Thanks to a potent combination of cannabinoids, terpenes and other substances, cannabis is whole-plant medicine. And people who have a range of health conditions from anxiety and PTSD to seizures and cancer turn to the plant for its many benefits. But combining cannabis with essential oils can boost those benefits—and even provide new ones.
Whether you smoke, vape or consume cannabis another way, adding essential oils from other plant sources like lavender or peppermint can enhance the healthy properties of Cannabis sativa in all of its many forms.
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts of plant compounds that are usually mixed with a neutral carrier oil such as sweet almond oil. They’re made this way since pure essential oils are so highly concentrated that they can be harmful if used alone.
These essential oils are highly fragrant and depending on the source, can be used for:
Many essential oils are made using a plant compound called terpenes, oils that are produced in the plant’s resin glands. Cannabis contains terpenes that are also found in other plants and fruits such as:
These and other terpenes not only have health benefits of their own, they also work together with other terpenes and cannabis compounds for more potent effects. So, you could combine your cannabis with essential oils in a variety of ways to enhance or moderate its effects. You can even create new effects for a customized experience that targets a specific health issue.
You can use essential oils in lots of different ways. Some, like lemongrass or orange oil, are considered safe for consumption and can add flavoring to a variety of foods. Others, such as tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil, are intended for use on the skin or in topical preparations such as creams and salves.
You can either inhale most essential oils or diffuse them into the air. In all of these situations, the molecules of the plant extract are able to enter the body and brain, and affect a variety of processes such as:
Oils made from the whole cannabis plant and individual cannabis compounds and terpenes work in the same way, so that they can have these effects, too. A recent study reveals that simply sniffing cannabis oil can affect brain wave patterns, causing an increase in the alpha and theta waves that are associated with relaxation and calm.
Combining cannabis in any of its many forms with essential oils can offer benefits that can be greater then using either of these alone.
For example, myrcene is a terpene found not only in cannabis, but also in many other plants and fruits, including lemongrass and mangoes. This terpene is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, which keeps many potentially toxic substances from entering the brain. For this reason, it can act as a kind of escort to help other cannabis compounds, particularly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), reach the brain, so that its effects are felt more strongly.
Lavender essential oil can promote relaxation, and it can even reduce anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia. Inhaling lavender oil while using cannabis products can help moderate the effects of THC, so that it doesn’t cause anxiety. And it can enhance the relaxing effects of cannabis strains that are high in CBD.
In the same way, essential oils such as peppermint and cinnamon can help people who use cannabis treat digestive issues and other kinds of chronic pain.
You can combine essential oils with cannabis in a variety of ways, so marijuana consumers can mix and match them to find the right combinations. You can:
Although you can use many different kinds of essential oils with various ways of consuming cannabis, not all of them work the same way. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Never use essential oils in an undiluted form as they are highly concentrated extracts that can be toxic or cause severe skin reactions. That’s why these oils are generally added to a carrier oil to make them safe to use. If you purchase a pure oil, you can also buy carrier oils separately and mix in a few drops of the pure essential oil to make it safer to use.
Make sure you know how to safely use a particular essential oil. Some, like orange oil, are safe to ingest or to add to foods for flavoring—but these oils can cause burns when applied to the skin. Likewise, oils that can be absorbed into the skin, such as tea tree oil, can be dangerously toxic when eaten. And some oils are safest when they’re inhaled, rather than eaten or rubbed onto the skin.
Buy organic, high-quality oils whenever possible. These kinds of oils are produced with the safest extraction processes, usually from organic plants. This reduces the risk of ingesting added ingredients that could contain toxins.
Read labels carefully. Some products that are marketed as high-quality essential oils or terpenes may only have small amounts of these ingredients. Or they can contain mainly other ingredients such as vitamins and herbs.
Avoid heating essential oils to very high temperatures. When essential oils are subjected to very high heat as in dabbing or smoking cannabis, their chemical composition changes, and they can develop carcinogens and other kinds of toxins.
Essential oils can add a pleasant—and healthful—boost to the many ways of consuming cannabis. They can enhance cannabis products of all kinds and offer health benefits of their very own.
Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.