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Talking Terps: The Power of β-Caryophyllene

CBD and THC are probably the two most well-known cannabinoids, but little is known about terpenes which are another very important compound found in cannabis. Beta or β-caryophyllene is a particularly unique terpene found in several plant species as a constituent of their essential oil. It is naturally found in basil, cinnamon, cloves, lavender, oregano, rosemary, and cannabis. β‐caryophyllene has a strong wood odor and is one of the chemical compounds that contribute to the aroma of black pepper.

 

As many terpenes that are used already in the food and cosmetic industry, β‐caryophyllene is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) as a food additive, taste enhancer, and flavoring agent as it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

 

The interesting thing about this terpene is that it is a full agonist of CB2 cannabinoid receptors while having no interaction with CB1 and thus does not exert any psychoactive effects.  Because of this, β‐caryophyllene has been investigated broadly for treating many neurological diseases. More than 500 scientific publications have investigated the activity of this terpene and found that it exhibits a protective role in several nervous system-related disorders including

  • pain,
  • anxiety,
  • spasm,
  • convulsion,
  • depression,
  • alcoholism, and
  • Alzheimer’s disease.

Funny enough, the same beta-caryophyllene found in black pepper and the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis bind to the same receptors in the brain and, when combined, have a therapeutic, calming effect to help ease feelings of anxiety that may come from overconsumption of THC.

 

Additionally, β‐caryophyllene has local anesthetic-like activity, which could protect the nervous system from oxidative stress, inflammation and can act as an immunomodulatory agent. Other important pharmacological activities that have been reported are:

  • antioxidant,
  • anti-inflammatory,
  • cardioprotective,
  • hepatoprotective,
  • gastroprotective,
  • nephroprotective,
  • antimicrobial,
  • immune-modulatory
  • and anticancer activity.

Also, experiments have shown that β‐caryophyllene enhances the efficacy of some chemotherapeutics which means it could be employed in combination therapy with more traditional anticancer drugs. However, most of the studies have been conducted in human cell lines, mice, rats, and rabbits but full human trials. That’s why this terpene has attracted the attention of the scientific community and is currently under investigation in a limited number of clinical trials.

 

Overall, β‐caryophyllene is one of those powerful natural compounds found in cannabis that has tremendous potential and its potential has only just been recently recognized. In the near future, those findings will hopefully be further supported by clinical trials and wider investigations into terpenes as a whole.

cannabis 101 science