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Can you get high sniffing essential oils?

April 13, 2018

Disclaimer: Yes I’m a chemist but no I don’t take drugs, make drugs or deal drugs.

Ok, phew now where were we…..

This week I have been talking to a client who was looking for confirmation of the Beta Caryophyllene content of the Copaifera Multijuga Resin Oil that was on sale.  I looked this up and dutifully found the batch we had in store to contain 45% of said aroma chemical.  Curious to know why this particular chemical was of importance I asked a few questions and soon discovered that this chemical is thought to be able to bind to a particular cannabinoid receptor that we have in our bodies.  I am guessing that people were then drawn to the conclusion that the presence of this chemical must mean that Copaifera resin oil can get you high….. As usual that led to me having more questions than answers, especially given that quite a lot of people look to essential oils as mood enhancers.

So let’s work through this as I see this.

Copaifera Multijuga resin is extracted from the trunk of the Copaiba tree which grows in tropical Latin America. The picture below comes from Wikipedia. 

The resin is used in traditional medicine and has been studied for its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and wound-healing properties. It can assist in tissue repair making it good for damaged and problem skin when topically applied but is that all it has to offer?


First cab off the ranks is to establish a chemical fingerprint of this oil.  One of the big issues with natural ‘medicine’ or even ‘cosmetic actives’ is that nature doesn’t do things exactly, it does things approximately or in a range. Resin and Oil quality can vary from batch to batch and year to year depending on nutrition, competition for resources and climate, plus with some botanicals there is species cross-over and that is one thing happening here.  It appears that, according to this article, there are at least three species of Copaiba tree producing resin and oil of the same name so that does add a level of uncertainty to things that doesn’t exist with a single-chemical pharmaceutical active.   The article I’ve linked to there also confirms that this hasn’t yet been adopted as a ‘drug’ or ‘active’ in pharmaceutical terms and that’s mainly because of uncertainty as to its toxicology (animal testing is happening on this now) plus its chemical variability (hence work such as is being done in this paper).

So here are the results of the analysis of 11 Copaifera Oils – there is another page too with minor components but I didn’t share that as this has everything we nee for now.  These are all of the same type as I mentioned initially. 

What stands out to me here is that the level of ‘active’ we are interested in ranges from 10.58% up to 62.70% so my oil, with 45% is pretty average-ish in that regard but if that is a psychoactive ‘active’ then I’m not sure what impact such a vast range in activity would do to a person, if anything.

So is that likely to be the only ‘active’ in this oil?

Quite frankly no, but I’ll leave any postulating about that for now as I really want to focus on the simple and rather intriguing cannabinoid receptor link only for now.

Ok so how do Cannabinoid receptors work?

Apparently we have these little receptors all throughout our body that are activated when triggered by cannabinoids.  In our bodies these receptors influence our appetite, how we sense pain, our mood and our memory.  From my reading it looks like there are two main classes of receptor, CB1 which operates in the brain (central nervous system) mainly but also affects the liver, kidneys and lungs.  Then there is CB2 which is expressed primarily through the immune system.  Evidence also seems to be mounting for their being more receptors in the blood and lymphatic system which leads me to conclude that cannabinoid activators should be able to have a pretty big impact on us biologically as long as the activator was able to reach its target.  But more importantly and interestingly for me is that it doesn’t take much reading to realise that these cannabinoid receptors are not just about mood altering, one process that involves cannabinoid receptors is the development of keratinocytes (skin cells) – something I found very interesting to discover.  But more than that, this article here tests the hypothesis that CB2 receptor activation stimulates release from keratinocytes of the endogenous opioid β-endorphin, which then acts at opioid receptors on primary afferent neurons to inhibit nociception (nociception is the sensory nervous system’s response to certain harmful or potentially harmful stimuli).  So basically it looks like the topical application of actives that can bind to these CB2 receptors can reduce pain sensations in the skin – this could be really useful in post-laser treatments and other healing or soothing skincare balms and with no mind-altering in sight!

Now all of this is very new to me so I really don’t want to start talking as if I know all about this type of biology but I do think it is important to at least try to understand how these things come together to at least be able to answer my initial question as to whether sniffing an essential oil (or resin) can get you high.  I’m asking for a friend….. No honestly I am 🙂

So what’s the verdict?

It turns out that Beta Caryophyllene IS a CB2 receptor agonist so it does work with cannabinoid receptors but in a non-psychoactive way (so no high).  I found several studies looking at this particular molecule and its effect on the biology of the test subject (usually mice or rats but sometimes people) of which none referred to administering this via inhalation (sniffing).  This paper references many experiments that have been carried out and summarises that this active has been administered orally, intraperitoneally (animal studies) and topically where it has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects as well as having some pain relief properties.

So the answer to my question, at least with regards to Copaiba Oil Resin is no, it probably can’t get you high, but it can reduce inflammation and pain and to those people in pain, that can feel like one in the same thing.

In case you are interested, this fascinating aroma chemical is also a key component in these other oils:

Rosemary, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Cananga, Catnip, Ylang Ylang, Hemp, Melissa, Camphor, Clove, Myrtle (bog), Basil and Sage.

For those interested in how this compares to Cannabis being as we are talking about Cannabinoid receptors here is a bit of information.

Cannabis contains more than 100 cannabinoids of which 60 are psychoactive with THC being the most mind altering and having hallucinogenic properties.

So is there any case at all for any essential oil to leave you feeling ‘high’ after sniffing it?

Absolutely yes, I think only I feel we would need to define ‘high’ a little more loosely.  Even if there was nothing in any essential oil that could trigger a CB1 receptor via sniffing (or any other psychoactive receptor), it is accepted by most of us and backed up scientifically that smell can and does alter our mood but we should probably look at that separately.

So, by all means go out and give this oil a sniff if you want to but if its activation of your cannabinoid receptors that you seek, I’d be rubbing a bit into your skin (in a suitable massage base) and letting those keratinocytes feel the love.

Amanda x




2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jimmy parlor permalink
    August 22, 2018 5:16 am

    It’s was a yes or no question not a damn essay

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 24, 2018 8:29 am

      Of course it was, everything in life eventually is.

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