Newswise — Ziva Cooper, research director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, has been awarded a $3.9 million grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the NIH to study whether cannabis chemicals called terpenes can reduce the amount of opioid medication a person needs to reduce pain.

The award, which will be administered over five years, will also allow Cooper to study how terpenes and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in cannabis, interact with one another, commonly referred to as the entourage effect. Terpenes, which contribute to the taste and smell of cannabis, may boost the pain relieving effects of THC, while minimizing its negative effects.

For the study, researchers will examine two terpenes, myrcene and ß-caryophyllene. The terpenes will be administered separately and with THC to see whether they help reduce pain on their own, and whether they enhance the pain-relieving effects of THC, while reducing its intoxicating properties. Separately, the potential of these terpenes to reduce opioid doses needed to decrease pain will be tested. 

“Chronic pain is a significant public health burden and there are few effective treatments that lack the adverse effects that limit use,” said Cooper, who is also an associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Cooper added that the findings from these studies address a significant public health priority by investigating new strategies to decrease the use of opioids for pain management.

“Specific chemicals in the cannabis plant taken alone or together may be effective options with minimal side effects — placebo-controlled studies to explore this urgent area of research are desperately needed,” she said.

The grant is the second received by Cooper in recent months. In the fall of 2019, she received a $3.5 million grant to study how the pain-relieving and adverse effects of cannabis and cannabinoids affect men and women differently. Cooper became the first research director of the Cannabis Research Initiative in January of 2019. The initiative was founded in 2017 as part of the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

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