What is beta-caryophyllene (BCP)?

Posted by Christian on 9th Aug 2021

The cannabis plant is anything but simple. With some strains thought to contain more than 400 individual compounds in all, these are then split up into various classifications. 

There are cannabinoids, which cover cannabidiol (CBD), delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other compounds that are essentially unique to marijuana, such as cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN). There are also flavonoids, which are present in various fruits and vegetables and have antoxidant effects. And then there are terpenes, of which beta-caryophyllene (BCP) is one: these are beneficial compounds found in all kinds of plants, including hemp and mariuana. 

BCP is not just a regular terpene, but perhaps the most powerful of all. Non-intoxicating and compared to CBD by many, BCP stands above other terpenes such as beta-pinene, limonene, humulene and myrcene. BCP possesses anti-inflammatory properties, and may also improve mental wellbeing, boasting anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. In addition to cannabis and hemp, the terpene pops up in black pepper, basil, copaiba, oregano, lavender, clove, rosemary and more. It features often in essential oils and bath oils, as a wonderful, natural health booster.  

This post will discuss: 

  • The physical health benefits of BCP

  • The mental health benefits of BCP  

  • How BCP complements CBD 

  • Cannabis strains with a high BCP content 

  • Why natural cannabis and hemp extracts are preferable to synthetics

If you have only ever paid attention to the cannabinoid content in strains, this article will open your eyes to the value of terpenes, too! 

Understanding how CBD interacts with BCP 

In the vast majority of hemp and marijuana strains, there will be some interaction between CBD and BCP. Hemp contains large quantities of CBD, whereas cannabis tends to have lower levels of CBD, and increased amounts of THC. Whatever the strain, if it has a spicy scent to it, the chances are it contains a healthy concentration of BCP. 

You can find BCP online and offline, legally. Hemp-based, full-spectrum CBD extracts also contain rich amounts of BCP. These naturally contain terpenes, unlike CBD-isolate products. Some CBD manufacturers use isolate extracts and add terpene essential oils in afterwards. Brands will sometimes take this opportunity to add in BCP, as an elevation terpene to enhance a product’s therapeutic value. 

Some say that BCP essentially mimics the effects of CBD - but this is an oversimplification. It’s true that both compounds have influence over the CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which manage inflammation. However, BCP’s impact has more in common with THC’s than CBD’s. 

BCP reduces inflammation by binding to CB2 receptors as an agonist. This has a direct anti-inflammatory (or immunomodulatory) effect. But CBD is a CB2 receptor antagonist - its therapeutic effect on these receptors comes from regulating endocannabinoid levels. These naturally-produced compounds are able to bind with CB2 receptors to modulate inflammation. The differences of CBD and BCP on CB2 receptors all comes down to the chemical structure of each molecule. 

What is BCP good for? 

We've talked about how BCP is an effective anti-inflammatory alternative. And we’ll delve deeper into the conditions BCP-infused CBD products are good for in this section. But let’s also turn our attention to the potential analgesic, anxiolytic and antidepressant benefits of the terpene. 

BCP for anxiety 

In 2014, the scientific journal Physiology and Behavior published a paper showing how BCP could be used to alleviate anxiety and depression in mice, using the CB2 receptor mechanism. This is somewhat unexpected, since the CB2 receptor is associated with inflammation, and not anxiety, which is largely considered to be regulated by GABA neurotransmitters and the serotonin system. 

However, this raises the possibility that inflammation to certain areas of the brain contributes to increased anxiogenic behavior. Treating anxiety, therefore, may require healing the brain physically, as well as chemically. It’s feasible that BCP and CBD have a role to play here.  

BCP for depression 

The beneficial effect of this compound for depression is a curious one, particularly as it is exerted at the CB2 receptor. A growing train of thought among neurological researchers is that depression may be exacerbated by inflammation. Indeed, research on CBD has repeatedly demonstrated how, as an anti-inflammatory, CBD works to ease depressive symptoms for as long as a week, from a single dose. Since we know that BCP regulates inflammation, it’s not a huge stretch to say this is how it produces an antidepressant effect. That said, further tests, involving neuroimaging, will help us to learn more

Another study, featured in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2019, showed how BCP could reduce “depressive-like behavior” in diabetic mice. Rodents are popular for testing experimental drugs because our own brains have much in common with them. Some of the ground-breaking CBD studies on depression and mental disorders have been conducted on rodents. 

