What Is Caryophyllene and What Are the Benefits, Effects, and Top Strains?

Caryophyllene terpene effects
By Anthony Pellegrino Updated March 8th

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

You may not know it, but you’ve been surrounded by terpenes your entire life. The smell of lavender at your favorite spa; the invigorating coffee aroma that pulls you in for that extra cup you didn’t really need… you can thank terpenes for that. Terpenes are the chemicals that are responsible for the aroma of plants, including cannabis, and they contribute their own unique medical properties.

A 2018 study found that regular consumers of cannabis rated odor descriptors of common cannabis strains similarly. Which means there’s a good chance you’ll recognize the smell of common terpenes, even if you can’t always put a name to them. Caryophyllene, aka beta-caryophyllene or BCP, comes with an unmistakable black pepper smell, which makes it relatively easy to identify in one whiff. BCP is found abundantly in cannabis, as well as black pepper, hops, cloves, oregano, basil, and sage. (1)

Beta-caryophyllene is claimed to be a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and studies have shown the terpene may have some therapeutic potential in: pain management, autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders, mood disorders, and cardiometabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes. (2)

Caryophyllene terpene

How Does Caryophyllene Work?

BCP is one of the most common terpenes found in the cannabis plant. It’s unique because it has a direct impact on CB2 receptors, classifying it as both a terpene and a cannabinoid. 

Terpenes have been shown to enhance the effect of cannabis and are regarded as the primary contributor to the entourage effect. Each class of terpenes contributes to different medicinal properties, though this has led to a great deal of misinformation about the potential benefits terpenes offer consumers. For example, BCP is a sesquiterpene, which has been used in medicine to aid in the reduction of stomach ulcers, treatment of bacterial infections, and is found in powerful antimalarial drugs. (3)

Beta-caryophyllene is an agonist of both CB2 receptors and the PPARG receptor, which is involved in the regulation of fatty acid (lipid) storage and glucose metabolism. The cross-talk between these two targets are likely what contribute to the reported pain-blocking and anti-inflammatory benefits of BCP. 

However, consumers shouldn’t assume they are receiving reported benefits when they consume a cannabis product high in caryophyllene. Often, these widely reported studies are anecdotal or too small to draw definitive conclusions. Other times they fail to include human trials, or the results are derived after using quantities of the terpene that far exceed the amounts found in commercial cannabis products that consumers have access to. 

Potential Benefits of Caryophyllene

Numerous animal studies indicate a potential benefit of caryophyllene in the following conditions:

  • inflammatory arthritis
  • nervous system disorders (i.e. Parkinson’s disease)
  • atherosclerosis
  • cancer
  • osteoporosis
  • seizure disorder
  • mood disorders

However, most of the research to date has been conducted at the cellular level, or in animal studies, and caryophyllene is not an accepted treatment for any of the above conditions. Additional studies are needed to better understand the role caryophyllene and sesquiterpenes may play in treating these conditions in human patients. (4) 

Two interesting but still small and early-stage human trials are summarized below. 

Positive impact on H. Pylori related gastric distress

A 2019 RCT, placebo-controlled trial aimed to assess the impact of BCP on H. Pylori infection, a common bacterial infection of the stomach. The participants consumed 126 mg of beta-caryophyllene per day for 8 weeks. The intervention group reported superior outcomes in reducing nausea and stomach pain associated with the infection, and also showed a significant reduction in certain inflammatory markers in the blood. (5)

In this case, the amount of BCP consumed is far higher than cannabis consumers would get from any commercially available cannabis product.

Reduction in pain associated with neuropathy in patients with diabetes

25 patients with diabetes mellitus were instructed to take a dietary supplement with a mixture of plant extracts, including beta-caryophyllene. After 16 weeks patients reported a significant reduction in pain. Additionally, polyneuropathy (a burning or tingling sensation in the hands and feet) showed significant improvement in symptoms, as measured by a nerve conduction test. (6)

Again, while the findings are exciting, this study is too small to draw definitive conclusions about the role BCP played in the outcome.

Cannabis Strains/Products High in Caryophyllene

The cannabis plant produces more than 200 terpenes, and each strain comes with its own unique terpene profile. The majority of cannabis strains “feature” one or two terpenes at higher ratios than others, which can make it relatively easy to identify the most prevalent terpene in a strain based on odor alone.

Strains that are likely to be high in BCP are ones that have notes of pepper or spice, such as:

  • Sour Diesel
  • Green Crack
  • Zkittlez
  • Bubba Kush
  • Platinum OG
  • GG4
  • GSC
  • Blue Dream

Preliminary studies have shown that beta-caryophyllene may help reduce pain and inflammation, though further study is needed to understand if the quantities found in retail cannabis strains carry any of these benefits. The next time you visit the local dispensary, add a few strains high in BCP to your cart (they’ll be the ones with a peppery or spicy aroma). 

Resources

  1. “Consumer perceptions of strain differences in Cannabis aroma.” PLOS, 5 February 2018, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0192247. Accessed 28 February 2022.
  2. “A focused review on CB2 receptor-selective pharmacological properties and therapeutic potential of β-caryophyllene, a dietary cannabinoid.” PubMed, 3 June 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34091179/. Accessed 28 February 2022.
  3. “Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes.” NCBI, 12 November 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120914/. Accessed 17 March 2022.
  4. “Protective Effects of (E)-β-Caryophyllene (BCP) in Chronic Inflammation.” NCBI, 26 October 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7692661/. Accessed 17 March 2022.
  5. “[Inhibitory Effects of β-caryophyllene on Helicobacter pylori Infection: A Randomized Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study].” PubMed, 25 October 2019, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31650795/. Accessed 17 March 2022.
  6. “Observational clinical and nerve conduction study on effects of a nutraceutical combination on painful diabetic distal symmetric sensory-motor neuropathy in patients with diabetes type 1 and type 2.” PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30338679/. Accessed 17 March 2022.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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