The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is seeking applications for research into minor cannabinoids and terpenes. The research is intended to evaluate the analgesic potential of these compounds, with the possibility they could provide an alternative to opioid medications. Some of the compounds to be tested include cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), Limonene, α-pinene, β-pinene, γ-terpinene, and α-humulene, along with several more. The NCCIH will award four recipients portions of the $1.5 million grant.
Federal Government Wants Research on Cannabis Compounds
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is awarding $1.5 million to four recipients for research about minor cannabinoids and terpenes and their ability to treat pain.
The NCCIH defines minor cannabinoids as “any and all cannabinoids from the cannabis plant other than Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC).”
In the agency’s announcement, the NCCIH believes new research about pain relief is essential in light of the current opioid crisis. Since opioid medications cannot provide long-term effectiveness and carry a high risk for abuse, novel therapies are needed.
The agency also presented preclinical data suggesting cannabinoids may enhance the properties of opioids.
“The synergy from using these products together may result in more effective pain relief with lower doses of opioids,” the announcement said.
However, it is not clear which cannabinoids or terpenes interact with opioid pathways in the body.
“More specific research is therefore needed to uncover the mechanisms of action for minor cannabinoids and terpenes,” the announcement states, “as well as whether these molecules, alone or in combinations, can be used to treat pain, opioid use disorder and other pain-related comorbidities.”
The cannabinoids of “particular interest” to the NCCIH include: Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabichromene (CBC), Myrcene, β-caryophyllene, Limonene, α-terpineol, Linalool, α-phellandrene, α-pinene, β-pinene, γ-terpinene, and α-humulene.
Studies indicate some of these compounds may have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, but there is not enough information to be conclusive.
The NCCIH noted several research topics:
- To investigate the potential analgesic properties and adverse effects of minor cannabinoids, alone or in combination with each other or terpenes;
- To investigate the mechanisms by which minor cannabinoids and terpenes may affect pain pathways, including ascending and/or descending neural pathways, cellular and molecular signaling pathways, neuroimmune interactions, or other innovative regulatory pathways related to pain;
- To explore the impact of sex, age and ethnicity on potential analgesic properties of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;
- To explore the analgesic potential of minor cannabinoids and terpenes for different pain types (e.g., acute pain, chronic pain, inflammatory pain, neuropathic pain);
- To investigate the pharmacology (pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profiles) of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;
- To explore binding affinities of minor cannabinoids and terpenes to cannabinoid and opioid and other pain-related receptors;
- To investigate the impact of dose and/or route of administration on potential analgesic effects of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;
- To characterize if/how specific terpenes may influence potential analgesic properties of cannabinoids;
- To explore potential opioid-sparing effects of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;
- To explore the interaction between the microbiome and minor cannabinoids or terpenes;
- To improve methods to quantify systemic levels of minor cannabinoids and terpenes
The primary goal for the studies proposed must be to understand how the cannabinoids and terpenes work, as opposed to researching their efficacy (this can be a secondary outcome).
Proposed studies are not to last any longer than 5 years and can start in September 2019 at the earliest.
Applications must be submitted by March 15.
CBD for Treating Pain
Of the cannabinoids NCCIH is interested in, CBD has received the most attention from the scientific community.
Several pieces of scientific literature indicate CBD may help relieve pain through a variety of receptors.
One study led by researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the parent organization of the NCCIH, provides evidence of CBD suppressing inflammation and neuropathic pain via glycine receptors.
Evidence such as this has led to athletes using CBD to relieve pain after exercise or competition, like Nate Diaz of the UFC.
Some studies show that CBD interacts with specific opioid receptors, but these have tested CBD in the context of inhibiting drug addiction.