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Cannabis Terpenes in Chronic Pain

Published: 05/07/2024

Chronic pain is a widespread and challenging issue, impacting millions and costing society dearly. Current treatments often fall short, leading many to seek alternative solutions for the condition.

There is rising interest in trying to study what role medical cannabis may play for people living with chronic pain. The major components of medical cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been the focus of that attention. Scientists are now also focusing on another component of cannabis: terpenes.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are natural compounds found in many plants, giving them unique scents and flavours. In cannabis, terpenes have been the subject of studies aiming to examine their effects on inflammation, infection, and even pain. A recent study investigated how five specific terpenes found in cannabis might help with chronic pain.

The Study

The study used mouse models of chronic pain caused by chemotherapy and inflammation. Mice were given terpenes to examine the effects on pain. The researchers also examined how terpenes interact with the body’s pain system at a molecular level.

The terpenes chosen were: α-humulene, β-caryophyllene, β-pinene, geraniol, and linalool, which are found in many cannabis strains.

Results

Firstly, it is important to note that the findings from this study are only in mouse models. Therefore the effects of terpenes need to be better studied in humans before we can be sure of their effects on the body.

Terpenes and pain

Terpenes were found to activate a specific receptor in the spinal cord called the adenosine A2A receptor (A2AR).

Activation of this receptor by terpenes was associated with blocking pain signals that travel along nerves associated with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

Terpenes and inflammation

The researchers also assessed whether the terpenes affected lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation in mice.

WIN55,212 (a synthetic cannabinoid receptor activator), linalool, and β-caryophyllene approximately caused a 50% reduction in inflammatory activity.

Meanwhile, geraniol, β-pinene, and α-humulene produced a complete blockade of inflammatory activity caused by lipopolysaccharide in mice.

Conclusions

While these findings are exciting, there’s still more work to be done. Scientists need to overcome challenges like improving how the body absorbs terpenes. They also need to investigate their pain-relieving effects in more detail. Currently, there is not enough research on how terpenes affect the human body for them to be recommended for any particular condition.

Overall, this study does provide additional evidence on the potential mechanism of action of terpenes in cannabis. As such this provides greater impetus to study the medications more in humans.

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