Even if you’ve never used medical marijuana before, there’s a good chance you’ve ingested beta-caryophyllene—possibly even during the last meal you ate.
Beta-caryophyllene (β-caryophyllene or BCP) is one of more than 40,000 terpenes found in nature. We tend to hear about terpenes primarily in relation to cannabis, where they’re found in abundance in the crystal-like trichomes that cover the leaves and buds of the plant. But what you may not realize is that terpenes are the largest class of naturally occurring organic compounds and the source of many of the pungent flavors and scents of the foods and beverages we love to consume.
Limonene, for example, is a terpene found in citrus fruits. Likewise, if you love a nice hoppy IPA, you can thank the terpenes myrcene, β-pinene, and α-humulene. And, as we hinted at earlier, the terpene β-caryophyllene can be found in everyday ingredients like black pepper, basil, oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, and cloves.
Like cannabinoids, terpenes also interact with the endocannabinoid system.
In studying the effects of marijuana on human health, scientists discovered what is now called the endocannabinoid system, named after the Cannabis sativa plant.
In simple terms, the endocannabinoid system promotes balance throughout the body by regulating the different bodily systems that control everything from mood and behavior to appetite, sleep, hormonal balance, and our natural pain and stress responses.
How does the endocannabinoid system work?
There are three main components of the endocannabinoid system: cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and metabolic enzymes.
Cannabinoid receptors are the most abundant neuromodulatory receptors in the body. Located on the surface of cells, they relay messages to the inside of the cell and trigger certain responses based on what’s going on in the body.
There are two types of cannabinoid receptors: those found primarily in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord (CB1 receptors) and those found primarily in immune cells (CB2 receptors). You can read more about CB1 and CB2 receptors here.
Endocannabinoids are simply cannabinoids that are produced within the human body. They spur the cannabinoid receptors into action, after which the used up endocannabinoids are broken down by the metabolic enzymes.
A terpene that works like a cannabinoid. Whaaaaat?
β-caryophyllene attracted attention early on when it was discovered that, like endocannabinoids and plant cannabinoids, it was able to directly activate cannabinoid receptors in the body. In other words, it’s a terpene that acts as a cannabinoid. Though not the only one, β-caryophyllene is definitely among the most widely researched terpene-slash-cannabinoids to date.
For example, one frequently cited study, published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, reveals the positive effects of β-caryophyllene in mice suffering from inflammatory and neuropathic pain. When administered orally, the compound was able to reduce inflammatory pain responses, leading study authors to speculate, “Thus, the natural plant product BCP may be highly effective in the treatment of long lasting, debilitating pain states.”
Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain focused on more than 2,000 medicinal cannabis users with various pain syndromes, including migraines, headaches, arthritis, and chronic pain. According to the results, cannabis strains with high concentrations of β-caryophyllene and β-myrcene were favored by the study participants, likely due to their pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects.
Finally, when researchers in India administered β-caryophyllene to a group of animal subjects suffering from arthritis, they discovered a significant reduction in inflammation and arthritic activity. They called the compound a “promising candidate” for rheumatoid arthritis treatment in humans.
How can β-caryophyllene-rich cannabis strains benefit mmj patients?
Chronic pain continues to be the number one reason patients turn to medical marijuana. Based on the evidence so far, it stands to reason that strains with high concentrations of β-caryophyllene can provide therapeutic benefit for patients suffering from chronic pain by way of activating the body’s CB2 receptors—which are tied to pain response and inflammation, among other things.
You can read more about pain and medical marijuana use here.
Regardless of its origin, pain is uncomfortable and exhausting. In many cases, patients suffering from chronic pain are unable to perform everyday activities such as getting dressed, walking, bathing, or cooking a meal. In severe cases, pain can make it difficult to even leave the house—which makes holding down a job almost impossible.
The most common approach to pain relief is a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioid medications. While NSAIDs have been shown to help relieve pain and inflammation, side effects of using them too often include gastrointestinal upset, high blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, and a greater risk of heart attack and stroke.
Common side effects of opioid medications include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, respiratory depression, headaches, irregular heartbeat, depression, and the list goes on. Not to mention that opioid misuse and overuse is now considered a national security threat, according to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.
Medical cannabis is often touted as a safe and natural alternative to standard pain relief methods, and strains containing high concentrations of β-caryophyllene may provide comparable relief without the side effects for patients suffering from these and other conditions:
Repetitive strain injuries
Is it true β-caryophyllene can also help with depression and anxiety?
The evidence so far looks promising. Preliminary research points to β-caryophyllene as a potential source of relief for patients with depression, anxiety, and related conditions.
A study looking into the terpene’s effects on patients with Parkinson’s disease found that it not only helped protect against neuron loss linked to the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s, but that it also exhibited positive effects on mood and behavior, prompting scientists to suggest that β-caryophyllene may be an effective treatment option for individuals with anxiety and depression.
Another study focused on CB2 receptors and their connection to anxiety and depression disorders. When β-caryophyllene was administered to activate those receptors, the mouse subjects experienced significant improvement in mood disorder symptoms.
Which strains have the most β-caryophyllene?
The good news is that β-caryophyllene is not exclusive to either indica or sativa strains. So, if you prefer one over the other, you can still choose many of your favorite strains and benefit from the therapeutic effects of this powerful terpene.
Because a good mix of indica, sativa, and hybrid strains are known to be high in β-caryophyllene, talk to your budtender to see if the list includes the strains you use regularly. If not, ask if they can recommend a good β-caryophyllene-rich strain. (Unlike THC and CBD, terpene profiles are not always listed on the packaging.)
More questions about terpenes? We have the answers!
Desert Rose Dispensary is focused on making sure our patients feel welcome, informed and empowered to make the best decisions about their health. If you’re a new patient, we can help you take the first steps toward relief by helping you choose the right strains and mmj products for your needs.
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