Oregano, cinnamon, black pepper and marijuana are all pungent, and they all have at least one thing in common: a healthy dollop of an intriguing little molecule called Beta Caryophyllene.
Beta Caryophyllene is an aromatic molecule that adds to the distinct smell and flavor of marijuana — part of a bouquet of similar such molecule types in cannabis called terpenes, collectively.
Many terpenes have potential therapeutic uses — such as anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. This is one reason they seem to work together in marijuana to produce what scientists call the “entourage effect,” a poorly understood phenomenon in which the various cannabinoids, terpenes and other chemicals in the Cannabis sativa plant operate together and modulate one another’s effects on the human body and nervous system.
Beta Caryophyllene also has these beneficial properties, but it’s a bit different than other terpenes. It acts as a cannabinoid, meaning it’s activates the endocannabinoid system of the human nervous system.
How Does Beta Caryophyllene Work?
To understand what this means, here’s a quick summary of what we currently understand about how marijuana affects the human body:
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two main active ingredients in marijuana. They are similar to cannabinoid neurotransmitters the body produces for normal nervous system function. These cannabinoid neurotransmitters are “ligands” with tiny receptors on the membranes of nerve cells that allow nerves to transmit impulses. The specific receptors are called CB1 and CB2, in which the neurotransmitters fit like keys in locks, kicking off a cascade of chemo-electric impulses that transmit a nerve signal.
THC and CBD fit into the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors, respectively, and alter their response compared with the body’s endogenous (internally produced) cannabinoids. THC is most responsible for the characteristic marijuana high, whereas CBD is a powerful modulator of inflammatory and nerve response through its interaction with CB2. In distilled form, it’s FDA-approved as a powerful anti-seizure medication, but CBD is also under study to treat a host of other conditions.
This is where Beta Caryophyllene comes in. Researchers in a 2008 study proved Beta Caryophyllene also interacts with the CB2 receptor, kicking off a powerful anti-inflammatory response, both in human cells in a petri dish and in mice.
For more information about the endocannabinoid system and marijuana’s effects on it, see our comprehensive article on the endocannabinoid system.
What Is Beta Caryophyllene Used for?
In distilled and concentrated form, Beta Caryophyllene’s only commercial use is as an industrial food flavor additive. Medical science is starting to wise up to Beta Caryophyllene’s potential, however. As of August, 2018, a 20-percent Beta Caryophyllene ointment was in clinical trials to treat joint pain caused by arthritis.
Furthermore, studies in 2007 and 2016 showed that adding Beta Caryophyllene to existing chemotherapy drugs can make them more effective. Researchers figure that because Beta Caryophyllene is fat soluble — which makes it easy to pass through cell membranes — it makes cancer cells more permeable and ready to absorb the toxic chemotherapy agents.
In addition to its anti-cancer properties, the 2016 review study also examined the painkilling effect of Beta Caryophyllene’s interaction with the CB2 receptor.
“Due to the fact that chronic pain is often an element of cancer disease, the double activity of [Beta Caryophyllene], anticancer and analgesic, as well as its beneficial influence on the efficacy of classical chemotherapeutics, is particularly valuable in oncology,” the study states.
Beta Caryophyllene Additional References:
“Beta Caryophyllene Compound Summary”
U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information
Several biological activities are attributed to beta-Caryophyllene, such as anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and local anaesthetic activities.
“Topical Use of 20% Beta Caryophyllene Alone And In Combination With 0.025% Capsaicin for Pain Caused by Osteoarthritis Of The Knee”
Tanag Pharma Inc. via ClinicalTrials.gov