You're probably pretty familiar with the terpene caryophyllene even if you don't consume cannabis because it's the primary chemical compound that gives black pepper its spicy scent. Caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene (a terpene made of three isoprene units) that was first synthesized in 1964 by world-renowned organic chemist Elias James “E.J." Corey, and since then it has generated much interest in a variety of fields.
In cannabis, we find caryophyllene (β-caryophyllene, also known as BCP) in strains known for their spicy, woody aroma such as Bubba Kush, Chemdawg, and Sour Diesel. It's also prominent in the essential oil of herbs such as basil, hops, rosemary, and oregano, and spices like cinnamon and cloves. Caryophyllene's chemical structure includes two things rarely found in nature that make it of particular interest to scientists: a cyclobutane ring and a trans-double bond in an 8-membered ring.
A study conducted in 2008 by an international team of researchers found caryophyllene to act as a cannabinoid by binding to CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. However, caryophyllene does not bind to CB1 receptors, which are what the psychoactive compounds in cannabis react with to create the euphoric “high” that is associated with marijuana.
The same study also concluded that caryophyllene has several therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-fungal, antibacterial, anesthetic, and analgesic effects. We also know that caryophyllene is useful in treating anxiety, stress, depression, ulcers, autoimmune disorders, muscle tension, and chronic body pain.
Caryophyllene's most exciting prospects perhaps lie in its ability to effectively stop cravings for alcohol and fight cancerous tumors. A 2014 issue of the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior included a report on a study that used β-caryophyllene to activate CB2 receptors and decrease the desire for alcohol in mice. Another study conducted by Kyung Hee University in the Republic of Korea in 2014 found β-caryophyllene to suppress tumor grown and stimulate death in cancer cells.
Despite its presence in cannabis, this terpene isn't considered an illicit or dangerous substance; it's even recognized as a dietary supplement by the United States Food and Drug Administration. As research progresses we continue to learn more about how caryophyllene works with other chemical compounds in cannabis to benefit our bodies and minds.