What is the Connection between Cannabis and Essential Oils?

By: Kaysi Contreras, Certified Essential Oil Therapist
Essential oils are the name given to the volatile compounds extracted from varying parts of plants, from the delicate petals of Rose, Rosa x damascena to the heartwood of Sandalwood, Santalum album & Santalum spicatum, and to the roots of Vetiver, Vetiver zizanoides. Essential Oils are considered the life force of the plant; they are what give a plant Spirit, its’ complex chemistry which serves as the foundation for the plants own immune system, and its’ aroma and scent. It is knowing, understanding, and in the effective application of the essential oil’s chemical profile that provides therapeutic results on par with synthetic drugs of the modern age. Both are medicine – one naturally derived, the other synthetically derived, and both have their time and place in healing.
Cannabis is but one botanical genus of the plant kingdom, and botanically speaking is the genus of the Cannabaceae family. This is kin to Lavandula, the common Lavender, being the genus of the Lamiaceae family. When we are talking Cannabis, and its varied and many therapeutic effects, and when we are talking essential oils, what we are talking about is Chemistry. This is the link; chemistry is the common language to them both! I love this because one can argue with Chemistry about as successfully as one can argue with the science of Physics. We are talking about non-negotiable chemical compounds and molecular structures found in protected trichomes of most botanical species. These trichomes house the secretary glands that produce and release the chemically diverse essential oils of the plant. Terpenes, for example, are a common essential oil functional group found in numerous healing plants, and this includes Cannabis in whose secretory glands release THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiols) – two of but hundreds of chemical constituents found in the cannabis plant. The same abundance and diversity is true when speaking about essential oils in that one drop of an essential oil may contain hundred of chemical constituents. Cannabis is one plant among many with essential oils, but most studies of essential oils do not include this plant. The diversity of chemical compounds speaks to the plant’s life force, potency, and advocacy, just as the diversity of organic matter in soil speaks to the health of the plant and the strength of its immune and reproductive systems.
The more an essential oil therapist knows about the chemistry profile of an essential oil, the more successful they will be able to use essential oils in a targeted therapeutic capacity. It’s in the understanding of the chemistry that will determine how the essential oil will interact with the body. The same conversation is on going with Cannabis in understanding its chemistry from terpenes to alcohols, and the resulting therapeutic results which include analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. The body’s innate wisdom is one which always seeks to create homeostasis for all body systems. A significant part of this balance includes the chemical relationships from our brain to our gut.
Cannabis and essential oils also share a common history where users of cannabis and essential oils have experienced unfortunate and mis-informed derogatory connotations, especially in the United States. This may likely be due to the backlash of the 60’s counterculture revolution and the financial integration of medicine and pharmaceutical companies. Cannabis users classically have been deemed unmotivated, uneducated, and politically radical. Essential oil users must navigate similar stereotypes in which essential oils themselves are not taken seriously and are viewed as “snake oils.” Such unfortunate cultural biases and misinformation have lasted generations. Essential oil therapy at its most extreme has been deemed an enemy of allopathic medicine, and ignorant to ‘real science’. There is a reason in France medical students can opt for an additional two years of study in phytotherapy which means they study plants as we use them in the form of food, herbs, and essential oils. It is a fact that medical students in the United States have very little to no education when it comes to nutrition which is the primary use of plants in our daily lives. Because of growing health crises in the United States, re-educating ourselves grows in proportionate need. Cannabis and scores of other plants and their essential oils can serve to do just that.