The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has granted a UCLA cannabis researcher $3.9 million to study whether cannabis terpenes alone, and in conjunction with THC, can help reduce patients’ need for opioids in pain management. The grant, given through NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, will be given over a five-year period to fund a team led by professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA medical school, Ziva Cooper.
Dr. Cooper and her team will examine two common cannabis terpenes, myrcene and b-caryophyllene, to determine whether they can offer patients pain relief both on their own and when combined with THC. Essentially, the team will be gathering placebo-controlled data on what’s commonly known as the “entourage effect”—a theory that cannabinoids like THC and CBD, along with the aromatic compounds known as terpenes, work better together than apart.
The terpene myrcene is anecdotally associated with the sedating and pain-relieving properties of cannabis, and b-caryophyllene has been previously noted for reducing pain and inflammation in animal models. Terpenes may also mitigate some of the negative effects of THC, such as paranoia.
For decades, cannabis prohibition in the U.S. made medical marijuana research notoriously difficult to do. But as medical marijuana becomes legal on a state-by-state level, scientists are increasingly gaining approval for new studies and are able to access the plant for research purposes.
Cooper, who serves as the research director of UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative, also received a $3.5 million grant in 2019 to study how the pain-relieving effects of cannabinoids may affect men and women differently.