Meet the Terpenes: beta-caryophyllene

Aside from sturdy fibers good for paper or clothing, what do cotton and cannabis have in common? The spicy, earthy terpene beta-caryophyllene, of course. Photo Credit: Sea of Cotton via photopin (license)

Meet the Terpenes: beta-caryophyllene

What gives the strain Girl Scout Cookies its sweet, earthy, spicy taste? A terpene called beta-caryophyllene (also spelled with a Greek letter, “β-caryophyllene.”) Because of its amazing flavor, we often use this terpene in cooking. Black pepper, cloves, hops and cotton (I tend not to cook with this one) have the highest concentrations.

Other herbs and spices contain beta-caryophyllene, just in lesser amounts. This terpene is not only used to enhance our meals but also to enrich the flavor of tobacco. Personally, I prefer to limit this spice to my food and my cannabis. Strains such as White Widow, OG Kush, Bubba Kush, and Chemdawg are at the top of my beta-caryophyllene list.

Beta-caryophyllene has a very unique trait. It is the only known phytocannabinoid outside of the cannabis genus. What does this mean in English and why is it important? It means that it’s a terpene that acts like a cannabinoid. A phytocannabinoid is a chemical produced by a plant that inserts itself to one or both of the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2.

These receptors function as a lock and a cannabinoid acts as a key. When the CB2 receptor is activated, it produces proteins that reduce inflammation and pain. Thus, a synergistic relationship between THC, the primary cannabinoid, and beta-caryophyllene provides relief of pain and inflammation similar to very strong non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

This terpene is also the main ingredient in the clove oil, often used to treat toothaches. As an antimicrobial, beta-caryophyllene kills both bacteria and fungus. Additional benefits include treatment for addiction, malaria, and muscle spasms. We may even see it used in the future as a treatment for contact dermatitis, good news for anyone who gets rashes from things like nickel jewelry.

It’s surprising how much work this single terpene can accomplish. Can you imagine how many more benefits will come from the “entourage effect” and interactions with other terpenes? Let’s keep pushing to learn more about what cannabis contains. What would you like to learn more about?