Summary: a new study shows that the non-cannabinoid components of cannabis (such as terpenes) exhibit anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties. Though the study failed to disclose if the test oil researchers used contained CBD.
Cannabis has been used for thousands of years as a therapeutic. But we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of how it actually works.
In the last century, researchers began to identify the molecular components within cannabis and how they affect the human body.
A recent, exhaustive review examined more than 10,700 peer-reviewed publications on the topic of cannabis. It concluded that there was convincing evidence for the beneficial effect of cannabis on chronic pain and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
However, research continues to focus on just two cannabis-derived compounds—the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC and CBD are both members of the cannabinoid family.
But what about the terpenes?
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a diverse class of organic compounds produced by plants, including cannabis. They’re hydrocarbons, meaning they’re made up almost entirely of hydrogen and carbon.
Essential oils derived from plants are largely comprised of terpenes. Terpenes usually have a strong odor and are thought to have evolved to protect plants from insects and herbivores.
The name terpene is actually derived from the word turpentine, a solvent made from distilling resin from live trees.
Terpenes in Cannabis
The cannabis plant has over 200 terpenes which give the plant its distinct smell. Similar to CBD, cannabis terpenes are not psychoactive.
The terpenes in cannabis include:
(Those terpenes are the most common, but it is by no means an exhaustive list).
Previous studies have demonstrated that cannabis terpenes can influence the effects of cannabinoids and have positive effects on anxiety and inflammation. However, potential mechanisms for these actions are still unknown.
Researchers recently published a new study that investigates the therapeutic properties of cannabis-derived, terpene-rich essential oils.
The Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Terpenoids from Cannabis
Researchers produced terpene-rich essential oils from non-psychoactive hemp variants and determined the terpene content of each prepared oil.
The researchers then performed a series of experiments in cell cultures and live mice to explore whether the terpene containing hemp oils demonstrated antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties.
Unique Terpene Content of Different Hemp Oils
The researchers used three different varieties of hemp to produce three different hemp oil samples.
When analyzed, they identified 48 unique terpene compounds in total.
Interestingly, each hemp oil sample was distinct, with differences and similarities in terpene content.
Terpene-Containing Hemp Oil Reduces Oxidative Stress
The researchers induced oxidative stress in cell culture samples by adding several different oxidative compounds. They then measured markers for oxidative stress such as reactive oxygen intermediates.
The researchers found that each of the terpene-rich hemp oils lowered the amount of oxidative stress markers in the cell cultures.
Hemp-Derived Terpenes Demonstrate Anti-inflammatory Properties
Mice were injected in one paw with a chemical that causes tissue inflammation and leads to swelling.
If the researchers also injected the mice with one of the three terpene-rich hemp oils, they saw a reduction in paw swelling.
However, injection of cannabidiol (CBD) had a greater effect on swelling than any of the three terpene-rich oils.
Additionally, the researchers looked at a downstream signaling molecule called TNF alpha that’s involved in the inflammatory response. They found that CBD lowered TNF alpha levels in the mice with swollen paws, but the terpenes did not.
Hemp-Derived Terpenes in Pain Reduction
The researchers then evaluated the same mice for pain response in their swollen paws. To do this, they measured the time it took each mouse to withdraw its paw after being poked. Longer response time for paw withdrawal indicates reduced pain.
The mice treated with terpene oil showed longer paw withdrawal response times when compared to untreated mice. But again, CBD was more effective—mice treated with CBD had even longer paw withdrawal response times than the mice treated with the terpene-rich hemp oil.
This study failed to address whether there was any CBD present in their prepared hemp oils. Hemp plants, which are non-psychoactive, usually contain little or no THC but can contain varying amounts of CBD.
This is particularly important considering the researchers are making a direct comparison between their terpene-rich hemp oil and CBD.
This study found that cannabis-derived terpenes can help guard against oxidative stress, inflammation, and pain.
However, terpenes were not as effective at treating inflammation and pain as CBD. It’s possible that terpenes in cannabis may use a different mechanism than CBD to affect inflammation and pain. It will be interesting to see future studies address this.
From the researchers’ analysis of the three different hemp oils, it seems clear that different cannabis varieties could contain unique subsets of terpenes with potentially distinct therapeutic benefits.
The majority of cannabis-related research has focused on the benefits of cannabis-derived cannabinoids, particularly CBD and THC.
However, little attention has been given to the potential therapeutic properties of cannabis-derived terpenes. This study will hopefully become one of many to more closely examine their therapeutic properties.