Terpene Tour: Beta-Caryophyllene
A further inquiry into beta-caryophyllene, nature's first terpene with cannabinoid-like properties and the potential to change the pharmaceutical industry.
The cannabis plant features more than 200 compounds. Those compounds can be discerned into three distinct groups: cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. It is known today that there are synergetic effects between compounds in the cannabis plant, and such behavior is known as the Entourage Effect. Despite this, it has not been shown which exact compounds produce a synergetic effect with cannabinoids, nor how the synergy is formed. Until recently the focus has been mostly on the effects of cannabinoids, namely THC and CBD. The scientific approach has been singular, because when it comes to complex interactions in many compound natural systems, it is close to impossible to determine what compounds or compound interaction cause which effects. Both terpenes and flavonoids, when in sufficient concentrations, have been shown to exhibit pharmacological activity, and as a result of that are under increased attention from the scientific community.
WHAT ARE CANNABINOIDS?
Cannabinoids are a class of diverse compounds produced both in the body itself and attainable as phytocannabinoids (existing in the cannabis plant) or as synthetic cannabinoids. Over 100 cannabinoids have been observed in the cannabis plant. With the introduction of non-body produced cannabinoids, as expected, we change the levels of those cannabinoids inside the body, also known as endocannabinoid levels.
There are two kinds of known cannabinoid receptors in the human body termed CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain and the central nervous system and are responsible for the cerebral effects of cannabinoids also known as the infamous high. On the other hand, CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system, and immune-derived cells.
Changes in endocannabinoid levels and/or CB2 receptor expressions have been reported in a great number of diseases affecting humans, ranging from cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, neurodegenerative, psychiatric, bone, skin, autoimmune, lung disorders to pain and cancer. Modulating CB2 receptor activity holds tremendous therapeutic potential in these pathologies.
WHAT ARE TERPENES?
Terpenes are a group of volatile organic compounds. Alongside flavonoids, they provide the cannabis plant with aroma and flavor. In high heat conditions, the cannabis plant increases terpene production, as evaporating terpenes serve to cool the plant down. Evaporating terpenes are highly present in cannabis smoke, explaining the aromas and smell felt while smoking and growing.
Terpenes and cannabinoids share their biosynthetic pathways, meaning both compounds have the same early development phase and only differentiate in later phases of development. In the Cannabis plant, terpenes also share the spaces for synthesis and accumulation. These spaces are known as trichomes and are what we see as a white hairy cover of the cannabis plant.
A difference between the trichome cannabinoid to terpene ratio has been observed when comparing the plant's leaves and flowers. Those trichomes set on cannabis flowers seem to produce higher amounts of cannabinoids while the ones on leaves produce more terpenes.
Caryophyllene is is a mixture of three compounds: α-caryophyllene, β-caryophyllene, and caryophyllene oxide. All of them are present in all Cannabis varieties. In fact, caryophyllene oxide is what sniffer dogs are trained to smell in order to find Cannabis. We have to bear in mind that Caryophyllene is one of the less volatile terpenes and that, as a consequence, is less likely to evaporate in normal conditions, thus becoming the terpene most easily found in cannabis extracts.
Beta-caryophyllene, also known as BCP, is found in the essential oils of a variety of plants, including rosemary, hops, cloves and, of course, cannabis. It’s also highly present in black pepper.
Although BCP is found in all strains of cannabis, the strains known to contain the most are Arjan's Haze #2, Super Silver Haze and Neville's Haze. The aromas associated with BCP are spicy, warm, sweet and woody.
BCP was first synthesized in 1964, but it wasn’t until 2008 that we discovered the true potential of it. What makes BCP special is the fact that this terpene is found to have an effect on CB2 receptors making it not only a terpene but cannabinoid-mimetic as well. It is the first, and only naturally occurring compound to act as a CB2 receptor specific agonist, agonist meaning it makes the CB2 receptor produce a biological response. As a compound, BCP is legal worldwide and thus its potential significantly higher.
EFFECTS OF BETA-CARYOPHYLLENE
As already stated in this article, when talking about cannabinoids, positive changes in CB2 receptor expressions have very diverse medicinal implications. A few of those have been more thoroughly examined while even more remain to be tested and discovered.
Because of THC prohibitive laws and the feared cerebral effects of cannabinoids that act on the CB1 receptors, a race has existed in the pharmaceutical industry to find a cannabinoid that only affects CB2 receptors since they exhibit such high potential when it comes to healing different pathologies. Even though such compounds have been synthesized, there are studies that prove the naturally occurring BCP is more effective in treating those conditions than its synthetic counterparts. With further research into the widely available BCP that race may just come to an end.
Animal studies have also shown BCP could be effective in combating depression and anxiety. The same conditions self-medicating cannabis users have reported a high number of low-THC cannabis strains helps with. It is thought that high levels of THC may worsen the condition.
It is also worth noting that BCP has been considered in fighting alcoholism since it has been observed in animal studies that it reduces voluntary alcohol intake.
Since the research area is so young and underdeveloped, there are still a lot of scientifically unsupported claims that fall under the area of what we like to call educated guesses like those of BCP being able to help cancer patients and help with gastrointestinal diseases.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
What the future holds is unfortunately still shrouded in mystery. The discovery of BCP threatens to revolutionize the pharmaceuticals market and provide a virtually free alternative to expensive synthetic drugs currently being developed. As it is already the case with cannabis, government policies and corporate interests threaten to slow the progress of finding potential uses for BCP and plants rich with it. All we can hope is that as we find more uses for cannabis and its compounds, awareness about the miracle plant will grow and the existing barriers will start to fade.
Written by: Guest Writer
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