A groundbreaking study performed by a group of Italian scientists found that breathing in hemp essential oil can have calming effects similar to meditation and yoga. This research indicates that the psychological and physical effects of using cannabis products go far beyond THC and CBD content.
“It’s not just THC or CBD that have the effects of cannabis or hemp,” said Brad Douglass, the director of Advanced Botanical Strategy at cannabis analytics company the Werc Shop. “Cannabis products are mostly purchased for THC content. Studies like this help everyone understand it’s more nuanced than that.”
Such research could one day mean cannabis product labels will include a more granular breakdown of THC and CBD, as well as terpenes, which are responsible for the aroma and flavor characteristics of the plant. Such a breakdown would be similar to the detailed nutritional labels on food that break down fats, sugars, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Scientists exposed volunteers to both almond essential oil — used as a control — and hemp essential oil. In both oils, the cannabinoid compounds associated with the physiological effects of cannabis (THC and CBD) had been removed through distillation to leave behind only the natural terpenes.
“When you smell an orange, you smell the terpenes,” said Douglass, who did not participate as a researcher in the study, but works as a chemist examining cannabis product composition with Werc Shop. He reviewed the study’s findings.
The scientists then measured brain waves, heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and the rate at which volunteers were breathing.
They found that when study subjects smelled hemp essential oils, they were calmer and measurably less anxious. The changes in brain wave activity were similar to when people meditate. Sniffing hemp essential oils might also reduce pain, they have found.
While cannabis products with THC might vary somewhat from those without it, there is substantial overlap in types of terpene compounds found in both hemp and cannabis.
Researchers published their findings in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, published by Hindawi Publishing Corp., based in Cairo, Egypt.
“For consumers it allows them to have more substance when thinking about the other compounds in their cannabis and understanding how these different strains can have different effects on the body,” Douglass said.
While the study’s findings show promise with respect to other potential calming effects of cannabis, the study did have some limitations.
Researchers used a small group of volunteers — five adults between the ages of 30 and 57 — which could mean future studies may find a weaker correlation between the terpenes and physical effects of consuming cannabis products.
Though preliminary, the study bodes well for effects and use of cannabis products beyond those with THC and CBD in addressing depression and anxiety.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” Douglass said. “We’re adding to the foundation showing these effects are real.”
Future research could focus on the combination of terpenes that have different effects on the body.