The Science of Plant Chemistry, Part 1

Within the last few years Cannabis has been one of the most debated topics in the political arena. Its use as a natural medical alternative is gaining more acceptance among many, especially those suffering from conditions which include gastrointestinal, chronic pain, poor appetite and seizures. Just like essential oils, which are extracted from raw plant material, Cannabis contains a profile of naturally occurring chemical constituents that work within the body, helping to alleviate symptoms and conditions specific to the individual. As Cannabis becomes more mainstream, additional scientific data becomes available on its therapeutic benefits for the body, both topically and internally.

In botany, plants are divided into several groupings that include the family in which the plant belongs, as well as its genus and species. Cannabis belongs to the family Cannabaceae and comprises over 130 seed-bearing plants referred to as angiosperms. Hops, which are used in the production of beer, are found in the same Cannabaceae family. A plant is generally referred to by its common name such as spearmint, peppermint, rose, or eucalyptus. In the 1700s, Swedish botanist and physician Dr. Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) developed a binomial system for classifying plants using two italicized Latin words in order to distinguish the different characteristics of each. The Latin word Cannabis is the genus of three species of plants; Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The differences between each plant species includes leaf shape, chemical components, origin, and other specific characteristics.

In essential oil therapy, the binomial nomenclature is very important. Knowledge of the genus and species allows the essential oil therapist to create therapeutic blends using the right plant extracts that will be highly effective in helping with the individual’s condition. Furthermore, a plant can also contain varieties, cultivars, and chemical type, referred to as chemotpye (or “ct.”), after the genus and species name to further distinguish additional aspects of the essential oil. For example, Rosmarinus officinalis ct. cineole refers to the essential oil rosemary with a high 1,8-cineole content – the chemical component that is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral.

Cannabis sativa can refer to two different types of plants: common hemp and the sativa species of marijuana. Though the scientific portion of the binomial name is usually missing in common everyday discussion, there is sometimes confusion about which Cannabis sativa plant is referred.

Hemp oil is extracted from the seeds of the plant and is used in essential oil therapy for bath and body care products, and as a carrier oil for diluting essential oil blends. Hemp is a very sustainable plant which can supply many different resources, including fiber for clothing and paper, cold-pressed oil for cooking and personal care, as well as shelled hemp seeds for nutrition and health.

The essential oil extracted from the marijuana variety of Cannabis sativa contains some of the same unique naturally occurring chemicals found in other plant extracts such as lavender, clove bud, pine needle, and nutmeg. This essential oil chemical profile aids the body in relaxation, reducing inflammation and managing pain. The extract can used topically or ingested based on the prescribed regimen.


Michael Lausterer is master essential oil therapist and owner of Basic Earth Essentials located in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. He is also a professional chef and clinical nutritionist.

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Ava Barron-Shasho, MSW