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What is Beta-Caryophyllene? The Peppery Terpene and Cannabinoid

The science behind cannabis is complicated but we want to help you understand this fascinating medicinal plant. This blog looks at a cannabinoid called Beta-caryophyllene, which could be called the “peppery terpene” as it contributes to the warm, woody, spicy smell associated with black pepper. We’ll tell you what it is, why it’s important, what its effects on the body are and the types of conditions it can be used to treat.

Beta-caryophyllene is a perfect example of the interplay between cannabinoids and terpenoids, as it is a bridge between both types of compound. Check out our cannabinoid and terpene table if you want a broad overview of what they can do. If you need to get a definition of a particular scientific word, take a look at our glossary.

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Table of Contents

  1. What is Beta-Caryophyllene, aka the “Pepper Terpene”?
  2. Why is Beta-Caryophyllene a Cannabinoid?
  3. What Are the Effects of Beta-Caryophyllene?
  4. What Conditions Does Beta Caryophyllene Treat?
    Anxiety
    Depression
    Neurodegenerative Disorders (Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease)
    Chronic and Neuropathic (Nerve) Pain
  5. Which Terpenes and Cannabinoids Does Beta-Caryophyllene Combine Well With?
  6. Which Strains or Cultivars of Cannabis are High in Beta-Caryophyllene?
  7. What Makes Beta-Caryophyllene Special

What is Beta-Caryophyllene, aka the Pepper Terpene?

Beta-caryophyllene, sometimes just called caryophyllene, is a terpene that has a distinct warm, woody, spicy, peppery smell. It is found in black pepper and clove oil, as well as rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, basil, black caraway and hops.

Did you know? Beta-caryophyllene is the smell drug sniffer dogs are trained to spot when searching for cannabis.

Caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene, meaning it is a class of terpene that contains three isoprene units (isoprenes are a common organic hydrocarbon compound produced by many plants) and has the chemical formula C15H24.

Chemical structure, beta-caryophyllene. C15H24.
Chemical structure, beta-caryophyllene. C15H24. Author: NEUROtiker.

 

Why is Beta-Caryophyllene a Cannabinoid?

Beta-caryophyllene is a cannabinoid because it selectively targets CB2 receptors, which are found in the immune system. As caryophyllene is found in everyday foods, it is considered a dietary cannabinoid. Beta-caryophyllene is both a terpene and a cannabinoid.

What Are the Effects of Beta-Caryophyllene?

Beta-caryophyllene is a potent anti-inflammatory, exerting analgesic (pain relieving) effects and making it potentially very useful for inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Beta-caryophyllene also has the potential to act as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication. Although beta-caryophyllene has physiological effects, it does not bind to CB1 receptors, so is not psychoactive.

What Conditions Does Beta-Caryophyllene Treat?

Anxiety

When it comes to anxiety, it is the CB1 receptor that has been singled out as playing a key role in anxiety. Should the CB1 receptors in the brain’s amygdala be blocked, or if the gene that encodes the CB1 receptor is deleted, anxiety increases.

This means  selective CB2 agonists like beta-caryophyllene are very useful for treating anxiety. Dopamine neurons contain CB2 receptors, and therefore blocking or deleting these receptors can modulate anxiety-like behaviors. This is because, under inflammatory conditions, CB2 receptor expression in the brain is enhanced.

Depression

CB2 receptor overexpression is not only implicated in the development of anxiety, but other neuropsychiatric disorders like depression and schizophrenia, too. Eating disorders and alcohol-seeking behavior are also altered by CB2 receptor overexpression on dopamine neurons.

Neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease)

CB2 receptors are a potential therapeutic target for neurodegenerative disorders of many kinds. The downregulation of CB2 receptors has been reported in the brains of Parkinson’s patients. This leads to inflammation and brain degeneration. Beta-caryophyllene can essentially tell the CB2 receptors to calm down and stop inflaming so much!

