New Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Could Be Made With Cannabis Terpenes, Study Says
In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists showed the most common terpenes and minor cannabinoids found in cannabis possess anti-inflammatory effects.
Published on November 2, 2022

The compounds in weed which provide the aromas, flavors, and possibly different kinds of highs can reduce inflammation in the body, too, a new study suggests.

The study, published in the December edition of Food and Chemical Toxicology, ranked the most common terpenes and cannabinoids by anti-inflammatory potency. The study was co-authored by researchers at Michigan State University, Chaminade University, and the biopharmaceutical company Gb Sciences. 

"We believe that this is the first demonstration of the anti-inflammatory potential of some very potent minor cannabinoids and terpenes derived from Cannabis," said Gb Sciences’ President and Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrea Small-Howard in a press release. "The identification of cell type-specific immune modulating effects by different individual cannabinoids and terpenes was an important first step in designing our novel anti-inflammatory therapies.”

So, what did the study find, exactly? 

α-Pinene, a terpene known for giving weed a piney, fresh scent, showed the strongest anti-inflammatory activity. Next up, linalool, which is found in cannabis with flowery, spicy scents. After linalool comes phytol then trans-nerolidol. 

According to the researchers, limonene, which gives cannabis a citrusy, lemony quality, showed no anti-inflammatory effects. The findings do not mean limonene lacks immune modulating properties, only that it didn’t show any in these experiments.

The researchers also compared common cannabinoids in the same immunological assay. Not surprisingly, THC — the compound in cannabis that gets people intoxicated — showed the most powerful anti-inflammatory activity. THC was followed by cannabidivarin (CBDV), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN).

Ironically, CBD, which is the second most popular cannabinoid after THC, showed the least anti-inflammatory effects compared to the other cannabinoids. However, that does not mean CBD has no immune modulating properties, just that it ranked the lowest in this particular set of experiments.

Now, how exactly did the researchers figure all this out? First, keep in mind none of this was tested in living, breathing humans. The terpenes and cannabinoids were tested against immune cells in cultures. In other words, this was all done in test tubes and plates, basically.

Second, although the study does not prove terpenes reduce inflammation, it provides some solid evidence that they can. These same lab assays are used to create steroids, painkillers, and other anti-inflammatory drugs. They’re also used to determine if a chemical or additive triggers an immune response, too.

Anyways, what’s the point of all this research? According to the press statement, Gb Sciences is looking to create new pharmaceuticals using specific terpene and cannabinoid combinations. It’s possible some types of inflammation, such as chronically sore muscles, respond to certain terpene-cannabinoid mixtures better than other forms of inflammation.

One recent analysis suggested legalizing cannabis could cost Big Pharma up to $10 billion a year in revenue as patients drop prescription and OTC medications for weed. So, it makes sense that the pharmaceutical industry would want to cash in on America’s sixth largest cash crop.

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MERRY JANE is based in Los Angeles, California and is dedicated to elevating the discussion around cannabis culture.
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