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Terpenes in cannabis linked to better patient outcomes – study

Researchers have used these findings to develop the world’s first cannabis flower indexing system.



Terpenes do matter when it comes to the medicinal effects of cannabis, according to new research linking specific compounds to better patient outcomes. 

A new study, carried out by researchers at the University of New Mexico, finds that cannabis flower containing higher levels of specific terpenes is associated with greater perceived symptom relief among patients. 

Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds found in many plants, not just cannabis, which are responsible for the taste, aroma and potentially differing effects.

The researchers have now used these findings to develop the world’s first indexing system to allow for the categorisation of cannabis variants beyond strain or product names.

Using data collected through the Releaf App between 2015-2021, on 633 flower products, researchers assessed trends between the cannabinoid and terpene content [scientifically referred to as chemovars] and their perceived effects on the consumer.

According to the paper, the five most frequently consumed chemovars showed ‘significant differences in symptom treatment effectiveness’ for chronic pain, depression and anxiety.

Delving deeper, the results show that symptom relief was greater after patients had consumed variants with, ‘slightly higher than average levels of the terpenes myrcene and terpinolene’.

Myrcene is known for its numerous therapeutic properties including as an anxiolytic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Terpinolene, which is found in nutmeg, cumin and apples is thought to act as a potential antioxidant and may have sedative properties.

Meanwhile, chemovars which contained detectable amounts of CBD provided ‘less symptom relief’ than those with no traces of the cannabinoid.

“These findings are consistent with previous research showing that naturally abundant CBD in cannabis flower may act as an inhibitor of optimal treatment for certain health conditions,” the authors say.

The first cannabis flower indexing system

Researchers used these findings to create a cannabis flower indexing system which is capable of distinguishing individual plant variants without the need for strain or product names.

The system identified distinct cannabis chemovars using four-character codes based on phytochemical potencies, including THC, CBD, and the primary and secondary terpenes detected. 

In their conclusion, the authors argue that it will allow healthcare providers, patients, scientists and retailers to more easily categorise products based on ‘measurable plant characteristics beyond THC and CBD in ways that systematically relate to differing levels of symptom relief and side effect reporting’. 

A more accurate way to classify cannabis?

Associate Professor of Psychology Jacob Vigil, who led the study, commented: “While the cannabis plant’s natural ability to develop different types of chemical profiles may complicate standardisation of cannabis medications, as is typical of conventional pharmaceuticals, its inherent phytochemical heterogeneity may also explain why the cannabis plant is effective at treating so many different types of health conditions.

“I hope that by creating this comprehensive, common-sense, and user-friendly indexing system, scientists, health providers, and most importantly, patients will be better able to identify and distinguish cannabis plant strains and their unique and desired effects, which is the ultimate goal of most cannabis-based research.”

Co-author Associate Professor of Economics Sarah Stith, added: “It is important that the inherent heterogeneity in cannabis be measured and leveraged to generate improved and expanded therapeutic benefits rather than lost in an effort to transform cannabis into a conventional medication e.g. through the FDA’s required standardisation of investigational new drugs (IND), which was developed not for an inherently diverse plant species but rather for the mass-produced synthetic chemical compounds that constitute the majority of conventional medications.”

Cannabis products have been largely characterised by strain names, but these can be created by producers and retailers and renamed, for example, if product sales are not desirable, leaving consumers with little ability to either seek out variants which work for them, or avoid ones which don’t.

“Due to the modernisation and hybridisation of the cannabis plant, strain names are largely irrelevant and nothing more than a marketing strategy used by brands and retailers to try and sell products,” said Tyler Dautrich, COO of MoreBetter (Releaf App)

“This publication provides a proof-of-concept of a more accurate and legitimate way to classify cannabis flower and better inform consumers.”

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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