Cannabeginners: What is Caryophyllene? | High Times

Caryophyllene, commonly referred to as beta-caryophyllene (BCP), is the primary terpene that contributes to the spiciness of black pepper and also a major terpene in cloves, hops, rosemary, and cannabis cultivars like Acapulco Gold. BCP has some of the same medical benefits that most cannabinoids and terpenes do, working as an anti-inflammatory and painkiller, but has some very unique properties, like reducing alcohol intake and potentially prolonging life. 

What is Caryophyllene?

BCP is one of the larger and more complex terpenes, a sesquiterpene made of three isoprene rings with some unique features like a cyclobutane ring, which is rarely found in nature. Research on small-molecule drug candidates has increasingly focused on cyclobutanes because of their “relevant biological properties,” and BCP is no exception.

While the caryophyllene most commonly found in cannabis and food is BCP, there are two other types of caryophyllene found in cannabis and elsewhere in nature. Trans-caryophyllene (TC) is a sesquiterpene that frequently appears in cultivars rich in BCP, and it has “similar medicinal properties to other terpenes but does not activate the endocannabinoid system.” Caryophyllene oxide is a result of the oxidation of BCP, so in a sense, it is to BCP what hashishene is to myrcene

Caryophyllene in Cannabis

While the foundational study that documented the most common terpenes in cannabis did report on the amounts of TC and caryophyllene oxide they observed, they did not record the amount of BCP in samples. They found that TC was the second most abundant terpene in the cultivars they looked at, with 3.8% to 37.5% of the total terpenes. The percent of caryophyllene oxide ranged between just trace amounts to 11.3% in one sample. According to the cannabis testing lab ACS Laboratory, caryophyllene oxide is “the aromatic component drug dogs smell to identify cannabis” and it is found in lemons, oregano, and eucalyptus. 

If you’re a cultivator wondering if there is a way to boost the amount of BCP in your plants, you’re in luck. It seems that all you need to do to raise the amount of BCP and humulene in your plants is to grow them in the sun rather than indoors. The theory is that those terpenes act as protection against UV light, so growing outside will naturally increase those defenses.

The First Known “Dietary Cannabinoid”

BCP is unique among all other terpenes, as it was the first terpene that has been identified to be a “dietary cannabinoid.” In other words, it is a cannabinoid you can get by eating food rather than consuming cannabis. Specifically, BCP was found to interact with the body’s CB2 receptor sites as if it were a cannabinoid. 

There are many dietary sources for BCP, including herbs and spices like black pepper, cloves, or rosemary, but another major source for BCP is from green leafy vegetables. While not sources of BCP, brassica vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are sources of other dietary cannabinoids, as well as chocolate and echinacea. 

Medical Effects Of Caryophyllene

Like many cannabinoids and terpenes, BCP is an analgesic painkiller, specially a local anesthetic. A 2014 study found that BCP “may be highly effective in the treatment of long lasting, debilitating pain;” specifically researchers found BCP “exerts analgesic effects in mouse models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain.” Another common medical property of cannabinoids and terpenes is fighting inflammation, and BCP is no exception. Research suggests that “Given the excellent safety profile of BCP in humans it has tremendous therapeutic potential in a multitude of diseases associated with inflammation and oxidative stress.” Further study of BCP’s ability to curb oxidative stress has shown it to be “a natural antioxidant” with benefits to people suffering from liver fibrosis. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is another inflammation-based condition that BCP could be “a possible therapy for” due to its activation of CB2 receptors. 

Cancer is another common medical condition that people turn to cannabis to treat. Both BCP and caryophyllene oxide have multiple demonstrated benefits to people with cancer, including inducing apoptosis, suppressing tumor growth, and inhibiting metastasis. BCP has also been shown to potentiate, or increase, the effectiveness of the anti-cancer drug paciltaxel. Anxiety and depression are both commonly occuring comorbidities in people with cancer, and research has shown that BCP won’t just fight cancer, it will also help people suffering from mood disorders. 

Nearly 12% of Americans have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and they are in luck, because BCP is a safe, abundant, and promising molecule for diabetes and its complications. Specifically, BCP’s anti-diabetic activity is connected to its use as an antioxidant, and it is capable of inhibiting “high glucose-induced oxidative stress.” As diabetes is one of the top causes of death in the US, BCP offers a readily accessible way to prevent some of those deaths. Another top cause of preventable deaths in the US is from excessive consumption of alcohol, and research shows BCP reduces alcohol intake in rodent models. Both BCP and TC have been shown in multiple studies to be neuroprotective agents that protect the brain from ischemic injuries (strokes). 

Perhaps the most impressive property of BCP is that its ability to control oxidative stress is powerful enough that it has been shown to prolong the lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes. While humans are quite different from nematodes, these worms are heavily studied and considered a “useful model for studying aging mutations.” So chances are, since BPC has an effect to extend a nematode’s life, then it likely will have some impact to improve a human’s lifespan as well. Clearly more research is needed but these findings make BPC very unique among all cannabinoids and terpenes. 

A Quick Hit

Caryophyllene is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis and BCP is the first “dietary cannabinoid” to be identified, which is something that interacts with your endocannabinoid system found in food. While one form of caryophyllene is what drug dogs sniff for, another form may actually be able to extend your lifespan. 

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