On the fifth floor of Academic Instructional Center - East, mice are breathing vaporized CBD. Also known as cannabidiol, CBD is a compound found in cannabis and is the subject of an increasing craze. Conducting the experiments with vapor is the closest way to mimic human use, Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Psychology Josh Kaplan said.
Kaplan, who leads the research, has a background in studying pediatric autism and epilepsy, conditions that CBD has evidence in treating. CBD has been purported to treat conditions such as anxiety, epilepsy, psychosis and pain.
Kaplan is assisted by eight Western students who work on an assortment of shared and individual projects. Much of the work with these mice, though, focuses on compounds within CBD called terpenes. Terpenes, Kaplan said, are often used to influence the taste or flavor of cannabis products, but recent discoveries suggest terpenes also affect brain-cell functioning independently and differently than CBD.
Some common terpenes in CBD are linalool, which smells like lavender; myrcene, found in lemongrass and hops; and beta-caryophyllene, found in black pepper.
With evidence that these chemicals have effects separate from CBD, Kaplan hopes that exploring mixtures of terpenes within CBD could potentially lead to optimized cannabis-based medicines for different conditions. The systematic addition of terpenes in careful research makes the work done at Western fairly unique.
A problem with many of the existing studies is they have been conducted with a pure extract and not the mixture of plant extracts that’s available to consumers, according to Kaplan, who said that there are more than 100 chemicals in typical CBD products.
“We’ve been traditionally studying these chemicals in isolation,” Kaplan said.
Jasmin Wagner, a spring WWU graduate, leads the terpene studies. She received her bachelor’s degree in behavioral neuroscience in June. Wagner, of Bellevue, has been working in the lab since January 2019 working to uncover the mysteries of several terpenes.
For example, Linalool, the dominant terpene found in lavender, has been shown to have anti-anxiety, sedating, muscle-relaxing, pain-relieving, and anticonvulsant types of effects, said Wagner.
Working in collaboration with scientists in Florida, Kaplan’s team found that even when the CBD level was the same, different products have varying effects on reducing anxiety. This, Kaplan says, suggests the beneficial effects of CBD might come from the mixture of multiple terpenes and compounds in the product.
Looking forward, Kaplan and Wagner said they envision future commercial products that optimize the interactions between CBD and other compounds like terpenes.
“I can see there being value in breeding cannabis plants to optimize the presence of terpenes, and I am eager to see how cannabis strains prioritizing different terpene blends may impact the user’s experience,” Wagner said.
For more information about this research, contact Western Washington University Assistant Professor Josh Kaplan at firstname.lastname@example.org.