The Mango-Myrcene-THC Connection: Is It for Real?
Recently, I went with my son-in-law-to-be to the local liquor store, to get some last minute bottles for the wedding. The guy at the cash-register had a slightly red-eyed, out of focus look I've seen before, so when he remarked: "I like your taste", I impulsively answered: "Thanks. Goes good with weed". Apparently I hadn't misinterpreted his look. He answered enthusiastically: "Right. But you know what really goes with weed? Mango. Mango does something to your blood so it moves the THC around faster and it gets you really high, really fast".
After we got home, I decided to research if mangoes really do "move the THC around faster and get you really high, really fast", and share the results.
Definition of Terms
Here are short definitions of the terms used here:
Cannabis / Marijuana / "Weed": Not necessarily the same thing but used interchangeably by many. It refers to the Cannabis Sativa plant, from which marijuana is derived.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol): THC is a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that interact with receptors in the brain and body to create various effects. THC is most famous for being psychoactive. It is also a powerful pain killer.
CBD (Cannabidiol): CBD is also a cannabinoid, but it works on a slightly different area of the brain, and it doesn't make you high. It reduces the psychoactive properties of THC, and is known to help reduce anxiety, inflammation, pain, and seizures.
Terpenes: Are chemical compounds found in cannabis and many other plants. They give plants a distinctive flavor, taste and smell. Some interact with CBD and / or THC to enhance or inhibit their effects.
Myrcene: Myrcene is a terpene, which adds an 'earthy' herbal flavor to cannabis, is relaxing, sedating and may intensify "couch lock". The average amount of myrcene in cannabis is a bit less that 8mg per gram. So if you smoke a quarter gram of marijuana, you'll get an average of 2mg of myrcene. But there are huge differences in the amounts of myrcene in strains. Some may contain 15mg or more per gram, some may contain almost none. Since growers don't always list amounts of myrcene on products (at least not here in Israel), it's hard to know exactly how much is in the marijuana you're using.
Mango: A mango is a large fruit with a large pit, and belongs to the cashew family. Mangoes vary in size, shape, color and flavor, and contain high amounts of vitamin C and fiber.They also contain myrcene, as will be discussed below.
What Does Google Say?
A quick check on Google, using the search words "mangoes" and "marijuana", found that many bloggers agree with the guy from the liquor store. Mangoes, reportedly, not only intensify the effects of THC, they also reduce "munchies", a common side effect of marijuana use. One blogger even gave the following advice: "...Those with a slow metabolism will have better luck consuming mango up to two hours prior to smoking while those with a fast metabolism may do better eating two or three mangoes less than an hour before".
The common logic behind this is, that mangoes contain myrcene, a mono-terpenoid (a type of terpene) also found in the cannabis sativa plant. Myrcene is also present in a variety of other plants, including bay, wild thyme, lemon grass, ginger and verbena- all common ingredients in herbal teas (although this doesn't necessarily mean herbal tea will interact with THC).
I decided not to trust the blogs, and turned to Google Scholar for assistance.
What Does "Google Scholar" Say?
First, I found a slew of technical papers, including this 2008 paper from the FDA, and a more recent one from Kenya, showing that mangoes do indeed contain substantial amounts of myrcene. Amounts of myrcene vary depending on the variety of mango, on how ripe the fruit is and on how much time has passed since it was picked. One 2005 review found between 0.13mg-1.29 mg of myrcene per kilogram of mango fruit, depending on the variety. Some growers may also use radiation to sterilize bacteria, which can significantly cut the amount of myrcene.
Further search revealed that myrcene is indeed an important compound in cannabis. A widely cited 2011 paper in the British Journal of Pharmacology revealed that myrcene has been reported to help in diminishing inflammation (in conjunction with CBD- not THC), is analgesic, and is recognized as a sedative. The authors hypothesized:
… these data would support the hypothesis that myrcene is a prominent sedative terpenoid in cannabis, and combined with THC, may produce the ‘couch-lock’ phenomenon of certain chemotypes that is alternatively decried or appreciated by recreational cannabis consumers.
In other words: Data support the hypothesis myrcene is one of the compounds that get cannabis users "stoned".
A paper published in 2019 reported that " myrcene is thought to positively interact with THC, extending its psychoactive effects".
One idea proposed to explain the myrcene-THC interaction is that myrcene helps THC get through the blood-brain-barrier faster. But "faster" only means around 4 seconds as opposed to 7. That's not much of a difference.
So: Mangoes contain myrcene, cannabis contains myrcene, and myrcene apparently contributes to the psychoactive effects of THC, at least when taken together in marijuana. That can all be taken pretty much for given. But is the mango-myrcene-THC connection real?
Regarding Liquor-Store Guy's claim that eating a mango before using THC increases the potency of the weed: The bloggers on the internet support this, but I could find no empirical evidence to support or contradict the claim the claim. One outspoken blogger, scientifically minded like myself, stated unequivocally:
The Mango Theory is an Internet myth and anything that people feel with mango is a placebo.
Take into account that there are hundreds of ingredients in cannabis. No one knows which other chemicals may intervene in the myrcene-THC connection. There is no proof that myrcene from external sources influences the effects of cannabis.
Even assuming that myrcene in mangoes can, theoretically, influence the effects of THC, there are many, many factors which can affect a possible connection between mangoes and how high one gets from marijuana. For example: The amount of myrcene varies considerably from fruit to fruit; the ratio of myrcene / Kg of body weight varies from user to user, and even from use to use; the time it takes the myrcene to be absorbed and metabolized varies from use to use, due to the factors above; the time it takes for THC to be metabolized varies depending on how it was taken. Even if someone gets a mango chock-full of myrcene, it will have less myrcene than an average smoke of a myrcene-heavy strain of marijuana. So even if the possibility exists, the probability is very low.
The lack of empirical evidence does not mean that the mango-THC connection isn't real. After all, there is no empirical evidence that, even used as directed, a parachute will save you when you jump from an airplane- but experience shows that it will. There is scant evidence that marijuana relieves symptoms of post-trauma, and yet many use marijuana for just that purpose and in many jurisdictions medical marijuana is indicated for treatment of PTSD. So "no evidence" doesn't necessarily mean "not true".
However, all things considered, I have to label Liquor-Store Guy's enthusiasm for mangoes as misguided. While some people may actually experience a "better high" after eating a mango, there are so many unknown and uncontrollable variables that there is no way to seriously conclude that this is anything more than "the power of suggestion".
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 David A Cohen