Terpene University: Part 3 – Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene may not be the most abundant terpene in nature or the most concentrated terpene in cannabis strains. However, this unique terpene has some impressive tricks up its sleeve. We’re going to cover the characteristics that make Caryophyllene highly popular for its current and prospective pharmacological benefits.

What Is Caryophyllene?

Primarily known as beta-caryophyllene (BCP), this terpene has a robust, peppery fragrance with an aroma of spice and cloves. Like many other terpenes, it can be found throughout nature in the herbs we cook with and in the plants we eat. It’s also biosynthesized by cannabis plants as one of the more common terpenes.

Caryophyllene Molecule
Caryophyllene has two isomers. Beta-caryophyllene is the popular terpene found in cannabis. Alpha-caryophyllene is also known as the terpene humulene.

Caryophyllene differs from myrcene and pinene in that it has three isoprene units instead of two. When a terpene contains one and a half times the number of atoms found in a monoterpene, the compound is called a sesquiterpene (15 carbon atoms). Quite literally, sesqui means, “one and a half” and “terpene” representing the large range of hydrocarbons frequently found in the resin and essential oils of plants.

When Is a Terpene a Cannabinoid?

Beta-caryophyllene is currently the only known terpene that is classified as both a terpene and cannabinoid. So this gangster terpene not only plays a role in the synergistic effects of cannabis but also directly interacts with our endocannabinoid system.

If the Ligand Fits, Wear It

Ligands are molecules that act as chemical messengers, binding to various receptors throughout the body. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin are examples of ligands. They bind to neurotransmitters and then interact as an agonist or antagonist. Afterward, they unbind to be reused or recycled by the body.

The reason beta-caryophyllene is also categorized as a cannabinoid is that it directly binds to our endocannabinoid CB2 receptors. This behavior mirrors the way cannabinoids such as THC and CBD bind to CB1 and CB2. The unique ability to bind with and activate CB2 qualifies caryophyllene as a cannabinoid.

Where Can You Find Caryophyllene?

Like many terpenes, beta-caryophyllene can be found throughout nature. Sometimes it exists in larger amounts, such as with black pepper. And other times it simply adds extra spice to the fragrances of herbs like oregano and thyme. Regardless, this super sesquiterpene has been providing amazing flavors and therapeutic remedies for thousands of years.

  • Black Pepper – Pepper is long known for its spicy aroma and its medicinal properties. Peppercorns originate from the piper nigrum plant, where it grows on the vine as a berry. It takes years for peppercorn to mature before it is harvested. In addition to its popular aroma, black pepper is used as an antioxidant and to treat inflammation. Black pepper was so renown for its aroma and medical uses, BCP was even used as currency in ancient Rome alongside gold and silver.
  • True Cinnamon – Not all cinnamon is created equal. True cinnamon from the bark of the cinnamomum verum tree is slightly less aromatic than that from the more common cinnamomum cassia tree. It is difficult to find and carries a higher price tag than common cinnamon. True cinnamon carries with it a host of effective, medicinal benefits long used by those living in India.
  • Hops – We know what you’re thinking. Isn’t myrcene and humulene among the dominant terpenes in hops? Afterall, we discussed it while exploring myrcene in Part 1 of our terpene series. We’ll leave you with this bit of foreshadowing: alpha-caryophyllene is also known as the popular terpene, humulene. That’s right, it’s the same terpene! And you can be sure we’ll be discussing humulene next in our journey through cannabis terpenes.
  • Cannabis, of course! – BCP literally spices up the terpene profile within the strains that have been bred, or naturally biosynthesize this terpene in large concentrations.
True Cinnamon Contains Caryophyllene
The bark from the Cinnamomum verum tree is the source of true cinnamon. And it also contains a moderate amount of caryophyllene.

As you can see, humanity has been reaping the benefits of caryophyllene and didn’t even realize it.

What Are the Benefits of Caryophyllene?

At this point, we have touched on the many ways BCP treats an array of ailments. However, here is a list of the most widely known uses for this brilliantly unique terpene:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Immune cell support
  • Anti-inflammatory

As scientists and biologists realized that this terpene acts as a full agonist to the CB2 receptor of our endocannabinoid system, you can believe that they became very excited. They were so impressed with the medicinal potential of BCP, that the compound has been seriously considered in the development of Covid-19 treatments. And looking at the benefits, it’s not hard to see why.

Cannabis Strains That Contain Caryophyllene

It’s hard not to smile, even when conducting rigorous research, at the highly entertaining names given to popular cannabis strains. When breeding new strains or manufacturing concentrates and distillates aimed to treat inflammation or infection, here are a few BCP-rich strains we came across:

  • Death Star – What do you get when you cross Sour Diesel with Sensai Star? An intense high and as chill as a cucumber. This strain was cultivated in Ohio, paying close attention to the plant’s genetics. Medicinal users use Death Star for pain relief, while recreational users enjoy a calming, euphoric high.
  • Chemdawg – This potent cannabis strain has a terp-profile that smells of chemicals and diesel. Maybe not the most pleasant aroma, however Chemdawg’s effects are very popular. So much so that it’s been used to breed many other beloved strains including Sour Diesel. This caryophyllene rich strain is known for it’s cerebral, focus-inducing high. And medicinal users find relief from PTSD and migraines.
  • Original Glue – After being sued by the adhesive company “Gorilla Glue,” this cannabis strain was renamed Original Glue. The indica dominant genetics and calm-inducing terpene profile makes this strain attractive for its ability to treat insomnia and chronic stress.
  • Royal Cookies – This indica-dominant strain allows caryophyllene to shine by contributing an aroma of spices to the terpene profile of Royal Cookies. As part of the “Girl Scout Cookies” family of genetics, treating chronic pain, stress, and fatigue has never tasted so good. If you’re looking for a strain to breed or cultivate, Royal Cookies is worth a look.

A Closer Look at Caryophyllene

Now that we’ve discussed caryophyllene in detail, here’s a quick snapshot of this unique and diverse sesquiterpene-cannabinoid hybrid. Feel free to bookmark this page so you can easily reference the characteristics of caryophyllene when deciding which cannabis strains to leverage:

AromaSpicy, pepper fragrance
Foods Containing CaryophylleneRecipes prepared with cinnamon, oregano, and black pepper
Natural OccurrencesPeppercorns, true cinnamon (Ceylon), ylang-ylang, cloves, cannabis
Common BenefitsAnti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, immunity support
Popular Cannabis StrainsDeath Star, Chemdawg, Original Glue, Royal Cookies
Caryophyllene plays a moderate role in the aroma and therapeutic effects of many cannabis strains. Although best known for the part it plays in the aroma of black pepper and cinnamon, caryophyllene is also found in many herbs and spices.

Beta-caryophyllene is indeed a unique and amazing terpene. It is used as a food additive and flavoring compound. And it’s approved by the FDA and many European agencies for said uses. Given BCP’s terpenoid characteristics and cannabinoid behavior, cannabis processors looking to leverage terpenes should consider caryophyllene.

BCP is a great candidate to consider for lab synthesis or distillation towards the manufacturing of therapeutic oils, ingredients, and additives. And as we mentioned above, this terpene is even being researched for treating viral infections including Covid-19.

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