The activation and upregulation of CB2 receptors are believed to protect against the neurodegenerative changes in those with Parkinson’s disease (PD)

Levels of CB2 receptors are increased in those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), “mainly in microglia surrounding senile plaques, and their expression levels correlate with the amounts of Aβ42 and β-amyloid plaque deposition.”

Beta-caryophyllene may help reduce inflammation of the neurons in the brain and remove the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s.

Chronic and Neuropathic (Nerve) Pain

The anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-inflammatory effects of beta-caryophyllene make it potentially very useful for treating chronic and neuropathic pain as well. Beta-caryophyllene has been shown to have analgesic, as well as anticancer, effects.

Moreover, beta-caryophyllene can battle addiction as well, and could help decrease the need for opioids and reduce alcohol intake. Beta-caryophyllene also has an antioxidant effect, and can potentially protect against liver damage. This makes it useful for hepatitis-C.

Powerful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like celecoxib (brand name: Celebrex) are often prescribed for arthritic pain and nerve pain in the short term. Celecoxib has several nasty side-effects, including abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. In higher doses, side effects may include kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, gastrointestinal perforation, gastrointestinal bleeding, and anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction). Beta-caryophyllene and CBD could be an alternative to such NSAIDs.

Chemical structure of celecoxib (C17H14F3N3O2S)
Chemical structure of celecoxib (C17H14F3N3O2S), a powerful NSAID. Beta-caryophyllene and CBD could be an alternative. Author: Edgar181.

 

Which Terpenes and Cannabinoids Does Beta-Caryophyllene Combine Well With?

This depends on what you want to use it for! It is medical marijauna’s flexibility which makes it both powerful and difficult to dose.

Although beta-caryophyllene can be great for treating anxiety, when combined with high amounts of pinene, limonene, THC and THCV, it may cause more anxiety. However, this combination may be useful for:

For anxiety, insomnia, and chronic muscle and joint pain, beta-caryophyllene combined with the following may be a more suitable choice of cannabinoids and terpenes:

  • Myrcene
  • Linalool
  • Terpineol
  • CBD
  • THC

If you need further guidance on dosing, we recommend you ask your Leafwell doctor.

Which Strains or Cultivars of Cannabis are High in Beta-Caryophyllene?

Many varieties of cannabis contain beta-caryophyllene. Some varieties may contain more than others, although technically almost any variety of cannabis can contain large amounts of beta-caryophyllene. This can depend on where and how the variety was grown as much as its genetics. The test results on the packaging are more likely to tell you this than a strain name.

The following varieties of cannabis in the Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) family have been found to contain high amounts of beta-caryophyllene:

  • Cookies and Cream
  • Candyland
  • Platinum GSC
  • And of course GSC itself.
Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) marijuana strain.
Private Reserve Girl Scout Cookies (GSC). Durban Poison x OG Kush. From Flickr. Author: Jewelz. Public Domain Picture.

 

Some cannabis varieties that utilize kush genetics have also been tested to contain beta-caryophyllene including:

  • Master Kush
  • Bubba Kush
  • OG Kush
  • Purple Kush.

Again, though, the name alone won’t be the best indication. Varieties are often mislabelled. Check the test results instead.

What Makes Beta-Caryophyllene Special?

Beta-caryophyllene is a very unique terpene, as it also acts as a cannabinoid, too. In many ways, beta-caryophyllene is an important reminder that terpenes and cannabinoids are not separate, and that the two actually work in conjunction with one another.

Terpenes influence the way cannabinoids behave, and can modify how much THC crosses the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Terpenes can also regulate the production and decomposition of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

Terpenes also affect flavor, and combine with flavonoids to produce unique therapeutic effects (the entourage effect). In fact, cannabinoids and terpenes actually share the same chemical precursor, geranyl phosphate, which is developed in the resin glands of the plant. Different enzymes catalyse geranyl phosphate into cannabinoids or terpenes/terpenoids.

So, whilst different terpenes and cannabinoids have different effects at different dosages in different combinations, it is important to remember that they are all interlinked. Beta-caryophyllene is perhaps the best example of this, due to its dual cannabinoid-terpenoid existence.

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj - Chief Research Officer

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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