Linalool is not specific to cannabis. Its characteristic lavender scent with a hint of spiciness is common to over 200 types of plants, including mint, cinnamon and coriander. So many plants produce linalool most likely for its protective anti-microbial properties. These also represent a potential therapeutic use in people. Whether it was used as an early antibiotic is unknown, but linalool has been used in traditional medicine practices for its sedative and anti-epileptic properties since ancient times.
Modern day studies show this amazing terpene may have sedative properties, lower anxiety and depression symptoms, help to guard the immune system against damage from stress, and have pain relieving properties . Particularly important for sleep: Linalool has been shown to increase adenosine, a sedating hormone that helps us fall asleep. Adnosine is an inhibitory brain chemical that is notably blocked by caffeine.
Studies indicate that linalool’s behavioral effects may largely be mediated by its effects in 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.
Linalool may also 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.
Additionally, a recent study looked at how inhalation aromatherapy helped elderly volunteers with insomnia. The researchers discovered that the act of sniffing lavender oil before bed increased sleep quality. It also increased energy levels in the morning after. Of course, lavender contains a lot of linalool.
In more scientific studies, 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 they’ll continue to work to escape a seemingly hopeless situation. It’s not exactly like testing anxiety and depression in the clinic, but in these well-validated measures, linalool appears to help. Reduction in anxiety levels is crucial to sleep.
Linalool also makes the immune system more resilient to 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 rats, linalool prevented this shift, and in doing so, 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, thereby fitting with linalool’s anti-anxiety effects.
Some of linalool’s pain-relieving abilities can be ascribed to its elevation of adenosine, the sleep hormone. 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 oil vapor or an unscented control. Only 46% of the patients who inhaled the oil required post-operative opioid medication, compared to 82% of the control group. Further, the morphine needs of those in the linalool-rich oil group were nearly half that of the control group, together suggesting that linalool can reduce the need for post-surgery opioid-based pain treatment.
Linalool has even shown promise as an anti-inflammatory agent. Inflammation is often characterized by pain, swelling, a sensation of heat, and redness. It is one of our body’s crucial defense systems and it is often a beneficial response. However, sometimes, it could result in chronic inflammatory conditions if left untreated. There are a few studies that suggest linalool’s anti-inflammatory effects are real. Huo et al. had a study published in The Journal of Surgical Research in March 2013. It looked at the anti-inflammatory effects of linalool. The research analyzed rats and found that linalool inhibits inflammation in vitro and in vivo. The paper also suggested that it was a possible therapeutic candidate for inflammatory disease treatment.
Perhaps the most exciting therapeutic use for linalool is its emerging potential as a novel Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and currently irreversible disease caused by the buildup of brain plaques and cellular tangles that lead to brain degeneration. This degeneration causes severe memory and cognitive impairment. There are currently no cures for Alzheimer’s disease and current treatment strategies are largely ineffective at recovering function. This has set scientists on a quest to identify techniques that reduce plaques and tangles in an effort to reverse the disease’s course and recover normal brain function.
A promising study published in 2016 points to linalool as a potential Alzheimer’s treatment. In a genetic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, 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.
Linalool still has many hurdles before it makes its way into the clinic. But these Alzheimer’s studies together with previous studies demonstrating benefits in pain, anxiety, and depression point to the importance of continued investigation into the therapeutic benefits of linalool and other terpenes in cannabis.
All these studies show promising results on Linalool’s multitude of nervous system targets contributing to its potential ability to help with not only insomnia, but also anxiety, stress, immunity, pain and even Alzheimers.