I had been working in the cannabis industry for about 1 week before I heard the term “entourage effect”. I was noticing how many of the full-spectrum cannabis extracts contained chemical compounds that I recognised from the natural skincare industry: Linalool, Limonene, and Geraniol to name a few.
I recognised these as fragrance allergens that needed to be listed in cosmetic ingredients lists as they had a high sensitising potential, but to the cannabis enthusiasts, these were terpenes – the next big thing.
Terpenes aren’t new.
These plant-derived compounds have been used for centuries by naturopaths, herbalists and aromatherapists, who would seek benefits from their naturally occurring sources. Terpenes also aren’t unique to cannabis. They’re found abundantly in nature. If a plant has a scent of any kind, you’re probably smelling terpenes. The same terpenes that give lemon peel its citrussy twist are the same that give certain cannabis strains their unique scent profile.
Terpenes are a huge part of what makes cannabis behave and smell like cannabis and knowing and understanding the wide variety of botanical sources has been hugely beneficial when creating bespoke cannabis skincare for other brands.
I once had a customer looking to formulate a bespoke range of skincare products that focussed on the authenticity of the cannabis. They wanted the products to smell like fresh hemp, not like Snoop Dogg’s bathroom. Initially, the desire was the infuse the cosmetics I had formulated for them with pure terpenes, sourced from American-grown recreational strains. The difficulty with this was that cosmetic regulation is fairly water-tight. Every single ingredient used in each product needed to have an MSDS (material safety data sheet), a fragrance allergens report and full manufacturing traceability in order for the final product to be certified and legal to sell. These small vials of pure terpenes from the US wouldn’t cut the mustard.
I went ahead and made the terpene-infused products. The results were slightly underwhelming, as I was expecting the scents to be far stronger, but the authenticity was there. The slightly spicy, citrusy notes blended beautifully with the nuttiness of the hemp seed oil.
The Aromatherapy Equivalent to Biohacking
So now I had to go about creating this authentic scent by essentially faking it. An aromatherapy equivalent to biohacking if you will. Luckily, terpenes aren’t exactly hard to come by. They’re everywhere! All I had to do was cherry-pick which terpenes occurring in hemp I wanted to focus on and find legal, certifiable alternatives by using cosmetic-grade essential oils.
This type of exercise is not only beneficial when it comes to creating products that smell both pleasant and authentic. With cannabis legislation becoming stricter in most areas including cosmetics, we’re seeing less and less full-spectrum extracts. For me personally, the great loss in seeing isolated extracts overtake is not the minor cannabinoids, it’s the terpenes.
There are many medical studies that prove the synergistic effect between specific terpenes and CBD. One medical study shows the increase in antispasmodic activity when pairing CBD and Linalool. Another study links an increase in analgesic (pain-relieving) activity when combining CBD and beta-caryophyllene rich black pepper. Terpenes don’t just make cannabis extracts smell nice, they allow them to work better without needing to synthetically alter the molecular structure for increased bioavailability.
So now that we’re seeing a decline in entourage-rich full-spectrum extracts, what can we do to try and work around this?
For the past year or so I have been looking to either boost or recreate the naturally-occurring entourage effect in topical CBD products by using specific essential oils in unique combinations.
For products that not only have good skin benefits but also help to alleviate anxiety and promote general feelings of wellbeing, I look for sources of Limonene in grapefruit and other citrus oils, combining with high-altitude lavender which contains Linalool in concentrations of up to 98%.
For skincare ranges that aim to be suitable for all skin types, a custom blend of essential oils combines limonene and geraniol amongst other botanical compounds that support our CBD in helping to remedy uncomfortably blemish-prone skin.
There are products we’ve formulated that the end consumer will be purchasing looking for pain relief, even if we’re careful not to market them as such. For these products, I’ve been exploring using bay laurel and black pepper extracts for their beta-caryophyllene and myrcene content. For our sports range, the combination of linalool-rich lavender oil, alongside eucalyptus oil which is rich in the terpene cineol, helps us to construct what has been called the most effective topical “muscle” product available on the market today – and it’s 100% powered by plants!
Natural remedies stemming from traditional herbalist medicine are too frequently disregarded as ineffective or even dangerous. Being able to harness this knowledge in a way that not only creates a product that is 100% plant-based, but that demonstrates an efficacy through phytocompound synergies backed by science, allows us to maintain a grain of authenticity at a time when botanical cannabis is being unjustly persecuted.