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2023 Study: Cannabis Terpenes Synergize with THC

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

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Cannabis Terpenes Synergize with THC Study

Welcome to the Study Summaries series, an exclusive collection of premium ad-free training articles from Higher Learning LV that is targeted at hemp and cannabis industry professionals. This series provides students with concise summaries of the most recent and important peer-reviewed research studies about various characteristics of cannabis, including business dynamics, medicinal efficacy, and cultural/social impacts.

Three small green leaves on a cannabis plant

Cannabis terpenes synergize with THC. A June 2023 study entitled "Selected Cannabis Terpenes Synergize with THC to Produce Increased CB1 Receptor Activation" that was published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology investigated how both a collection of 16 terpenes (featured in the schematic below) and the cannabinoid delta-9 THC interact with the CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The scientists tested the terpenes and THC individually and also mixtures of both THC and terpenes.


This study was notable because it employed leading edge technology and analysis techniques that were often not available to prior scientific investigations. The terpenes tested by this study included the following. Many of these are among the eight Super Class terpenes identified in an October 2022 study.

Monoterpenes

Monoterpenoids

  • borneol

  • eucalyptol

  • geraniol

  • terpineol

Sesquiterpenes

Sesquiterpenoids

A cannabis plant in a field, with dew on its leaves
Cannabis produces dozens of terpenes

Do Cannabis Terpenes Synergize with THC?

The study's authors reported that the Cannabis sativa L botanical species is a "multifaceted plant containing hundreds of different chemical compounds," and that these include cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. The study noted previous studies have indicated that medical cannabis products that are "full spectrum" or "whole plant" may deliver greater efficacy than isolated cannabinoids and terpenes (called isolates).


"The study explained that cannabis-derived medicines involving a single chemical include Epidolex (CBD) and Dronabinol (synthetic THC)."

The study explained that cannabis-derived medicines involving a single chemical include Epidolex (CBD) and Dronabinol (synthetic THC). It noted that a problem with cannabis medicine and loose-leaf flower or concentrates in particular is that they vary based on genetic, agriculture, and processing variables (involved in production of extracts/concentrates, a mechanism that often decreases terpene volumes).


The researchers reported that prior investigations have attempted to identify a correlation between a variety of terpene profiles from certain cultivars and chemovars and their potential impact on some conditions and disease states, including anxiety and pain. They noted that some studies have revealed greater therapeutic value derived from extracts rich in a particular cannabinoid versus an isolate of that same cannabinoid (void of the additional "support" molecules).

A man holds the leaves of a cannabis plant among dozens of others in a grow facility
Cannabis plants are rich in terpenes and THC

Cannabis Terpenes Synergize with THC Study Results

The study revealed that 12 of the 16 terpenes evaluated demonstrated an ability to bind with the CB1 receptors of the ECS. The power of this binding was described by the scientists as "activation degree" and compared to that of delta-9 THC. The terpenes were found to exert between 10 percent and 50 percent of the activation of delta-9 THC.


"The study reported a synergy between THC and certain terpenes, including β-pinene, borneol, geraniol, limonene, linalool, ocimene, sabinene, and terpineol."

In addition, the study reported a synergy between THC and certain terpenes, including β-pinene, borneol, geraniol, limonene, linalool, ocimene, sabinene, and terpineol, and that the terpenes in addition to THC changed the signalling of the CB1 receptor in the ECS. These terpenes "increased the binding of the THC to CB1 receptor." The study found "limited activity" at the CB1 receptor from α-pinene, myrcene, and β-caryophyllene.

A sign at a store in Los Angeles that reads "Terpenes"
Terpenes: Do they enhance THC efficacy?

Cannabis Terpenes Synergize with THC Study Conclusions

The study's authors concluded that their data and analysis "demonstrated terpene-derived CB1 receptor activation and terpene-derived amplification of THC activity at CB1 receptor by a subset of cannabis terpenes."


They declared that their results demonstrate synergism between THC and selected terpenes. "This finding motivates searching for such synergism in other receptor-cannabinoid-terpene systems," concluded the scientists.


The study concluded that cannabis-based medicines that are whole plant or full spectrum are "not necessarily an advantage."

Despite finding binding of terpenes at the CB1 receptor and enhancement of THC binding when terpenes were present, the study emphasized that this applied to "only a fraction of the cannabis terpenes, many of which are not the most common ones."


Based on this, the study concluded that cannabis-based medicines that are whole plant or full spectrum are "not necessarily an advantage." It explained that maximum therapeutic value is derived from medical cannabis that is rich in particular terpenes, those "most suitable for activation of receptors involved with the specific indication to be treated."

A scented card reads "Know Your Terpenes: a-pinene. Found in Pine. Known to help asthma, anxiety, ulcers, potential effects stress relief
Terpenes interact with CB1 receptors

The study noted that the development of cannabis genetics rich in selected terpenes is possible, but resource intensive and takes long period of time. "Enrichment of cannabis extracts with selected terpenes, sourced from cannabis or from other plants, is much easier," explained the scientists. They reported that such exacts can easily be delivered to patients and consumers as capsules or tablets.


"Certain terpenes may enable the dose of THC to be decreased, of value to a portion of patients who cannot tolerate or do not desire the overt psychoactivity of THC."

The study also suggested that certain terpenes may enable the dose of THC to be decreased, something of value to a significant portion of patients who for a variety of reasons cannot tolerate or do not desire the overt psychoactivity of delta-9 THC and those who suffer adverse effects (including disorientation, paranoia, and confusion, among others). "This would also help in adjusting the treatment to more sensitive populations such as children and elderly," noted the study.


The scientists also noted that cannabis products may be enriched with supplemental terpenes and that this may "allow for composition adjustment to personal needs and to changes during chronic use, such as for daytime versus for sleep."


View the original study.

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