UCLA Scientist Awarded $4 Million Grant to Study Terpenes as Opioid Substitute
Over the next five years, UCLA scientists will dig deep into how cannabis terpenes could replace prescription painkillers for chronic pain patients.
Published on March 23, 2020

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Southern California has long been known as one of the cannabis industry’s main focal points. Now, thanks to legalization and subsequent research initiatives at local universities, SoCal has quickly emerged as a hub for cannabis science, as well. And while most research into pot has focused on THC and CBD, a new multi-million dollar project at UCLA will delve deeper into terpenes, the compounds that give marijuana its unique smells and flavors.

According to a new press release from the UCLA Newsroom, the university’s two-year-old Cannabis Research Initiative was recently awarded a $3.9 million grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institute of Health to study the effects of cannabis terpenes on chronic pain. The money will also fund research into whether the all-natural flavonoids can help opioid users reduce their necessary dosage.

“Chronic pain is a significant public health burden and there are few effective treatments that lack the adverse effects that limit use [of opioids],” said UCLA cannabis research director, Ziva Cooper.

Over the next five years, Cooper and the UCLA cannabis research team will look specifically at two terpenes commonly found in cannabis — myrcene and b-caryophyllene. Test subjects will consume just the terpenes in one study, and then consume a combination of terpenes and THC in another trial, to analyze the pain relieving and intoxicating effects of each compound. In addition to the THC portion of the test, UCLA researchers will test terpene consumption on opioid users to see if myrcene and b-caryophyllene can help reduce dosages in opioid-reliant chronic pain patients.

As America’s legal weed industry continues to expand from state to state, calls for increased research into the plant and its active chemical compounds have rung out from every corner of the cannabis community. But while federal prohibition has still largely stood in the way of proper research, programs like UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative are pushing to finally close the gaps between lived experience and scientific fact. 

“Specific chemicals in the cannabis plant taken alone or together may be effective options with minimal side effects,” Cooper said in the press release. “Placebo-controlled studies to explore this urgent area of research are desperately needed.” 

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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