Caryophyllene, Simplified

By Josh Hall
Justin Aikin, Unsplash

Imagine yourself in the kitchen whipping up a delicious dish for dinner. Right before you plate your meal and snap that perfect Instagram photo, you hit the pan with a touch of black pepper to give it that little extra kick. It turns out the seasoning you added might do more than just spice up your dish—it might just improve your health and mood. How so? One word with a ton of letters and even more benefits: caryophyllene.

This terpene is the primary chemical compound that gives black pepper the spicy smell and taste we know and love. While black pepper might be the most commonly used item that contains caryophyllene, there are plenty of others, including cloves, cinnamon, oregano, basil, and rosemary. It also happens to be one of the 100+ terpenes found in the cannabis plant and one that is commonly mixed with a variety of cannabidiol (CBD) products.

What is Caryophyllene?

For those of you who may need some additional context, let’s start with what a terpene is. You can find terpenes, and their different smells, occurring naturally in the essential oils of many plants. They serve a few different purposes, including as a defense mechanism and to lure in insects for pollination; but a lot of the terpenes that scientists have studied also seem to supply an added medicinal benefit—and caryophyllene is one.

Depending on where you read it, you may see caryophyllene referred to as beta-caryophyllene or BCP. It obviously has a pungent scent, but some also describe it as “woody.” It is colorless in appearance and has a taste that can be peppery, spicy, citrusy, and even minty. While it shares a lot of the same benefits offered by fellow-terpenes, limonene, and myrcene, it’s a bigger molecule than either and has a molecular structure unlike any other known compound of the cannabis plant. But we’ll have more on that in just a little bit.

What is Caryophyllene Used For?

There is an abundance of therapeutic effects associated with caryophyllene. Remember how we talked about it improving your health and mood? One 2004 study divided mice into two groups, giving one of the groups doses of caryophyllene. After putting the mice through a series of tests, it was clear that the subjects who received the caryophyllene outperformed those who did not. Researchers believe the way that it interacts with our body can keep feelings of anxiety and depression at bay, which is why the affected mice performed so well. And there are other trials to support that theory, including a test that showed caryophyllene significantly improved the behavior of mice for the better across a panel of field assessments.

Many of caryophyllene’s benefits closely mirror those we know to be linked with CBD use as well. For instance, it’s been positioned as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and even a potential cancer fighter.

Another trial tested the viability of using caryophyllene as a way to reduce the intake of alcohol—and it proved to be effective. In the U.S. alone, more than 15 million adults have an Alcohol Use Disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. While support groups, rehab programs, and other strategies are in place for those battling addiction, an all-natural option that would help to suppress the urge could be a powerful tool.

How is Caryophyllene Administered?

If you’re familiar with what’s called the “entourage effect,” it shouldn’t surprise you that the best way to administer caryophyllene is in connection with CBD. Industry experts describe the entourage effect as the practice of combining multiple cannabinoids and/or terpenes to harness the power of each individual element. While caryophyllene and CBD each have medicinal value on their own, when infused together, that strength gets multiplied.

Any reputable online retailer or brick-and-mortar specialty shop is likely to have CBD oil infused with caryophyllene. You can also find topicals and salves that feature this dynamic duo.

Is Caryophyllene Safe?

It absolutely is, especially since it’s found in many natural elements like those we mentioned (black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, etc.). In addition, caryophyllene has received the “generally regarded as safe,” or GRAS, label by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The other thing to remember about caryophyllene is that it is non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t leave users in a mind-altered state as THC does. However, that doesn’t mean you should use it in an unsafe way. Since you’ll likely be using caryophyllene that’s been mixed with CBD, you may want to take a look at our CBD dosing suggestions. We always recommend that new users start slow and see how their body responds to a new product. After you’ve eased into it, you can gradually begin to increase your intake until you reach a point where you’re getting the result you’re hoping for.

How Does Caryophyllene Work?

The reason caryophyllene has an impact on our body is because it interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is the regulatory system that keeps our body stable and free of swings, but it’s greatly helped by two cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2.

Caryophyllene’s one-of-a-kind molecular make-up enables it to easily bind to CB2 receptors that empower it to fight inflammation but also to avoid the euphoric high that THC causes (since THC generally connects with CB1 receptors). Unlike other terpenes, it also can directly activate a cannabinoid receptor.

Is Caryophyllene Legal?

Don’t let the fact that it’s found in cannabis fool you. Caryophyllene is indeed legal. If it weren’t, every chef in the country would be behind bars, and we’d be eating a lot of bland food.

The Bottom Line

Even though caryophyllene was first synthesized more than 50 years ago by a guy named Elias James Corey—who would later win the Nobel Prize(!)—the research on it is still relatively limited. And yet, like many of the cannabinoids and terpenes we report on, the completed studies seem to hold a lot of promise and hope. Depending on your preferred scent, caryophyllene could be an excellent infusion for the next CBD product you purchase.

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