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What is caryophyllene and what does it do?

What is caryophyllene

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants that give plants unique characteristics. Plants such as pine and lavender contain terpenes, though many associate terpenes with cannabis plants as they contain high concentrations of them. 

Terpenes provide musky and citrusy aromatic properties to plants. Caryophyllene is present in various herbs and spices including black pepper, basil, and oregano. Cannabis strains with high concentrations of caryophyllene give a somewhat spicy, and funky warmth to the nose, similar to cloves and cinnamon.

What is beta-caryophyllene?

Beta-caryophyllene or BCP is the first dietary cannabinoid that can be found in aromatic oils and plants, as well as herbs and spices and is responsible for the slightly pungent smell of the black pepper. β-caryophyllene is a bigger molecule than terpenes like myrcene and limonene. These are the main terpenes found in most cannabis strains. BCP’s molecular structure also contains a cyclobutane ring, which is rare and won’t be seen in any other terpenes. Just like other cannabinoids, the BCP terpene binds to the endocannabinoid system to help regulate functions in the body.

Where can you find beta-caryophyllene?

Like many other terpenes, β-caryophyllene is common in nature. It is most abundant in products such as black pepper, basil, cinnamon, oregano, hops, cloves, and over 1,000 different other plants. BCP is also a common component of essential oils and is believed to be present in at least half of the flower-producing plants.

β-caryophyllene is considered safe. However, not all essential oils are safe to ingest. Clove oil is high in caryophyllene but is also high in eugenol, which is a potentially toxic terpenoid that can cause liver damage when taken in huge amounts.

Beta-caryophyllene vs CBD

Cannabidiol or CBD is the most known cannabinoid that provides almost the same benefits as BCP. CBD is well-regulated as it does not have any psychoactive effects. It is also known to provide health benefits including relief from stress, anxiety, inflammation, and pain among others. However, unlike BCP, CBD does not bind directly to the receptors in the body. This cannabinoid is also often mixed with carrier oils so the absorption is limited and its effects can be decreased. 

Terpenes are completely legal in the UK as it does not have any psychoactive effects like THC and will not make you feel high. Cannabis is not a legal substance in the UK. Cannabis is classified under Class B drugs and remains illegal to grow, possess, and use in the country. Individuals convicted will get up to 14 years imprisonment. CBD products are legal in the UK as long as the products must only contain a level of 0.2% THC or less.

Beta-caryophyllene effects

The endocannabinoid system plays a role in regulating bodily functions such as sleep, mood, memory, and pain. The two major types of cannabinoid receptors are called CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain and nervous system, while the CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral organs. Major cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) bind to the CB1 receptors and produces a euphoric effect whereas the structure of caryophyllene allows the terpene to bind to the CB2 receptors located in the peripheral organs. This means that BCP will not cause any psychoactive effects you usually get from cannabis while providing benefits associated with the CB2 receptors like the ability to help relieve anxiety and pain, reduce cholesterol, prevent osteoporosis, and treat seizures.

Due to the activity of βeta-caryophyllene’s unique ability to bind directly to the CB2 receptors, BCP is believed to also have anti-inflammatory effects, immunomodulatory, antiviral activity, antibacterial activity and antioxidant activity, without causing adverse effects. BCP regulates the immune-inflammatory responses in the ECS, particularly the CB2 receptor activation. It is also said to have an anticonvulsant activity for treating seizures. Here are some of the known effects of BCP:

Immunomodulatory Properties of BCP

BCP is a substance that is said to stimulate the immune system and help the body fight diseases. BCP’s ability in the activation of the CB2 receptor has shown that it exerts potent immunomodulatory and organ-protective properties with no psychotropic effects that can be observed in the CB1 receptor activation. A study in 2020 by the College of Medicine and Health Sciences found that over 259 phytochemicals including BCP have the potential in targeting thirteen COVID-19 immune genes regulating numerous signalling pathways. The study showed that the compounds target the immune genes and was said to be useful for developing as a potential agent against COVID-19 based on its pharmacological properties and molecular mechanisms.

Anti-inflammatory Properties of BCP

BCP is most known for its anti-inflammatory effects. A study published by the Free Radical Biology and Medicine found that the activity of βeta-caryophyllene can reduce inflammatory mediators such as interleukin-1β (IL-1β), and tumour necrosis factor-alfa (TNF-α), which are proinflammatory cytokines. BCP was induced in an animal model induced by an anticancer drug. Results showed that BCP suppressed the pro-inflammatory cytokines, ameliorated the cisplatin-induced kidney dysfunction, morphological damage, and renal inflammatory response of the model, demonstrating the BCP mechanism of action through the CB2 receptor.

Antiviral Properties of BCP

BCP has also been studied for its antiviral properties. A study was published by Hindawi on the antiviral properties of essential oils including β-caryophyllene against herpes (HSV-1). Results showed that BCP displayed that the presence of this terpene contributes to the antiviral activity of most essential oils.

Antioxidant Properties of BCP

BCP is also believed to have antioxidant properties. A study was published by Molecules MDPI wherein they isolated BCP from the essential oil of Aquilaria crassnia. β-caryophyllene was examined using human pathogenic bacterial and fungal strains. Results showed that BCP demonstrated strong antioxidant effects. Additionally, it was said to be the active principle responsible for the selective anticancer activity and antimicrobial activity of A. crassnia. 

What is beta-caryophyllene used for?

β-caryophyllene is said to be unique as it can directly activate the cannabinoid receptors. It was also one of the first cannabis-derived compounds with a fundamentally different structure from the classical cannabinoids such as THC and CBD that interacts with the endocannabinoid system. BCP can also provide health-boosting effects as well as help against certain neurodegenerative diseases including:

  • Osteoporosis. A study by Yamaguchi & Levi in 2016 suggested that β-caryophyllene can prevent and may treat Osteoporosis. The treatment with βeta-caryophyllene can increase stronger bone-building and decrease bone breakdown.  
  • Cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, Multiple sclerosis. A study by the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that when BCP is used in conjunction with the anti-cancer agent paclitaxel, it increased paclitaxel’s activity in the colon cancer cells. The research also found that BCP can reduce inflammation connected with multiple sclerosis and immune system dysfunctions.  

Given that beta-caryophyllene is considered a dietary cannabinoid and is prevalent in fruits and vegetables, it shows promise in the treatment of diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. However, more clinical trials are still needed to know more about this terpene’s full potential and benefits.

Why does beta-caryophyllene have a pleasant aroma?

Terpenes like beta-caryophyllene attract certain types of insects and animals so that they can be used in the pollination process, and this makes them fragrant. BCP has a spicy and peppery aroma associated with smelling cracked pepper whereas cannabis strains with high BCP levels are known to be musky and spicy. Many describe the smell and flavour of caryophyllene-rich cannabis as pungent because of the fuel-like undertones these strains tend to possess.

Aside from being abundant in kitchen ingredients like black pepper, oregano, and basil, you can also find this terpene in CBD products to boost their potential health benefits. Products containing full-spectrum CBD oils will always contain a percentage of this terpene, whereas broad-spectrum CBD might contain some amounts of BCP, while CBD isolates won’t have any.

There’s not much difference between the two other than CBD works indirectly with CB2 receptors while BCP works directly with them. Both compounds may also produce what is called “the entourage effect”. The entourage effect is when the different cannabinoids and terpenes interact together to create a stronger effect than any of the individual components can produce alone.