Pain prevalence among adults in the United States has increased 25% over the past two decades, resulting in high health-care costs and impacts to patient quality of life. In the last 30 years, our understanding of pain circuits and (intra)cellular mechanisms has grown exponentially, but this understanding has not yet resulted in improved therapies. Options for pain management are limited. Many analgesics have poor efficacy and are accompanied by severe side effects such as addiction, resulting in a devastating opioid abuse and overdose epidemic. These problems have encouraged scientists to identify novel molecular targets and develop alternative pain therapeutics. Increasing preclinical and clinical evidence suggests that cannabis has several beneficial pharmacological activities, including pain relief. Cannabis sativa contains more than 500 chemical compounds, with two principle phytocannabinoids, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Beyond phytocannabinoids, more than 150 terpenes have been identified in different cannabis chemovars. Although the predominant cannabinoids, Δ9-THC and CBD, are thought to be the primary medicinal compounds, terpenes including the monoterpenes β-myrcene, α-pinene, limonene, and linalool, as well as the sesquiterpenes β-caryophyllene and α-humulene may contribute to many pharmacological properties of cannabis, including anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive effects. The aim of this review is to summarize our current knowledge about terpene compounds in cannabis and to analyze the available scientific evidence for a role of cannabis-derived terpenes in modern pain management. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Decades of research have improved our knowledge of cannabis polypharmacy and contributing phytochemicals, including terpenes. Reform of the legal status for cannabis possession and increased availability (medicinal and recreational) have resulted in cannabis use to combat the increasing prevalence of pain and may help to address the opioid crisis. Better understanding of the pharmacological effects of cannabis and its active components, including terpenes, may assist in identifying new therapeutic approaches and optimizing the use of cannabis and/or terpenes as analgesic agents.
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