Perhaps one of the most interesting terpenes of all time, β-caryophyllene (also known as caryophyllene or BCP) is both a terpene and a “dietary cannabinoid”. For those with an interest in cannabinoids, terpenes and how they synergize with each other, this multi-purpose compound easily piques a lot of curiosity. For the most part, terpenes are characterised by their molecular structure comprising of isoprenes, but are hardly ever characterised by their ability to activate cannabinoid receptors. But β-caryophyllene has both qualities, making it a strange yet suitable anomale of the world of cannabis.
The fact that β-caryophyllene activates cannabinoid receptors makes it of particular interest to scientists who study cannabis for its medicinal properties. And without a doubt, this terpene has medicinal qualities of its own. It also adds validation to the theory of the “entourage effect”, whereby cannabis contains compounds that work synergistically to give its unique effect.
So, what is caryophyllene?
Like myrcene, limonene and pinene, BCP is another tepene found in cannabis. But it isn’t unique to cannabis and is also found in abundance in oregano, basil, rosemary, hops, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon. The one “fragrance” that these herbs all have in common is a somewhat spicy, peppery aroma.
BCP is a bigger molecule than most other terpenes because it contains a cyclobutane ring, a molecular structure that is very rarely found in nature, and not at all in any other cannabis terpene. It is possibly this unique molecular structure that gives β-caryophyllene the quality of also being a dietary cannabinoid.
Caryophyllene and the endocannabinoid system
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of β-caryophyllene is that it doesn’t just affect the central nervous system in the ways that terpenes usually do, but also targets the endocannabinoid system. It is both a terpene and a cannabinoid, but doesn’t have a structure like either terpenes or cannabinoids!
BCP is a CB2 receptor agonist, meaning that when it binds to the binding site of the CB2 receptor, it enhances the action of this receptor. The CB2 receptor is an important aspect of the endocannabinoid system and is found in the immune system, in white blood cells, and through the tissues of the spleen, tonsils and thymus gland. The CB2 receptor is also found in the brain and central nervous system, although less so than the CB1 receptor. Overall, it’s quite obvious that the CB2 receptor plays a huge role in immune function.
Caryophyllene selectively binds to the CB2 receptor, making it quite unique in the world of cannabinoids even if we neglect the fact that it is a terpene too. It is exclusively this quality that makes caryophyllene a cannabinoid in addition to its other class of organic compounds. It also happens to be one of the most pertinent reasons that β-caryophyllene is so heavily researched for its remedial qualities.
Medical applications of caryophyllene
Thanks to β-caryophyllene’s very unusual molecular structure, it has received a lot of attention for its potential activity in treating a wide range of medical ailments. Because of its interaction with the CB2 receptor, BCP’s main medical applications relate to immune function.
Analgesic and anti-inflammatory
In this 2014 European study, β-caryophyllene was used to treat mice with neuropathic pain and inflammation. In fact, the terpene was found to have analgesic effects by reducing spinal neuroinflammation. The effect was only clinically significant on mice displaying inflammation, suggesting that the analgesic effect only takes place as a result of reduced inflammation. There was no analgesic response for acute symptoms.
Reduction in alcohol dependency
In addition to having analgesic effects, BCP may also help those who are addicted to alcohol. Actually, the study in question was designed to test the role of the CB2 receptor in alcohol cravings. The cannabinoid of choice to test this was BCP, and it was effective in reducing the alcohol intake of alcohol-dependent mice. While this may be an effect of BCP, it might just be an overall effect of stimulating the CB2 receptor, which can also be stimulated by THC.
Although it has not been confirmed that BCP is an anti-cancer treatment, it is found to work synergistically with other terpenes to increase the anti-cancer activity of those terpenes. In this study published in 2007 in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, alpha-humulene and isocaryophyllene (an isomer β-caryophyllene) were tested for their ability to reduce the size of tumors. Interestingly, when cancer cells were subjected to alpha-humulene and isocaryophyllene alone, tumor growth was inhibited by 50% and 69% respectively. When cancer cells were subjected to these two terpenes in conjunction with β-caryophyllene, tumor growth was inhibited by up to 90%.
Anxiolytic and antidepressant
Finally, in one study conducted on mice, BCP was found to have a profound anxiolytic and antidepressant effect. This study is particularly interesting (as all studies on rodents are) as the mice also exhibited obsessive compulsive behaviors linked with their anxiety. For example, the mice would repeatedly bury marbles for no apparent reason. After administration of BCP, the mice also exhibited less obsessive compulsive style behaviors such as this one.
Strains containing caryophyllene
Caryophyllene is found abundantly in cannabis, and if consumers wanted to get more of this magically unusual compound in their bodies, they could easily sprinkle some more oregano on their pizza. Basically, consumers looking for caryophyllene should be searching for that spicy, musky smell in a strain. Here are some strains particularly high in caryophyllene:
Cookies And Cream
The cookies family seems to be rife with caryophyllene content. Of Cookies And Cream’s entire terpene profile, about 25% is caryophyllene.
Girl Scout Cookies
GSC is another higher-than-normal caryophyllene strain, over 27% of whose terpenes are caryophyllene.
Original Glue is higher again in terpene content, with almost ⅓ of the terpene volume being made up entirely of caryophyllene.
Finally, of all the strains that contain high levels of caryophyllene, Lavender takes the cake. Over 33% of the terpene molecules present in lavender are caryophyllene molecules. This is probably why this strain is often recommended to patients with pain and inflammation.
Caryophyllene: the most powerful terpene in cannabis
It is mysterious and interesting that a terpene should also be a phytocannabinoid. Before the uncovering of BCP, it was probably never thought that a single compound could be both a terpene and a phytocannabinoid. It piques the interest of many scientists because of exactly this point, and offers the medical cannabis world something to celebrate.
BCP may not only have its own remedial compounds, but may act in synergy with other more traditional phytocannabinoids such as THC and CBD. It is the only known terpene that targets the CB2 receptor, implying its medical application in pain relief, inflammation and tumor reduction.