Science & tech

The Medical Minute: Terpenes, Brain Injury, and HIV

Published on August 5, 2014 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Another historic month for cannabis is behind us: Washington state opened their recreational cannabis storesD.C. decriminalized marijuana, Florida approved a medical marijuana program, the House of Representatives introduced the Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014, and the New York Times called for an end to prohibition — and published their first ever cannabis advertisement (did you see, did you see?!).

Keep spreading the knowledge, good people of Leafly. It’s killing prohibition, and this week we have three new cannabis studies to help you fight the good fight. Yeah education! YEAH SCIENCE! #JustSayKnow

1. This Cannabis Terpene Reduces Anxiety and Depression

You’ve heard of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, but there are many other therapeutic compounds in cannabis you may not be aware of. Allow us to introduce you to terpenes, the aromatic oils secreted by cannabis that provide rich flavor profiles and a variety of medical benefits. According to a recent study, one cannabis terpene called Beta-caryophyllene (which is also found in spices like pepper) has been found to reduce anxiety and depression by activating CB-2 receptors. 

Strains like the unfortunately-named Cat Piss, Power Plant, and Thai Haze have been rated very effective for treatment of anxiety and depression. Could it be a coincidence that Leafly reviewers happened to tag these strains with a pepper flavor, or could Beta-caryophyllene actually be at work here?

2. Endocannabinoids Protect Brain Cells After Injury

For those who don’t know, endocannabinoids are natural compounds our body produces. They’re similar to the chemicals found in cannabis, so researchers suspect that deficiencies in the endocannabinoid system could be treated with compounds found in the cannabis plant. 

On this point, a new study has found that higher levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide correlate with improved functioning in mice with traumatic brain injury. By inhibiting the enzyme FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), researchers noticed an increase in anandamide and thus improved motor function and working memory, while reducing anxiety and neurodegeneration.

3. Cannabinoids May Help HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders

HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND) is a condition in which HIV enters the nervous system and affects nerve cell activity, resulting in impaired memory, attention, language, and other cognitive processes. Activation of the CB-2 system by way of cannabinoids, however, may slow the progression of these symptoms according to a study published in Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology. Researchers found that CB-2 activation was associated with reduced neuroinflammation, inhibited HIV replication, and suppressed activity of neurotoxic proteins. Given the fact that certain cannabinoids bind to these CB-2 receptor sites, it’s possible that cannabis compounds hold promise in treatment of HIV and related conditions.

Image credits: Emily Carr's Sunlight in the ForestSeascape, Reforestation Cedar Sanctuary, Beach and Sky

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Bailey Rahn
Bailey Rahn
Bailey is a senior content manager at Leafly, specializing in strains and health. She's spent 7+ years researching cannabis products, spreading patients’ stories, and exploring healthy ways of integrating cannabis into daily life.
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