Terpenes: The Unique Properties of Caryophyllene
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
In our terpenes series, we’ve so far looked at some of the most popular terpenes in cannabis: Myrcene, limonene, and linalool all have incredible properties and very exciting potential health applications. They’ve all been studied in various clinical trials while we fully unlock the potential in what these chemical compounds can really do.
But of all the terpenes found in cannabis, caryophyllene is arguably the most interesting.
Why? Because caryophyllene is the only terpene that acts like a cannabinoid.
Wait – what do we mean by that? We’ll show you! But first, let’s cover the basics:
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are the chemical compounds that give plants their flavour and aroma. Not just cannabis -- all plants contain terpenes, and most terpenes are found in more than one plant. They’re beneficial for the plants, who use them to attract pollinators and fend off predators, but also beneficial for us. Most terpenes have some kind of effect on humans, ranging from everything from aromatherapy to relieving pain. Some have very interesting properties: for example, linalool has such a calming effect on the human nervous system that it can actually help treat or prevent seizures. In cannabis, terpenes are particularly interesting because they provide an entourage effect - the process by which two chemical compounds work together to become stronger than the sum of their parts. Some terpenes work best with other terpenes present, while some - like myrcene - enhance the effects of THC.
Caryophyllene is Unique Among Terpenes
But caryophyllene doesn’t just act like a terpene, or just use the entourage effect to increase the effects of cannabinoids - it acts like a cannabinoid itself. Cannabinoids work by binding to your body’s endocannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system in your body works to regulate functions like sleep, pain, mood, appetite, and memory, and there are two main types of receptors. CB1 receptors are mostly located in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors which are found mostly in the peripheral nervous system, like the immune cells and organs. Caryophyllene is a larger molecule than other terpenes and has a unique molecular structure that allows it to bind to CB2 receptors, so it can act in ways that other terpenes can’t. By binding to CB2 receptors, it can provide many of the effects associated with those receptors, such as decreased pain and inflammation, without any psychoactive effects (which are linked to CB1 receptors). Because of this, caryophyllene can have more profound effects than those we would normally associate with terpenes.
The Benefits of Caryophyllene
Pain Relief and Anti-inflammation: Due to caryophyllene binding to CB2 receptors, research has found that not only does caryophyllene reduce pain on it’s own, it also increases the effects of pain medication, in this case morphine. This shows great potential for helping patients manage pain more effectively, without needing additional prescription strength pain medication. Antimicrobial and Antioxidizing Effects: In a study done on the effects of caryophyllene against pathogenic fungal and bacterial strains, research showed that caryophyllene was an effective antioxidant, helping prevent healthy cells from damage, as well as antimicrobial. Digestive Health: Caryophyllene’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to help mitigate symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and reduce the associated cell damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Insulin and Blood Glucose: Caryophyllene may have great potential benefits for people with diabetes. It has been shown to help balance insulin levels and keep blood sugar levels from getting too high, as well as help the body metabolize fat and sugar. Brain Health: Caryophyllene’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory response has been shown to reduce neuroinflammation, having a positive effect on patients with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Caryophyllene was also shown to prevent further cognitive impairment in mice with Alzheimer’s disease. Lifespan: Because of caryophyllene’s ability to regulate oxidative cell stress in the nervous system and organs, it may actually improve longevity by reducing cell damage. Temperature tolerance: Caryophyllene can actually improve the body’s response to cold, helping to increase cold tolerance in freezing conditions. This was discovered when researchers looked into the phenomenon of giant pandas in the wild rolling themselves in horse manure when the temperature of their habitats gets low. It was discovered that the manure contains caryophyllene, and that this helps the pandas regulate their body temperature more efficiently. Anxiety and Depression: Studies done in mice showed that the introduction of caryophyllene significantly decreased behaviours related to anxiety and depression across a series of tests, as well as compulsive behaviours.
Sleep Quality: An essential oil blend used as a sedative in traditional medicine by the Laklaño peoples of Brazil was discovered in lab to contain high amounts of caryophyllene. The blend showed marked improvement in sleep quality scores, including time spent asleep, bodily movements made while sleeping, and body temperature during sleep. Cancer fighting properties: Caryophyllene has been identified as a potential help in the fight against cancer, as the terpene has been found to help fight cancer cells and prevent them from growing and spreading. In addition, the study’s authors note that caryophyllene’s ability to reduce pain can also help with pain management for patients with cancer, making it potentially a very useful tool in oncological medicine. Alcohol Intake and Damage: A team of researchers looked into the role CB2 cannabinoid receptors played in the brain’s perception of alcohol, and found something interesting: When the CB2 receptors were engaged via caryophyllene, voluntary alcohol intake in mice was reduced, while overall fluid consumption was not. The authors hope this can help provide future treatment options for alcohol addiction disorders. Additionally, another study showed that caryophyllene may help protect the liver from alcohol use-related damage by controlling and reducing inflammation.
Where to Find Caryophyllene
Caryophyllene has a spicy, musky profile, and is notably a dominant terpene in many cannabis strains -- but it isn’t found in only cannabis. Caryophyllene is also present in many herbs and spices, most prominently in black pepper and caraway. Other sources of caryophyllene include spices like black pepper, cloves, caraway, and cinnamon, as well as herbs like basil, oregano, and rosemary, and even, surprisingly, lavender and ylang ylang. It’s also found in hops, which are used to make beer and flavourings.