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New Study Reveals Marijuana Terpenes Offer Morphine-Level Pain Relief with Fewer Side Effects

Since ancient times, there has been evidence that some cultures used cannabis medicinally. As more states in the U.S. move to legalize medicinal and recreational cannabis, more researchers can finally get their hands on this “miracle” plant. However, unraveling these plant secrets is challenging, with hundreds of unique and potentially active compounds to study.

Several studies have shown that marijuana may be an effective pain relief treatment option. There are even more anecdotal accounts from cannabis users who consume marijuana, especially to relieve their chronic pain and symptoms associated with painful medical conditions. Using marijuana for pain management is nothing new. However, a new, federally funded study shows that specific terpene compounds in cannabis plants may have even more potential therapeutic and pain-relieving benefits than previously thought. The study also suggests that these compounds may produce effects like morphine with fewer detrimental side effects.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are chemical compounds. These compounds are found in hundreds of plants. These compounds give botanicals their distinct aromas and flavors. Some studies suggest that cannabis plants may have hundreds of chemical compounds and numerous types of terpenes, which give specific cannabis strains their unique flavor profile. Limonene is a chemical terpene found in the rinds of citrus fruits and other plants, including cannabis. This compound gives fruits and plants distinctive sour, citrus smell and flavor. Other terpenes like myrcene, caryophyllene, and humulene have distinct properties, imparting notes of pine, pepper, and other aromas in plants and cannabis strains.

However, these small hydrocarbon chemical compounds don’t just impart unique scents and flavors to plants. These compounds may also offer therapeutic benefits when interacting with other compounds, specifically cannabinoids. While THC and CDB tend to get all the love, the overlooked terpenes found in cannabis strains may impact the effects of THC and CBD. They may also have solo therapeutic benefits.

Terpenes in Marijuana May Offer Pain Relief as Effective as Morphine

For individuals in significant pain, morphine has also been the gold standard of pain relief. Morphine is a non-synthetic narcotic derived from opium. It is touted as one of the most potent and widely used drugs to combat severe pain. However, morphine is also highly addictive. The chemicals in morphine bind to receptors in the central nervous system and reduce pain by interrupting pain signals between the brain and body. However, morphine also triggers the reward center of the brain and can cause a sense of euphoria, making it highly addictive.

A federally funded new study shows that an injected dose of cannabis terpenes can potentially produce pain reduction “roughly equal” to small doses of morphine. These doses of terpenes also appear to enhance the efficacy of morphine when used together for pain relief. However, when inhaled, vaporized, or taken orally, the terpenes seemed to have little effect on pain.

The research focused on five terpenes: alpha-humulene, beta-caryophyllene, beta-pinene, geraniol, and linalool. Study authors say these terpenes are typically found in moderate to high lives in cannabis plants. However, cannabis contains up to 150 different terpenes, and multiple terpenes can act as the dominant chemical compound in different cannabis strains. The complexity of cannabis can make studying its therapeutic potential challenging.

The Power of Five

The team homed in on five distinct terpenes for this specific study on terpenes and pain relief. They injected the solution into mice to test how peripheral neuropathic pain and inflammatory pain responses. Researchers tested the five terpenes individually, along with a morphine comparison. Their findings show that all the terpenes tested seemed to reduce the specific markers of neuropathic pain. All terpenes except pinene also appeared to reduce inflammatory pain. Combining lower doses of terpenes and morphine produced an even more substantial pain-relieving effect.

What’s more, the research seems to indicate that a combination of opioid-terpene pain relief therapy may offer better pain reduction while blocking the additional potential of the opioid. That’s because many terpenes have no rewarding or dysphoric side effects, meaning they do not trigger the reward centers in the brain like opioids. What does that mean? One research says, “What we found was, yes, terpenes do relieve pain, and they also have a pretty good side effect profile.”

How Do Terpenes Interact with the Brain to Manage Pain?

The exact nature of how terpenes interact with the human body to reduce pain still needs to be better understood. Terpenes may play an anti-inflammatory role in the body and may also interact with specific receptors in the nervous system. The new study’s findings suggest that the terpenes are A2AR agonists. Adenosine receptors of A2AR agonists are anti-inflammatory agents. When these agents bind to specific receptors, they can produce numerous potential therapeutic effects on the mind and body. Researchers say, “However, our modeling studies suggested a mechanism for the terpenes to bind and activate the A2AR in the orthosteric site.”

Study authors say, “Future work will need to disentangle these mechanisms of selective receptor engagement in different pain sites.” They also note that while their research is promising, there is a need for further study to help untangle the specific pain-reliving mechanisms of terpenes and how these compounds interact with the brain and nervous system. 

The University of Arizona noted in its recent findings that its new research builds on the foundation of older research that found many terpenes mimicked the effects of cannabinoids, and while most cannabis research centers on cannabinoids like THC and CBD, minor chemicals like terpenes may hold the key to new therapeutic breakthroughs.

Slowly, researchers are trying to unravel the cannabis plant’s closely guarded medicinal secrets. If you want to stay current on all the latest research and news, stick with Cannabutter Digest. We offer exciting newsrecipes, and product reviews all in one place.

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