This terpene, also known as beta-caryophyllene, can be found in hops, clove, cinnamon and oregano. It is responsible for that slight tickle in the nose associated with smelling ground pepper. Caryophyllene is the only terpene that has the ability to directly activate cannabinoid receptors, especially CB2 receptors. It is precisely for this reason that studies indicate its great therapeutic potential and exceptional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
CBD and THC are probably the most well-known cannabinoids in the world. Until recently, it was believed that they were the marijuana components with most medicinal value. However, the understanding of the potential of terpenes is still limited. Terpenes are other important compounds found in cannabis, responsible for its flavour and aroma, and they are also aromatic essential oils found in every plant, flower and blade of grass.
In fact, terpenes could hold the key to the understanding of what is known scientifically as the cannabis 'entourage effect': a proposed mechanism by which all cannabinoids and terpenes work in unison to enhance the medicinal properties of the plant. In other words, terpenes have the ability to either intensify or hinder the strength of cannabinoids.
What is caryophyllene?
Only a few of the over 100 terpenes found in cannabis appear in high concentrations. One of them is caryophyllene or beta-caryophyllene (β-caryophyllene). Although found in plants such as basil, cinnamon, clove, lavender and oregano, caryophyllene is rather unique. It is also one of the chemical compounds responsible for the aroma in black pepper. Terpenes provide a wide variety of aromatic properties, ranging from floral and earthy to citrusy. However, it is on the spicier side of the spectrum that we find caryophyllene.
Caryophyllene is a bigger molecule than other terpenes like myrcene or limonene because it contains a cyclobutane ring, something rare in nature and not found in any other known cannabis terpene. In fact, caryophyllene is one of the most volatile of its kind, with an evaporation temperature of 199 ºC. Hence, caryophyllene-high cannabis strains hold very specific organoleptic properties, with spicy and musky notes, and a unique, funky profile. Many showcase hints of diesel and oil, which produce the same tickle or tingle in the nose associated with pepper inhalation.
Strains with higher-than-average caryophyllene content include the Sour Diesel family, the famous OG Kush and Bubba Kush, and their mother strain Chemdawg. All these genetics are renowned for their aroma similar to oil, intensely fruity, citrusy and spicy, due to their high caryophyllene, limonene and myrcene concentration.
Caryophyllene and the treatment of diseases
What makes caryophyllene a fascinating terpene is its relation with our endocannabinoid system, and in particular its ability to bind to CB2 receptors.
The endocannabinoid system is composed of an extensive network of receptors found throughout the body. The main two types that have been identified are CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found predominantly in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly located in the peripheral organs. When a cannabinoid such as THC is ingested, it primarily binds to CB1 receptors located in the brain and the central nervous system, thus producing a euphoric effect.
The interesting fact about caryophyllene is that it is the only terpene with the ability to exclusively bind to CB2 receptors, avoiding any interaction with CB1 receptors. In this way, it enhances the medical benefits associated to CB2 activation, such as the reduction of inflammation, without causing any psychoactive or euphoric effect.
For this reason, research has been conducted on the application of beta-caryophyllene in the treatment of many diseases. More than 500 scientific publications have stated its analgesic properties, acting as a protector against several symptoms related to the nervous system, which include:
- Alzheimer's disease
Oddly enough, when combining the same beta-caryophyllene found in black pepper with cannabis tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the result is calming and therapeutic. It can help alleviate the feeling of anxiety resulting from THC over-consumption. In this way, black pepper can be an effective method for ending a high that is too intense: inhaling a little provides almost immediate relief, or you could get relief in less than 1 hour by chewing a few peppercorns.
Other uses of caryophyllene
Caryophyllene also acts as a remarkable anti-inflammatory. This can protect the human body from oxidative stress and it can also work as an immunomodulatory and antimicrobial agent. In fact, it is a natural antifungal and insecticide agent in plants, keeping them free from pathogens.
Research studies have also proven that caryophyllene enhances the effectiveness of some substances found in chemotherapy, so it could be used in conjunction with medication in cancer treatment. It is also a possible therapy for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Some research even indicates that it could help tackle longevity by reducing genetic stress. In a nutshell, caryophyllene is a multifunctional tool in the world of medical cannabis.
Nevertheless, most studies have been performed on cell lines, mice or rabbits, but not solely on humans. This is the reason why this terpene is attracting a lot of attention within the scientific community, as more clinical studies are required to prove its efficiency.
In general terms, caryophyllene is a natural compound found in cannabis with an enormous potential that has only been identified recently. It is likely that, in the near future, these findings will be backed up by broader research about terpenes as a whole.