine to relieve stress and anxiety. You can thank linalool for that.
The Linalool Experience
Linalool (noun). Pronounced lin·al·o·ol :
A fragrant liquid alcohol C10H18O that occurs both free and in the form of esters in many essential oils and is used in perfumes, soaps, and flavoring materials.
Like other terpenes, linalool shares its parent molecule (geranyl pyrophosphate) with other cannabinoids and terpenes. Another similarity between it and other cannabis compounds: linalool’s hydrocarbon structure means it’s especially volatile in response to light, heat, and pressure. And that means it’s fairly easy for anyone in the vicinity of a linalool source to smell it. With a fragrance that’s been accurately described as fresh, clean, and slightly citrus, this isn’t a bad thing.
Linalool actually has at least three different forms or isomers. Though their molecular structures are the same, these isomers have distinct smells (some are more herbal; others, more citrus) and are typically found in different plants. R-linalool, for example, is most prevalent in lavender, while S-linalool can be found in coriander. Here cannabis deserves another mention: it often contains many or all versions of linalool.
Linalool’s Therapeutic Benefits
Now that the linalool experience has been described, let’s take a look at the terpene’s potential therapeutic effects. Linalool is anxiolytic, anti-depressant, and anti-pain:
Linalool is anxiolytic. A 2002 study found that linalool improved sleep without negatively affecting motor function. Other studies on mice show that linalool instills a drive to keep going, even in anxiety-provoking situations. Could linalool also give us as humans the motivation we need to keep thriving amidst the stressors of hectic modern life? It’s a distinct possibility.
An article published in the Seattle Times describes the more recent findings of neuroscientist Hideki Kashiwadani: “he and his colleagues found that sniffing linalool, an alcohol component of lavender odor, was kind of like popping a Valium. It worked on the same parts of a mouse’s brain, but without all the dizzying side effects.”
Interestingly enough, not all of this calm can be attributed to lavender’s entrance into the bloodstream. It appears that even the nose contains neurons that appreciate linalool’s calming effects.
Linalool may combat depression. Scientific study of the Lauraceae plant shows that it can powerfully renew a depressed nervous system. Thankfully, Lauraceae and cannabaceae have much in common: both contain high levels of linalool and pinene. Taken consistently, these terpenes can have a profound impact on depression.
Linalool also improves mood by agonizing serotonin receptors. It may even function as a neuroprotectant by quenching free radicals which could otherwise damage the brain. Though more research is needed on linalool in cannabis specifically, anecdotal reports of linalool’s utility for depression are backing up every aspect of the available science.
Linalool reduces stress. It does this by literally calming down the nervous system. You may be familiar with MSG and its glutamate-induced neurotoxicity; linalool has an opposite action by virtue of its ability to ‘block’ glutamate receptors. In other words, linalool quiets down the excitable nature of nerves that are stressed out or damaged, ensuring one stays out of fight-or-flight mode.
These biochemical changes result in a tangibly improved sense of calm. Linalool may also boost immune performance, which is especially important because stress and immune depression often go hand in hand. Finally, there’s one more side effect of reduced stress to mention: according to this study, linalool protected against “sleep disturbances” and improved sleep.
Moving past mental upliftment, this versatile terpene possesses several other classes of therapeutic benefits:
Linalool is strongly anti-microbial. It’s antibacterial, too, as an interesting study on pet turtle-human interactions confirmed. Linalool is so effective that its use may surpass more conventional methods in the future: “Antimicrobials have been used for a long time to treat different bacterial infections, but the frequent use of these antimicrobials has resulted in growing antimicrobial resistance. Meanwhile, the essential oils have been shown strong antimicrobial activity against these pathogenic bacteria…”
Another recent study found that lavender oil could accelerate wound healing. This one discovered that enhanced collagen growth and upregulation of growth factors (namely TGF-β) were responsible for faster wound mends. Both of these qualities are immensely helpful in the early stages of wound healing, leading researchers to declare that “lavender oil has the potential to promote wound healing in the early phase by acceleration of formation of granulation tissue, tissue remodeling by collagen replacement and wound contraction through up-regulation of TGF-β.”
In short, the study’s research team was impressed enough to ponder lavender’s future use as a conjunctive treatment for wound healing. No wonder Greek soldiers used lavender in the midst of battle! It’s likely that pure linalool, which comprised 43% of the lavender oil used in this study, would exhibit similar effects.
Linalool may be anti-epileptic. A review of various essential oils and their effects on epilepsy had good things to say about the terpene: “linalool also possesses anticonvulsant activity in experimental models of epilepsy.” Once again, inhibition of glutamate binding seems to be responsible for this. One of linalool’s foundational qualities is its ability to calm the flow and frequency of neural signaling — almost like CBD does.
had good things to say about the terpene: “linalool also possesses anticonvulsant activity in experimental models of epilepsy.” Once again, inhibition of glutamate binding seems to be responsible for this. One of linalool’s foundational qualities is its ability to calm the flow and frequency of neural signaling — almost like CBD does.
Another interesting effect: linalool may lower the signaling strength of acetylcholine in certain instances. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter one obtains through food, and for the average person, it’s nothing but helpful, but this all changes in those with epilepsy. To make a complex topic simple, linalool basically helps ensure that acetylcholine is used correctly — not used as fuel for seizures or faulty motor control.
Linalool effectively dampens pain. Not only is lavender anti-inflammatory; according to this heavily-cited paper, it’s nothing short of a natural analgesic. Activation of opioidergic systems (the body’s internal opioid receptors) explains much of this effect. Of course, lavender accomplishes pain relief without any of the side effects or addictive tendencies of pharmaceutical opioids.
Another study looked at patients with severe pain from carpal tunnel syndrome. In this one, linalool’s antioxidant capabilities reduced the normally-high blood pressure and resting heart rate of patients. Reduction of these stress markers implies that linalool makes pain easier to deal with — if nothing else.
Linalool may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Caused by a gradual buildup of plaque within the brain, Alzheimer’s disease is currently viewed as being incurable. So it’s especially significant that linalool appears to naturally address some of the root causes of this disease.
Keep in mind that linalool is merely one of the many terpenes found in cannabis.
And terpenes, themselves, are just one of the three major classes of cannabis compounds. There’s also some evidence that lavender modulates the effect of cannabinoids like CBD and THC.
So while linalool’s therapeutic effects are indeed impressive, they should be viewed within the larger context of their contribution to the entourage effect. It’s this type of powerful plant synergy that will likely propel medicinal cannabis into the future; one review study recognized that the “treatment of sleeping disorders and social anxiety by adding caryophyllene, linalool and myrcene to CBD/THC extracts gave encouraging results” before backing the rationale of “combining CBD with other minor Cannabis constituents”.
Linalool: it’s one more reason to consider the cannabis plant. If you haven’t already, you might try adding some linalool-rich cannabis into your existing health and wellness regimen. Your brain and nervous system, your cortisol and adrenaline levels, your sense of wellbeing and calm — they’ll all thank you.