Researchers found that terpenes from the cannabis plant are able to mimic cannabinoids and produce similar pain-relieving effects.
Scientists from the University of Arizona Health Sciences have concluded that cannabis terpenes could actually be a “new target” for pain therapies for those looking for a lighter treatment with fewer possible side effects.
Lead researcher John Streicher, PhD, said: “A lot of people are taking cannabis and cannabinoids for pain.
“We’re interested in the concept of the entourage effect, with the idea being that maybe we can boost the modest pain-relieving efficacy of THC and not boost the psychoactive side effects, so you could have a better therapeutic.”
The researchers found that Cannabis terpenes, when used by themselves, mimic the effects of cannabinoids, including a reduction in pain sensation.
Additionally, when combined with cannabinoids, the pain-relieving effects were amplified without an increase in negative side effects.
Dr Streicher added: “It was unexpected, in a way. It was our initial hypothesis, but we didn’t necessarily expect terpenes, these simple compounds that are found in multiple plants, to produce cannabinoid-like effects.”
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are naturally occurring hydrocarbons, found in many plants, including fruits and spices. The compounds have been found to contribute to the appearance and the flavours of different plants.
The terms ‘terpenes’ and ‘terpenoids’ are often used interchangeably. However, they are not technically the same thing. Terpenoids are actually the compounds formed when terpenes undergo some kind of chemical modification, such as drying or heating.
Functions of terpenes
These chemicals can give plants and their extracts a number of different properties. For many plants, terpenes are used as a defence mechanism, usually through their scent, which can repel herbivores. It can also attract parasites and predators of these herbivores.
In addition to protecting plants, terpenes have been found to have a number of medicinal and therapeutic properties. They are most likely the reason that humans have used plants in traditional and modern medicine for thousands of years.