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US National Institutes Say They Want to Study Minor Cannabinoids and Terpenes

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Aug 04, 2022   
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Several national institutes in the US have declared that they’d like to research minor cannabinoids and terpenes.

In a government letter published on July 27, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and six other national institutes wrote that they now aim “to promote mechanistic research of therapeutic benefits of minor cannabinoids and terpenes in the cannabis plant.”

Cannabinoids and terpenes, institutionalized

These cannabinoids include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabichromevarin (CBDV), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), tetrahydrocannabivarin acid (THCVA), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).

Terpenes of interest to the national institutes include myrcene, ß-caryophyllene, Limonene, α -terpineol, linalool, α-phellandrene, α-pinene, ß-pinene, β-terpinene, and α-humulene.

By studying these compounds further, the institutes say, researchers could better understand how they contribute to cannabis’ “therapeutic effects”.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that cannabis plants may have potential in the treatment of pain, nausea, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, obesity, wasting disease, substance use disorders, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions; however, the evidence is largely inconclusive, and further investigation is needed,” the institutes’ letter reads.

“To dissect potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis from its psychoactive properties, more research is needed into the basic biological activity of the plant’s diverse phytochemicals, specifically minor cannabinoids and terpenes.”

Institute by institute, the federal agencies are interested in studying cannabinoids and terpenes in the following ways:

  • The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is interested in studying how the chemicals affect pain.
  • The National Cancer Institute says it wants to promote studies to determine how the cannabis compounds affect cancer interception, cancer treatment and resistance, and management of cancer symptoms.
  • The National Eye Institute is keen on cannabis research for the treatment of glaucoma, retinal degenerations, and uveitis.
  • The National Institute on Aging is interested in supporting research grant applications to study minor cannabinoids and terpenes in the context of Alzheimer’s disease and other aging-related illnesses.
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says it wants to encourage research exploring the role of endocannabinoid systems in alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse supports studies into whether cannabinoids can help treat substance use disorders and HIV infections.
  • The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research says the endocannabinoid system may be a target for the treatment of oral, dental, and craniofacial diseases.
  • The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says it will receive to research applications to study how minor cannabinoids and terpenes interact with neurological disorders such as migraines, headaches, epilepsy, movement disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, and strokes.

Cannabis research in the US

Research into cannabis has been limited in the US because the drug’s prohibition and status as a Schedule 1 substance.

“Right now, we are really quite stuck by the lack of regulation surrounding cannabis,” Dr Joshua Levy, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and director of resident research at Emory University’s Department of Otolaryngology, told Analytical Cannabis back in 2020.

“It is differentially regulated on both state, local, and federal levels. Because of that, physicians and other researchers who seek to appropriately study this potential medicine are really hamstrung. Even if we do follow the rules that are prescribed by the government and we use the only federally-regulated source for the plant, we’re actually still not studying the exact material that is being sold by state dispensaries and that is being attributed to reported health benefits.”

But, when it comes to the fortunes of cannabis research, change may be around the corner. Only last month, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would help researchers study cannabis. The bill is expected to pass through the Senate, too, and become the first piece of cannabis legalization legislation to land on the president’s desk for his approval.


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