EducationThe four best terpenes for pain reduction

The four best terpenes for pain reduction

7 min read

Sam North

The four best terpenes for pain reduction

While traditional cannabis-based medicine mainly focuses on the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids (mostly THC and CBD), recent developments in the field have seen terpenes gain more recognition as a major factor in the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis.

Terpenes are natural aromatic compounds found in plants, including cannabis, which give them their distinctive smell and can also affect flavour. Over 150 different terpenes have, up until this point, been isolated from both cannabis and hemp cultivars (which are both part of the cannabis sativa L. genus).

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Although the need for further research is ever present, the currently available evidence shows that there is a clear relationship between specific terpenes and the analgesic effects of cannabis. This is thought to be due to what is referred to as the entourage effect”, a theory that states that the different terpenes and cannabinoids found in cannabis work together synergistically to enhance each other’s effects.

And, on top of this, specific terpenes themselves are showing great promise as potential analgesic options. One study, titled “Cannabis sativa terpenes are cannabimimetic and selectively enhance cannabinoid activity”, found that terpenes, when administered independently, can replicate the impact of cannabinoids, resulting in a decrease in pain perception.

So, if you're interested in learning more about which terpenes may be best for pain control, you've landed in the right spot. In today's article, we will shine a spotlight on the individual terpenes that have been found to have the most potential when it comes to managing pain and try to explain in simple terms what the science is saying about them.

Cannabis-derived terpenes for effective pain relief

The current state of conventional pain relief treatments is far from ideal, with many of them coming with severe side effects and long-term health risks. Opioids, which are by far the most commonly prescribed class of pain medications, have a severe risk of abuse and addiction, which has resulted in the “opioid crisis” that is currently taking place in the UK, North America, Europe, Australia, and many other countries. Alternatives such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can also cause problems due to their potential for organ damage if taken too often or in the wrong doses.

Given these issues, the need for complementary (or even alternative) treatment options is becoming increasingly important, and cannabis-sourced terpenes may be able to provide a solution. Here are the four primary terpenes that have been identified as having potential for pain management.

Limonene

Limonene, as the name suggests, is responsible for the lemony smell and taste of many cannabis varieties. It is also present in many other plants, and dominates the terpene profile of most citrus fruits.

Limonene has been found to be a potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic agent when administered either topically, through inhalation, or taken orally.

One interesting paper, which focused on the pain-relieving potential of limonene, found that limonene has shown promising effectiveness as an analgesic when used as a prophylactic measure against chemical irritant-induced pain. In both oral and intraperitoneal administration at doses of 50 mg/kg or higher, limonene effectively mitigated formalin-induced pain behaviours. These findings highlight the potential of limonene as a valuable tool in pain management.

A separate research study determined that limonene demonstrates remarkable antihyperalgesic effects in the management of chronic musculoskeletal pain. It effectively reduces the expression of FOS protein in the spinal cord of mice, indicating its potential therapeutic value. The term “antihyperalgesic” refers to treatments that help alleviate or reduce hyperalgesia, which is an increased sensitivity to pain.

Limonene has also been shown to possess a wide range of additional beneficial effects on health. To add to its well-documented anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antinociceptive, antidiabetic, antiviral, and gastroprotective effects, this compound has shown promising results in various other areas. These include but are not limited to promoting cardiovascular health, supporting immune function, and even potentially mitigating the risk of certain chronic diseases. The comprehensive body of evidence highlights the remarkable potential of this substance in promoting overall well-being and maintaining optimal health.

Beta-Caryophyllene

Beta-caryophyllene is one of the terpenes found in the highest concentrations throughout the cannabis and hemp family. It exudes a woody and peppery scent and is found in many other plants, including cinnamon leaves, black pepper, cloves, and hops.

Beta-caryophyllene is an incredibly fascinating compound. It is one of the few terpenes that have been proven to selectively activate the CB2 receptor fully, which is only found in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The CB2 receptor is primarily present in the immune system, and it's believed to play a significant role in modulating inflammation.

When administered orally or topically, beta-caryophyllene has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain in the affected area. This is thought to be due to its ability to interact with the CB2 receptors and induce a cascade of anti-inflammatory responses that can help manage and reduce pain. It may also promote faster wound healing, making it a desirable option for both topical and internal applications.

Myrcene

Myrcene is often the most abundant terpene in cannabis and hemp plants and is responsible for giving them their musky, dank, earthy fragrance. It is also found in elevated levels in mangos, thyme, parsley, lemongrass, hops, and bay leaves.

Myrcene has been showing promising results in therapeutic settings, with more than a handful of studies demonstrating its potential for pain relief.

One study, titled “Myrcene mimics the peripheral analgesic activity of lemongrass tea”, found that Myrcene showed dose-dependent analgesic activity in rats for hyperalgesia and allodynia, which are conditions characterized by increased pain sensation and sensitivity.

Another paper, which looked at the effect of myrcene in relation to arthritis pain and inflammation, reported “Local application of myrcene (1 and 5 mg/kg s.c.) reduced joint pain and inflammation via a cannabinoid receptor mechanism. The combination of myrcene and CBD (200 μg) was not significantly different from myrcene alone.”

Myrcene has also demonstrated sedative properties, and a study suggests it possesses a notable analgesic effect, which is counteracted by the action of naloxone, an opioid antagonist. This suggests a mechanism of action involving the opioid receptor, although further research is needed to establish this conclusively.

Pinene

The final terpene we will discuss today is Pinene, which is one of the most abundant terpenes throughout the entire plant world. It has a distinctly woody, earthy, and fresh aroma, and is used extensively in aromatherapy to bring feelings of relaxation, sedation, and anxiety relief.

When it comes to the anti-pain action of Pinene, research suggests that it has a strong link to its anti-inflammatory effect. Orally administered α-pinene (at doses of 5–25 mg/kg) exhibited analgesic effects and reduced inflammation in mice when irritants were externally applied. These effects were observed to persist for more than 48 hours.

Another paper reported that Pinene offers longer-lasting and stronger analgesic effects than morphine, with no observed side effects or development of tolerance. 

Conclusion

The idea that terpenes can play a significant role in the relief of pain and inflammation is quickly gaining momentum, and for good reason. All of the terpenes discussed above have demonstrated impressive therapeutic effects, without any major side effects that are commonly associated with pharmaceutical medications.

While the exact mechanism by which some of these compounds work has yet to be revealed fully, one thing is for certain: terpenes may very well be a potentially powerful addition to pain treatment, and they should be explored further.

If medical cannabis is an option in your area, you may wish to consult a doctor to learn more about the potential benefits of terpenes for pain relief. Here in the UK, it has been legally available since November 2018, and recent changes in legislation have made it available through private clinics, opening up access to more people.

Releaf understands the importance of medical cannabis in treating various medical conditions. With our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, you can access the treatment you require without worrying about the stigma.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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