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What is linalool & what does this cannabis terpene do?

The aromatic compounds found in cannabis, called terpenes, have traditionally been thought to contribute to cannabis merely by enriching its aroma and flavor. But in recent years, terpenes have gained attention for their contribution the “entourage effect,” through which they improve cannabis’ physiological benefits (when compared to isolated cannabinoids). They may also modulate the strength and efficacy of individual cannabinoids on brain and body targets. 

We’re focusing here on linalool, a much-loved terpene found in lavender, basil, and indica strains that’s shown to have extensive therapeutic benefits in aromatherapy, scientific study, and, of course, smoking some good ganja.

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The aroma of linalool

Linalool, like many terpenes, is not specific to cannabis; its characteristic lavender scent with a hint of spiciness can be found in over 200 types of plants. In fact, it’s so common that even those who don’t use cannabis consume over two grams of linalool each year through their food, including numerous fruits and spices. 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.

It also offers aromatic benefits. Your sense of smell is intricately linked to emotion and memory centers in the brain, establishing a potential cause and effect between the terpene’s pleasant lavender floral scent (cause), with a relaxed and improved mood (effect). While olfactory sensation may still contribute to the terpene’s effect, research now suggests that terpenes directly affect brain processing by modulating the behavior of the brain cells.

Cannabis strains containing linalool

Few cannabis strains contain high levels of linalool; it rarely breaks into a strain’s top three most abundant terpenes. Below, you’ll find a few strains featuring linalool as the primary, secondary or tertiary terpene, but it’s usually a lot lower on a strain’s terpene profile, behind the more abundant myrcene, and limonene.

Most strains rich in linalool impart effects associated with indica-dominant genetics, which include both mental and physical relaxation, sleepiness, and a strong case of the munchies.     

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Linalool’s benefits

Hundreds of plants produce linalool, and it has a lot to offer when it comes to healing.

Antimicrobial

This terpene’s antimicrobial properties protect the plant against insects, and represent a potential therapeutic use for people in fighting cell-damaging bacteria. Whether it was used as an early antibiotic is unknown.  

Sedative

Linalool (often in the form of lavender or peanut stems and leaves) has been used in traditional medicine practices across the globe as a sedative and muscle relaxer. It has also shown to have anticonvulsant and anti-epileptic properties.

Reduce anxiety & depression

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 will continue to work to escape a seemingly hopeless situation. In human studies examining the therapeutic effects of lavender essential oil, of which linalool is the main compound, it effectively lowered participants’ scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale.  

Stress relief & immunity

Linalool also strengthens  the immune system against 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 studies done on rats, linalool prevented this shift, and by extension, 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.

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Linalool effects: How does linalool affect the brain?

Studies indicate that linalool’s behavioral effects may largely be mediated by how it impacts 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.

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. Together, this multitude of nervous system targets contribute to its sedative, anxiety-reducing, and pain-relieving benefits.

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 postoperative 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.

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Linalool’s potential benefits in Alzheimer’s disease 

Perhaps the most exciting therapeutic use for linalool is its emerging potential as a novel Alzheimer’s disease treatment, as it’s shown to reduce and regulate the production of inflammatory proteins in the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and currently irreversible and incurable disease caused by the buildup of brain plaques and cellular tangles that lead to brain degeneration.

This degeneration causes severe memory and cognitive impairment, and current treatment strategies for Alzheimer’s disease are largely ineffective at recovering function. This has set scientists on a quest to identify techniques that reduce these plaques and tangles in the hopes of reversing the disease’s course and recovering normal brain function.

A promising study from 2016 points to linalool as a potential Alzheimer’s treatment. In a genetic mouse model, linalool reversed many of the behavioral and cognitive impairments associated with the disease. Further, it reduced the number of brain plaques and cellular tangles that define the disease and contribute to brain degeneration.

Despite all this research, linalool still has many hurdles before it makes its way into the clinic. But these Alzheimer’s studies coupled with previous studies demonstrating benefits in reducing pain, anxiety, and depression point to the importance of continued investigation into the therapeutic benefits of linalool and other terpenes in cannabis.

Josh Kaplan's Bio Image
Josh Kaplan

Josh Kaplan, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Western Washington University. He is a passionate science writer, educator, and runs a laboratory that researches cannabis' developmental and therapeutic effects.

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