Terpenes provide a wide variety of aromatic properties ranging from floral and earthy notes to musky and citrusy ones. When it come to the spicier side of the spectrum, caryophyllene holds the trophy for the most flair.
The terpene caryophyllene is present in many herbs and spices, including black pepper, basil, and oregano, and cannabis strains with high levels of it deliver a spicy, funky warmth to the nose, similar to cinnamon and cloves.
What makes caryophyllene an intriguing terpene is its relationship with our endocannabinoid system, particularly, its ability to bind to CB2 receptors. Because of this, it comes with a host of potential medical benefits.
Caryophyllene’s unique profile
Also called beta-caryophyllene or BCP, this terpene can be found in aromatic oils like rosemary and clove oil, and in nature it’s most commonly found in hops, cloves, black pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and basil. It’s responsible for the slight bite of pungency associated with smelling cracked pepper.
Caryophyllene is a bigger molecule than terpenes like myrcene and limonene. Caryophyllene’s molecular structure also contains a cyclobutane ring, something rare in nature and not found in any other known cannabis terpene.
The human body’s endocannabinoid system contains a vast network of receptors located throughout the body. Two major types exist: CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found mainly in our peripheral organs.
When a cannabinoid such as THC is ingested, it primarily binds to CB1 receptors located in the brain and central nervous system, producing a euphoric effect.
The unique molecular structure of caryophyllene allows it to easily bind to CB2 receptors primarily located within our peripheral endocannabinoid system. This means that is doesn’t cause any of the euphoric feelings of cannabis while providing many of the benefits associated with activating those receptors, like reducing inflammation.
It’s unlike any other terpene because it is the only one that has the ability to directly activate a cannabinoid receptor, especially CB2 receptors.
High-caryophyllene cannabis strains
Cannabis strains with high levels of caryophyllene tend to be spicy and musky, and some are also known to have a funky profile. Many carry prominent notes of diesel and fuel that are known to cause the same nose-tingling bite associated with taking a whiff of pepper.
Some strains with a higher-than-average amount of caryophyllene include:
- Bubba Kush
- Sour Diesel
- Death Star
- Original Glue
- Cookies and Cream
- The White
- Master Kush
Caryophyllene is found in high levels in many strains of the Cookies family—Platinum GSC, GSC, Cookies and Cream, and Candyland (Platinum Cookies x Grandaddy Purple).
This stress-relieving terpene is also present in many hybrids known to cause relaxation and reduce anxiety. Given its unique aromatic notes, it’s fairly easy to detect in a strain.
Finding strains high in caryophyllene
When selecting a strain that tends to be high in caryophyllene, keep in mind that individual products may or may not be representative of that strain’s true composition, and most product labels do not currently provide terpene profiles to consumers. Do your research, and ask a knowledgeable retailer to recommend brands with a reputation for quality.
Explore dispensaries nearby
Even though many states do not require cannabis products to have their terpene profiles measured and labelled, some conscientious and forward-thinking brands take the extra step of having terpene profiles measured and provide these to consumers on packaging. One of the best things you can do as a consumer is ask your dispensaries to carry products with labelled terpene profiles, and use your purchasing power to reward brands that make this crucial information accessible.
Being able to shop for cannabis products with verified terpene profiles will be very important for consumers, since terpenes like caryophyllene may offer specific therapeutic benefits for some people. But we still have a lot to learn about this cannabis terpene.
The future of caryophyllene research
One of the biggest questions regarding the role that cannabis terpenes play in a strain’s therapeutic benefits is whether they’re expressed in sufficient concentrations to have an effect on the body. The available scientific studies have used isolated caryophyllene, often in high doses. Are these doses substantially higher than what can be consumed with a caryophyllene-rich cannabis strain? At this point, it’s unclear.
The future of caryophyllene research (and all cannabis terpenes) should involve studying the terpene at doses consistent with typical human consumption as well as in the presence of other cannabinoids. This could be done by systematically altering levels of a terpene while keeping levels of other cannabis compounds constant. Nonetheless, because caryophyllene can be added safely added to food, many products could experiment with boosting caryophyllene levels to therapeutically-relevant doses.
Where can you find beta caryophyllene?
Beta caryophyllene is one of natures more abundant terpenes. Caryophyllene is found in Basil, Oregano, Lavender, Rosemary, Black Caraway, Cinnamon and of course cannabis.
If you have ever wondered if beta caryophyllene is safe to use, you can rest assured that as a naturally occurring terpene it is regarded as safe even for use in foods.
Like other cannabis terpenes (such as limonene, geraniol, alpha pinene, alpha bisabolol etc), β-caryophyllene is generally regarded as safe (‘GRAS’) by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s also regarded as safe by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) as a food additive, taste enhancer, cosmetic additive and flavour additive. It can be found in the following types of products.
- Face creams
- Hair conditioners
- Cooking sauces
- Ingredient/flavour additive in pre-mixed cooking spices
Beta-caryophyllene terpene profile
In it’s pure form beta caryophyllene has an inviting, organic/herbal aroma. Many feel that cannabis strains rich in caryophyllene seem better at pain reduction and help with painful inflammations.
Cannabis strains with high levels of β-caryophyllene won’t necessarily have a clearly distinguishable smell of pure caryophyllene. That’s because all the terpenes collectively produce a highly complicated aroma. A complex terpene profile makes it difficult to pick out individual terpene scents.
Beta caryophyllene smell and aroma
Caryophyllene can be found at high levels in cannabis, accounting for 25% (or more) of the total terpene production of the cannabis strain. It’s one of the more dominant cannabis terpenes and helps provide rich, spicy, earthy and peppery notes to your cannabis. You may find these delicate terpene flavours and aromas easier to identify when you vape cannabis. That’s because vaping tends to preserve more of the finer taste and terpene aromas compared to smoking a joint. When smoking a joint, the smoke produced by the combustion process can overpower the fragile scents produced by the terpenes.
Beta caryophyllene effects
Beta caryophyllene targets and binds with the CB2 receptor in the human endo cannabinoid system. This effect has been studied in mice. Traditionally, people associate the cannabinoid receptors (known as CB1 and CB2) with the pleasant psychoactive high experienced with cannabis. THC, for example, binds to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors to produce the euphoric cannabis high.
Two recent scientific studies into beta caryophyllene effects and uses are shown below. In both cases, researches found positive effects of beta caryophyllene in pain relief (analgesia) as well as benefits from reductions in stress/anxiety.
The CB2 receptor is associated with the modulation of neuropathic pain as well as inflammation. The research paper, above, suggests that oral consumption of caryophyllene may even be more effective than subcutaneous injections of pain killers for relief of pain. One key question for the study to answer is ‘what does beta caryophyllene do for the body?’
The study answers this with the conclusion that caryophyllene has clear effects on pain in mammals and suggests that much more in depth work is required to fully characterise the effects of caryophyllene on pain and inflammation.