Beta-caryophyllene, (β-caryophyllene) also known as BCP, is a naturally occurring aromatic terpene found in many essential oils and plant extracts and is known to occur in many plants such as cloves, hops and rosemary, not just Cannabis. β-caryophyllene is also responsible for the taste of black pepper and many of its medicinal benefits. Though the possible medical applications of caryophyllene and other such terpenes are only recently being investigated there is already significant evidence that they can bring long-term health benefits. Terpenes and terpenoids, oxidised organic molecules derived from terpenes, make up a large proportion of the aromatic chemicals found in various plants and are the primary constituents of their essential oils.
Common examples with significant concentrations of terpenes include aromatic herbs and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, eucalyptus and lavender, all known for their relaxing and soothing effects. In Cannabis oils alone over 200 different types of terpene have been found in varying concentrations, sometimes making up to 1% of a Cannabis bud’s dry weight. Though many of these terpenes are fairly minor and unnoticeable there are still a staggering number of terpenes with truly diverse potential for medicinal usage.
Cannabis is often classified as indica, sativa, or a hybrid of the two, generally correlating with a different effect for each; sativa being more mental and energetic and indica deemed better for sedation and pain relief. Beyond these vague definitions, one indication of the effects of a certain strain of Cannabis is the terpene content, which can have great effect not only on the euphoria experienced but also the medical efficacy of the strain in question, as not all strains suit all ills. This is due to the ‘Entourage Effect’, a consequence of terpenes being structurally similar to phytocannabinoids, resulting in a synergistic effect which magnifies the euphoria and potential medical benefits greatly.
A sesquiterpene is an organic chemical very similar to other terpenes, though structurally far more complex with three base isoprene units instead of the one found in monoterpenes such as limonene and linalool, found in citrus fruits and lavender respectively, as well as Cannabis. As such they are more complex than other terpenes in both chemical structure and aroma and rarer besides, with the only significant sesquiterpenes found in Cannabis being β-caryophyllene and humulene. The primary purpose of such aromatics is to not only act as a pungent deterrent to unwanted, possibly destructive insects, but to also attract pollinating insects. There is also evidence they have uses in Cannabis reproduction, acting as pheromones.
Drug-sniffing dogs that can seemingly detect Cannabis do so by reacting to the smell of β-caryophyllene alone, due to its almost ubiquitous presence in Cannabis strains. Specifically, they are trained to detect caryophyllene oxide, a byproduct of the Cannabis drying procedure. Unusually amongst terpenes, β-caryophyllene naturally binds with the CB2 receptor in the brain, and as such is sometimes referred to as an atypical terpene. Being one of the first shown to bind to the body’s cannabinoid receptors in 2008, there are extremely promising results in its uses when it comes to both physical and mental health. In many pre-clinical studies it displays a wide range of protective and therapeutic effects that have the potential to heal both the body and mind.
In laboratory studies on depression and anxiety it has been shown to ameliorate both even when the test subjects were placed under extreme stress. β-caryophyllene is being investigated along with other CB2 agonists in research on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication, with wide-ranging implications not only on the uses of β-caryophyllene itself, but ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in general. In studies performed on human prostate and breast cancer cells it has been shown β-caryophyllene has a powerful effect on the signalling pathways within the rogue cells, inhibiting tumorous growth as well as significantly promoting cancer cell death, or apoptosis, via causing the mitochondria within the cell to over-produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) which can lead to the destruction of the cell itself. This has incredible implications for the treatment and prevention of cancer throughout the world and provides yet more evidence that the many medical uses of Cannabis aren’t as far-fetched as once deemed.
β-caryophyllene has also shown promise as an anti-malarial agent, discouraging mosquitoes biting, with powerful aromatic qualities as well as acting as an insecticide when mosquitoes or their larvae come into contact with it. It has also shown incredible promise in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) via suppressing inflammation of the nervous system. Preliminary results have shown that β-caryophyllene is effective not only in treating the acute effects of MS, but also the pathological effects themselves. It would seem it has a remarkable effect on the immune system, acting as a modulator and preventing the autoimmune response that results in the nervous system being attacked. There is also evidence the usage of β-caryophyllene can reduce voluntary alcohol intake and sensitivity, possibly opening up avenues for the treatment of alcoholism.
There is mounting evidence that many terpenes, not just Caryophyllene, can have incredible medical benefits and can help fight debilitating diseases such as cancer and MS, in addition to the incredible relief it can bring those with anxiety and depression. We have only scratched the surface of the possible benefits that terpenes such as β-caryophyllene can bring, but with increased acceptance of Cannabis use and scientific focus, the future for Cannabis as medicine and the people it may benefit can only be bright. When it comes to actual Cannabis strains, β-caryophyllene is fairly ubiquitous, though often found in relatively tiny amounts there are some strains which are known for containing high levels of this terpene. Examples include famous strains such as Sour Diesel, Chemdawg, OG Kush and Bubba Kush, to name just a few.