Cannabis for Inflammation: Study Finds THC and CBG More Effective than CBD

Written by Robert Hammell

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, the utilities of cannabinoids continue to be discovered. In the medical field, only one product has received FDA approval thus far. That drug, called Epidiolex, is a CBD derived epilepsy treatment.[1] For a long time, though, it has been clear that cannabis can also be used to treat inflammation and topical pains as well as complicated neurological disorders. With epilepsy, there is clear evidence that CBD can be used to effectively limit the number of seizures in patients.[2] With inflammation, on the other hand, there is not enough information about what part of the cannabis plant actually provides the relief. With hundreds of different cannabinoids and terpenes that can be found in a variety of cannabis strains, it is difficult to identify which one is really effective in treating these
discomforts. Now, that box is beginning to be unpacked thanks to a new study published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology.[3] The authors of the study set out to try and discover which components of the cannabis plant really make the difference in treating inflammation.

Designing the Study

Different strains of cannabis can be split into one of five chemotypes based on the varying amount of cannabinoids present.[4] In order to test the largest field of cannabis possible, the authors of the study isolated not only the major cannabinoids like THC and CBD but also minor
terpenes before applying them to in vitro to blood samples that include various immune cells responsible for responding to inflammation. In total, they test 21 compounds found within cannabis, including various cannabinoids and terpenes. What made this experiment novel is
that the cells that were primarily tested were all immune cells that are often responsive to inflammation. This helped in clarifying which parts of cannabis contributed the most to treating inflammation, though the results are not entirely conclusive.

How Major Cannabinoids Handled Inflammation

When compared to minor terpenes, the cannabinoids fared much better in regulating inflammation responses. This is because major cannabinoids effect a broader range of immune cells, making them far more adaptable and applicable to various forms of inflammation.
Between THC and CBD, THC was the superior, affecting more than 11 different types of immune cells, however, there appears to be an upper limit of how much is actually productive. The ideal range for stimulating an immune system response appears to be .001 to 10μM. This was not always consistent when compared to other cannabinoids. With CBN or CBG, that range was significantly smaller, extending between .001-.1μM. Overall, THC was found to be the most effective cannabinoid, followed by CBDV, CBG, and CBC. CBD showed the least immune modulating effects.

How Minor Terpenes Responded
Terpenes had a lower impact on inflammation response, but they did still register enough to have significance. Of the terpenes tested, a-pinene had the largest immune modulating effect, followed by linalool, phytol, and transnerolidol. The least effective terpene, with no registered response, was limonene. The results suggest that by comparison, terpenes play almost no role in direct response to inflammation, however, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still productive, since they might have a role as part of the entourage effect. Also, since delta-9 THC has the largest immune system response, terpenes may play a vital role in tempering some of the THC’s psychoactive effects. Both pinene and linalool have been studied as means of counteracting THC induced addiction or psychosis.[5] So while the terpenes may not directly benefit inflammation patients, it is possible that there could be some auxiliary benefits to including them. However, more research is still needed at this time to confirm this.

Reference List
1. Cannabis Policies For the New Decade. (2020, January 15). U.S. Food And Drug Administration.

2. Patra, P. H., Barker‐Haliski, M., White, H. S., Whalley, B. J., Glyn, S., Sandhu, H., Jones, N., Bazelot, M., Williams, C. M., & McNeish, A. J. (2018). Cannabidiol reduces seizures and associated behavioral comorbidities in a range of animal seizure and epilepsy models. Epilepsia, 60(2), 303–314.

3. Blevins, L. K., Bach, A. P., Crawford, R. B., Zhou, J., Henriquez, J. E., Rizzo, M. D., Sermet, S., Khan, D. I. O., Turner, H., Small-Howard, A. L., & Kaminski, N. E. (2022). Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory effects of selected cannabinoids and terpenes from Cannabis Sativa employing human primary leukocytes. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 170, 113458.

4. Aizpurua-Olaizola, O., Soydaner, U., Öztürk, E., Schibano, D., Simsir, Y., Navarro, P., Etxebarria, N., & Usobiaga, A. (2016). Evolution of the Cannabinoid and Terpene Content during the Growth of Cannabis sativa Plants from Different Chemotypes. Journal of Natural Products, 79(2), 324–331.

5. Weston-Green, K., Clunas, H., & Jimenez Naranjo, C. (2021). A Review of the Potential Use of Pinene and Linalool as Terpene-Based Medicines for Brain Health: Discovering Novel Therapeutics in the Flavours and Fragrances of Cannabis. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12.

About the author

Robert Hammell