Terpenes are fragrant essential oils that endow plants with their characteristic smells and flavours. A huge number of terpenes are found in cannabis, with each cultivar containing its own distinct blend, resulting in a unique experience for the user. Aside from determining the aroma and taste of a particular strain, terpenes also act in unison with cannabinoids in order to influence a plant’s medicinal properties – a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. Among the more abundant terpenes is beta-caryophyllene, which is found in many cultivars and can account for up to a quarter of a plant’s terpene content.
Also found in plants like hops, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon, beta-caryophyllene is known for its spicy, peppery flavour, which can be detected in cultivars like OG Kush, Sour Diesel and others that contain high concentrations of this tasty terpene.
Beta-Caryophyllene: Terpene Or Cannabinoid?
While beta-caryophyllene is technically a bicyclic sesquiterpene, it is peculiar in that it actually binds to the CB2 receptor, and therefore influences cannabinoid signalling within the body. It therefore occupies something of a grey area and is sometimes considered a cannabinoid in its own right.
This trait also gives beta-caryophyllene its therapeutic value, since the CB2 receptor plays a key role in reducing inflammation and attenuating neuropathic pain. The terpene’s medical benefits have been highlighted by numerous animal studies, including one which revealed that orally administered beta-caryophyllene attenuates neuroinflammation in the spine, resulting in a reduced pain response in mice[i].
The CB2 receptor is also associated with anxiety and depression, and research has shown that beta-caryophyllene may be effective at treating these and other emotional conditions. For instance, one study found that rodents that were treated with the compound displayed significant reduction in behaviours that are considered indicators of anxiety and depression. Crucially, these effects were erased when the researchers chemically blocked the animals’ CB2 receptors, indicating that the therapeutic activity of beta-caryophyllene must be mediated by these cannabinoid receptors[ii].
Other Benefits Of Beta-Caryophyllene
The anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties of beta-caryophyllene have been associated with numerous medical benefits. For instance, research on roundworms has revealed that the terpene downregulates genes that are linked to oxidative stress, resulting in a 22 percent increase in the animals’ lifespan[iii].
A great deal of research has also been conducted into the neuroprotective effects of beta-caryophyllene, with several studies indicating that it may help the brain to recover following a stroke, while also preventing dementia. In one such study, mice that had undergone a stroke-like injury experienced fewer cognitive deficits and improved cerebral blood flow after being treated with the terpene[iv], while separate research found that the compound helped to protect cells in the hippocampus following a similar injury[v].
Finally, beta-caryophyllene has been shown to attenuate inflammation in the brains of rats suffering from an animal model of Parkinson’s disease. Those that received the compound also developed more dopaminergic neurons, which are usually lost in Parkinson’s[vi].
Due to this incredible array of beneficial properties, beta-caryophyllene is thought to be one of the major drivers of the entourage effect, and is considered a valuable component of medical cannabis cultivars. Breeders of anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiolytic strains are always keen to boost the concentration of this key terpene, while others do so simply because they love the taste.
[i] Klauke AL, Racz I, Pradier B, Markert A, Zimmer AM, Gertsch J, Zimmer A. The cannabinoid CB2 receptor-selective phytocannabinoid beta-caryophyllene exerts analgesic effects in mouse models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. European Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 Apr 1;24(4):608-20. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924977X13003027
[ii] Bahi A, Al Mansouri S, Al Memari E, Al Ameri M, Nurulain SM, Ojha S. β-Caryophyllene, a CB2 receptor agonist produces multiple behavioral changes relevant to anxiety and depression in mice. Physiology & behavior. 2014 Aug 1;135:119-24. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938414003400
[iii] Pant A, Saikia SK, Shukla V, Asthana J, Akhoon BA, Pandey R. Beta-caryophyllene modulates expression of stress response genes and mediates longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Experimental Gerontology. 2014 Sep 1;57:81-95. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531556514001557
[iv] Lou J, Teng Z, Zhang L, Yang J, Ma L, Wang F, Tian X, An R, Yang M, Zhang Q, Xu L. β-Caryophyllene/hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin inclusion complex improves cognitive deficits in rats with vascular dementia through the cannabinoid receptor type 2-mediated pathway. Frontiers in pharmacology. 2017 Jan 19;8:2. – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2017.00002/full
[v] Zhang Q, An R, Tian X, Yang M, Li M, Lou J, Xu L, Dong Z. β-Caryophyllene pretreatment alleviates focal cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury by activating PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. Neurochemical research. 2017 May 1;42(5):1459-69. – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11064-017-2202-3
[vi] Javed H, Azimullah S, Haque ME, Ojha SK. Cannabinoid type 2 (CB2) receptors activation protects against oxidative stress and neuroinflammation associated dopaminergic neurodegeneration in rotenone model of Parkinson’s disease. Frontiers in neuroscience. 2016 Aug 2;10:321. – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2016.00321/full