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Your Brain on Terpenes

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Terpenes are still very much understood compounds in the cannabis plant, but researchers and scientists are hoping to change that and harness the power of these compounds.

By Cannabis News ZA - 26/08/2020

We have understood terpenes outside of cannabis for some time, as it is key for the food, cosmetics, fragrance and pharmaceutical industries. Now it’s time for us to start recognising and using these compounds to our benefit. 

Terpenes are the largest class of phytonutrients in green foods and grains – these are the same compounds that contribute to the cannabis plants flavours and aromas. Another vital role they play in cannabis is to regulate the impact of cannabinoids, such as THC or CBD. This helps many determine the effects of a strain or cannabis product on a consumers physiology. 

With the demand for medicinal cannabis soaring, the scientific community is pushing for further research into terpenes, both isolated and when combined with other cannabinoids, and the impact on physiological outcomes. 

A Closer Look at Terpenes 

Earlier this year we covered a story on UCLA researchers obtaining a massive grant to study the effect on terpenes on pain, or more specifically whether terpenes can reduce the requirement for opioids in pain management. This is just the tip of the iceberg as research into cannabis medicine is only gaining momentum. 

More recently, leading terpene company True Terpenes announced the launch of a Scientific Advisory Board to further study the relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes – also known as the entourage effect

This advisory board will provide True Terpenes with external scientific medical research and insight – as well as feedback on products. This forms part of TT’s plan to address scientific gaps in terpenes, the entourage effect and to then create products that make the most of these findings. Prominent cannabis researchers, Dr Ethan Russo and Dr Randall Murphy have joined this board.

Dr Russo is a certified neurologist and a pioneer in cannabis and psychopharmacology research, who popularised the entourage effect theory in a 2011 paper of his: Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Russo was also a Senior Medical Advisor for GW Pharmaceuticals’ research on cannabis based medicines such as Sativex and Epidiolex. 

Dr Murphy is a former faculty member of the New York University who has worked on clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies and launched numerous pharmaceutical startups. He has designed laboratories and many of the widely used standards and practices at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and Center for Analytical Chemistry, and the Staff Research Fellow Laboratory of Biophysical Chemistry. His work on the board will be to lead the expansion of lab facilities and advising on terpene product development. 

The Complications 

Russo believes that existing terpene studies and literature are limited. He explains that “The problem, scientifically, is that most research on terpenes is based on aromatherapy and essential oils. We need more formal high-level, scientific studies that tell us what these substances do in the brain,”.

An additional challenge is that cannabis breeding has become particularly selective in recent years. This means that many genetics are bred for high THC and high myrcene. Myrcene is a terpene with pain-relieving properties. When combined with THC, myrcene has a sedating effect – commonly referred to as ‘couch lock’. This isn’t what everyone is looking to achieve with cannabis, “in particular for medical users who may need to work or study during the day,” Dr Russo says.

Many of the CBD genetics are also high in myrcene. According to Russo, “This has created a common misconception, which is that CBD is sedating. It isn’t. Pure CBD is quite alerting at low and moderate doses. By virtue of the myrcene content, this misconception has arisen. The current situation is not reflective of all that cannabis can be and should be.”

A method of creating cannabis products with a greater spectrum of functionality and therapeutic benefits is by altering terpene profiles – this can be achieved by adding terpenes. 

“By bringing in Dr Russo and Dr Murphy, we want to legitimize all the anecdotal evidence about terpenes with hard science and data,” said Chris Campagna, CEO of True Terpenes. “Hopefully that will enable the medical community to make better-informed decisions about cannabis treatment options and help more people.”

Ideal Outcomes 

Russo is very much focused on creating terpene and cannabinoid blends that will provide benefits in areas such as energy, focus, sleep and relaxation. 

“Cannabis is a unique opportunity for individualized medicine,” he says. “To achieve that individualization will require scientific investigation around how terpene and cannabinoid combinations affect brain chemistry.”

“The confusion and lack of knowledge around terpenes as flavours, versus terpenes as functional ingredients, amongst regulators and consumers is a challenge we come up against regularly,” said Campagna. “That was a big factor in creating this Scientific Advisory Board. We’ve been huge proponents of consumer education and consumer safety since starting our business. Back then, very few people even knew what terpenes were. We want to bring terpenes to the mainstream.”

As the body of evidence and research surrounding terpenes continues to grow, more consumers and medical professionals will turn to the health benefits of these compounds. This research will further fuel the industry as a whole. 

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