Originally published in Extraction Magazine, February 2019
I have an exceptionally good sense of smell and I relish when I catch a whiff of something that viscerally transports me to particular place and time that has been otherwise forgotten. Boom! Suddenly I am eight-years-old again and I feel the moment. Our sense of smell is most similar to a sixth sense because it transports us physically, mentally and emotionally more than any other sense. Smells travel through our olfactory bulb, which is the smell analyzing portion of our brain that is closely linked to our amygdala and hippocampus regions that handle memory and emotion. Smell is emotive, but it also plays a role in selecting a mate based on our genes and immune systems. Yeah, when you find someone’s body odor offensive it’s likely they are not a good mate; if you don’t really mind their odor it’s a match made in your genes. Sniffing around on prospective mates is theorized to be how we came to find our lips brushing against each other. The kiss is born.
Modern Medicine and the Endocannabinoid System
Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) was discovered very recently in 1992 and not long after that, the “entourage effect.” Through cannabis research, modern science has made it more widely accepted that aromatherapy is real, and cannabis helps us create a state of homeostasis through a match between our ECS and the plant. The whole plant and nothing but the plant, naturally. It does this by attracting us with smell, taste, the beauty of its flower, and the effects we feel when we imbibe it. It relaxes us; makes us laugh; helps us feel sexy, sleepy, hungry, not hungry and escape physical and emotional pain, neurological illness and traumatic brain injury, etc. We have a long way to go to fully understand how cannabis works with our ECS and why. We are living in a time that will change how we look at human health and treat illness.
Modern medical science is supporting a new approach to individualized health based on our unique physiological, emotional and mental needs. One pill for all of humanity has not worked all that well and in the case of some drugs like opiates, it has devastated the lives of millions of people and their loved ones. Do we want to keep going down this path? It’s like the practice of bloodletting. Death by a thousand cuts. It’s old science that has been marketed as the only solution, but we now know it’s not. We know it. We smell cannabis and are instantly relaxed or energized. We stand in front of it and are mysteriously thrilled by the sight of it. We share it and feel deep connections. We use it and medical miracles occur. Its value is being slowly, clinically proven, but we already, instinctually, know cannabis exists to heal us physically and culturally. We know it. We experience it with every sense and fiber of our humanity.
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Isolation
Cannabis is also showing us what NOT to do. From trials already performed on CBD that show it has a bell curve (look it up) in efficacy over time and that utilizing the whole plant as a genetically altered, but still intact whole plant profile, increases CBD’s efficacy. Taking out another powerful molecule of the plant, like THC, to treat illness has also been a flop. Yet, old medical science still wants to keep ignoring the ECS and the entourage effect while our senses are telling us that the plant is a healthy genetic match.
A single molecule of the plant does not create homeostasis nor does it have much sensory impact. Think of it this way: you are hungry, feeling like you want to treat yourself to a nice steak (I apologize, no vegan option in this illustration) dinner. The steak arrives and it has no color, it has no smell, it has no taste, no B-12, no zinc, no niacin, no selenium. It has nothing but protein. Does it satisfy your desire for a sensory experience? Does it satisfy your dietary needs? What would happen if this was the only protein you ate? You would become very ill and very unfulfilled in every sense. They can grow protein in a lab and they can grow cannabinoids in a lab, too, from yeasts. That just sounds unappealing, but amping up a particular molecule profile in a whole-plant formulation might make sense.
You know what is worrisome right now? All the hype around CBD. Not that the efficacy of CBD is hype, but there are people who do not know what the ECS is, have never seen the plant, have never smelled it, have never experienced it in any form much less in a whole-plant form. These companies are taking CBD from who knows where and putting minuscule amounts of it in products and marketing it as a health and wellness product. Guess what? It isn’t going to work. Even your grandfather, who really does want to stop taking a pharmaceutical drug to treat his aches and pains, will try this pathetic representation of the plant and say “snake oil” and never try it or any other cannabis product again.
Breeding Chemical Diversity over Lab Separation and Isolation
Cannabis graciously lends itself to genetic modification. Therefore, instead of separating out all of its parts and trying to put humpty dumpty back together, you can simply breed for them. Yes, studying how these specific new chemovars are effective for specific ECS deficiencies will take time, but there are plenty of examples where fast is not preferred. In the meantime, the whole plant has hurt no one and continues to wholly amaze and delight us in every way.
Try this little experiment. The next time you have an opportunity to smell three to six differing chemovars (strains are old terminology), pay attention to how that smell makes you feel or if there is something especially appealing about it. Think of it like smelling wines or perfumes. Look for the high notes (pun intended) or the woodsy, piney, fruity, sour, skunky notes. Now try each one. Does the effect relate to how it made you feel when you simply smelled it? How connected are you to the plant through your own sensory impressions? You are very connected. Your senses are there to make that connection for you. Fortunately, there are companies now who are NOT labeling their products as “Sativa” and “Indica,” but are listing the chemical profiles of the plant and what makes up that chemovar. Is your product development team looking to the future of ECS research and creating products that support the science, playing catch up or simply trying to yell the loudest about their lightly CBD-infused product? If they are still trying to get an extremely high THC content, you are missing two vast and upcoming demographics: women and people over 50. These demographics want to know what is in the product and how it was made; if it is effective, they will try other products. We are creating a new way to promote health and well-being. Now is the time to do it right or cripple the industry and our budding relationship between our ECS and cannabis.
Your "Sixth Sense" is The Future
Other than your five senses, you have common sense, your 6th sense, horse sense, intuition, gut. Whatever you want to call it, pay attention. The species survived on it and it is how you will survive and flourish in this new arena of modern medical science and is the springboard for individualized medicine.
 Furlow, F.B., “The Smell of Love”, Psychology Today, 1996. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ us/articles/199603/the-smell-love
 Devane W. et al., “Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor”, Science (Wash DC) 1992, 258: 1946–1949. (impact factor = 37.205; cited by 5361)
 https://www.drugabuse.gov/ drugs-abuse/opioids/opioidoverdose-crisis
Above, author AC Braddock using her senses to get to know a cannabis flower.