New research from the University of Arizona Health Sciences has found evidence that positions Cannabis terpenes, the part of the plant that provides flavor and aroma, as a promising new target for pain therapies that would require lower doses and produce fewer side effects.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants and are the basic component in essential oils. Cannabis Sativa’s most well-known compounds are cannabidiol (CBD), and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis.
Researchers found that Cannabis terpenes, used by themselves, mimic the effects of cannabinoids, including a reduction in pain sensation. When combined with cannabinoids, the pain-relieving effects were amplified without an increase in negative side effects.
John Streicher, Ph.D., is the lead researcher, a member of the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, and associate professor of pharmacology at the College of Medicine – Tucson.
Dr. Streicher and the research team, including former graduate student and first author Justin LaVigne, Ph.D., former undergraduate researcher Ryan Hecksel and former postdoctoral fellow Attila Kerestztes, Ph.D., focused on four Cannabis terpenes: alpha-humulene, geraniol, linalool and beta-pinene. They evaluated each terpene alone and in combination with WIN55,212-2, a synthetic cannabinoid agonist that stimulates the body’s natural cannabinoid receptors.
“It was unexpected, in a way,” said Dr. Streicher. “We didn’t necessarily expect terpenes, these simple compounds …to produce cannabinoid-like effects.”
Dr. Streicher’s ongoing research is focusing on the use of terpenes in combination with opioids and for specific types of cancer-related pain. His long-term goal is to develop a dose-reduction strategy that uses terpenes – generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – in combination with cannabinoids or opioids to achieve the same levels of pain relief with lower doses of drugs and fewer side effects.