Updated: Mar 24
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A variety of both favorable medicinal efficacies as well as potential adverse effects have been identified in the major cannabinoids, including CBD and delta-9 THC. To better understand the adverse effects of THC, see C3 Podcast No. 33.
In Higher Learning LV's Super Class Terpenes series, the eight most common (and therefore, most important) terpenes produced by North American cannabis cultivars are described. But what about the other terpenes? What about those that have been significantly investigated by science, despite the fact that they are less common in cannabis.
Although their commonality in cannabis and hemp might be low, many of these terpenes are produced in significant volumes by other botanical species.
Cannabis Terpene Basics
Terpenes are one of the three major groups of wellness molecules produced by cannabis/hemp/marijuana (in addition to cannabinoids and flavonoids). While cannabinoids are exclusive to the cannabis plant (they are made by no other plants in nature), terpenes are the polar opposite: No terpene is exclusive to cannabis.
More than 20,000 plant species in nature produce more than 40,000 varieties of terpenes. These molecules serve to protect the plant by attracting pollinators and dissuading pests and predators.
In fact, more than 20,000 plant species in nature produce more than 40,000 varieties of terpenes. These molecules serve to protect the plant by attracting pollinators and dissuading pests and predators. Terpenes deliver both aroma and flavor (flavonoids, despite their name, deliver zero flavor and are all about pigmentation and color).
More than 200 terpenes are programmed into the genome (DNA) of the cannabis plant species. However, a small subset of this group actually manifests in an individual chemotype or sample of the plant. Nerolidol is one of the 200.
The nerolidol molecule
Nerolidol, also called peruviol, penetrol, and trans-nerolidol, has demonstrated a variety of wellness efficacies, including potential antianxiety, antibacterial, anticancer, antifungal, and sedative benefits. It conveys an aroma that is floral and woody in nature, sometimes with layers of apple, citrus, and rose. This fragrance is sometimes described as "fresh bark." This terpene is sometimes employed as a calming agent and a sleep aid.
Botanical species other than cannabis and hemp that produce nerolidol include citronella, ginger, jasmine, lavender, lemongrass, a Mexican species of orchid, rose, and tea tree. Nerolidol is frequently employed by the food and beverage and cosmetics industries for its flavor and fragrance. Cannabis cultivars (strains) that produce nerolidol include Afghan Moon, GG4, Shishkaberry, and White Fire.
Recent peer-reviewed research studies have identified multiple avenues of potential medicinal efficacy. However, more research is necessary, particularly clinical trials involving humans.
A 2017 study entitled "Nerolidol Induces Cell Death in Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma Cells" that was published in Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology investigated the potential medicinal efficacy of nerolidol in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).
The study found that nerolidol effectively killed liver cancer cells via several different mechanisms (including apoptosis). It reported that "Nerolidol on its own reduced [cancer] cell viability from 89 percent to 3 percent," depending on dose.
The study found that nerolidol effectively killed liver cancer cells via several different mechanisms (including apoptosis). It reported that "Nerolidol on its own reduced [cancer] cell viability from 89 percent to 3 percent," depending on dose. The study clearly illustrated the importance of dosing in clinical applications of terpenes such as nerolidol. "Apoptosis analysis...showed that nerolidol induced significant cell death only at a concentration of 250 μM," reported the study's researchers.
"After 24 hours of exposure [to nerolidol], there was a significant increase in cells undergoing early and late apoptosis and necrosis when compared with control," reported the study. Necrosis is the death of "most or all of the cells in an organ or tissue." The research also revealed that nerolidol is involved in a third mechanism of cancer cell death, paraptosis, another system of programmed cellular death that is similar to apoptosis (but does not involve the cellular fragmentation of apoptosis).
The study's authors observed, "We identified the antiproliferative potential of nerolidol and suggest that this effect was caused by its ability to inhibit [cancer] cell growth...and induce cell death." The researchers concluded that "it is clear that nerolidol is responsible for the [cancer] antiproliferative properties we observed."
Lemongrass produces the terpene nerolidol
A 2016 study entitled "Assessment of Anxiolytic Effect of Nerolidol in Mice" that was published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology explored the ability of this terpene to reduce anxiety.
The study reported that nerolidol mitigated and reduced anxiety in rodent (mice) study participants and noted the fact that this was accomplished without simultaneously achieving a reduction in muscle coordination. "Our findings indicated that nerolidol exerts an anxiolytic effect without altering...motor coordination," concluded the research.
The researchers concluded that nerolidol, as found in essential oils, "significantly decreased the levels of anxiety" in the test subjects.
The researchers concluded that nerolidol, as found in essential oils, "significantly decreased the levels of anxiety" in the test subjects. Further scientific investigation of this mechanism would necessarily encompass double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials involving humans (the gold standard of the scientific testing of drugs and other therapies on humans, especially for particular disease communities).
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