BCP for inflammation and the digestive tract

BCP is sometimes referred to as a dietary cannabinoid. As a CB2 receptor agonist, we have already discussed how the terpene can be used to reduce inflammation. This mechanism may also be key to improving functioning in the digestive tract. Research has shown how CB2 receptor agonists, such as endocannabinoids, THC and BCP are effective at preventing experimental colitis, by easing inflammation. Advocates of the gut-brain connection via the vagus nerve may also argue that a healthy digestive tract is vital to improving mental health. If so, CBD and BCP products may be useful here. 

BCP for pain

THC is a powerful analgesic and CBD also boasts some intriguing painkilling effects. The value of non-intoxicating, CBD-rich hemp products may be boosted further in strains that have plenty of BCP. Studies show that the terpene is effective at relieving pain, once again by acting at the CB2 receptor. Given the double up of analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, this may make a BCP and CBD combination great at tackling both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

BCP for Parkinson’s disease 

A 2014 study in the Swiss journal Pharmaceuticals brought to light the compound’s intriguing neuroprotective effects. The study focussed on how the terpene may have medicinal value for Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder. The study showed how taking BCP helped to limit the loss of dopaminergic neurons which typifies the condition. BCP also reduced the spread of inflammatory cytokines in the brain. 

The investigation was conducted on a murine (rodent) model, and appears to be the first of its kind. However, it provides food for thought for those studying Parkinson’s, with BCP being a non-intoxicating terpenes that could be combined with other safe, natural compounds like CBD as a neuroprotective medicine. 

We need more research

We should note these are preliminary findings. There is little - if any - clinical evidence to support BCP. However, while researchers may only have been studying BCP in small trials, the effects are intriguing. Furthermore, since BCP’s effects are administered in the ECS, this is clearly an area of science that has not been explored extensively. ECS science has only progressed since the 1990s, which was when the system was discovered. Researchers have made huge disoveries about CBD and THC in the past 30 years. With more funding, the same could perhaps happen with BCP. We simply need more studies to know for sure. If anything is true, it's that there is still much we don't know about the human body.

Strains with high levels of BCP

CBD users who want to benefit from BCP should stick with CBD-rich hemp flower, or a product that has been explicitly made with a full-spectrum extract, or a CBD-isolate and terpene mix. In this section, we will focus on strains of marijuana that have rich levels of BCP.

OG Kush

This is a famous strain of weed that comes from Florida, with its roots in the age-old Hindu Kush plants from Asia. OG Kush has increasingly been used to make several other strains which carry the OG name, such as Tahoe OG. An indica-dominant strain with a woody and earthy taste, OG Kush is great for leaving you feeling happy and relaxed. Commonly used to remedy stress, depression and pain, it’s likely that the increased quantities of BCP provide a nice beneficial effect here.  

White Widow

A top-selling hybrid strain that originated in the Netherlands, White Widow is a strain comprised from an Indian indica and a Brazilian sativa. The strain has been used to help cultivate several other modern-day favorites, including White Russian and Blue Widow. But many still prefer the classic hybrid that is White Widow. 

This strain is woody and flowery in its taste, and just as with OG Kush, promotes a feeling of happiness and relaxation. Ease pain, manage depression, boost mood and alleviate stress with White Widow. It’s also great for busting fatigue. If this BCP-rich strain has any drawbacks, it’s that it may cause dry mouth and dry eyes.

Super Silver Haze 

This is an award-winning sativa strain that managed a three-peat at the High Times Cannabis Cup from 1997 to 1999. Super Silver Haze’s genetics help to pump up your energy levels, leaving you feeling physically and mentally refreshed. Stressed out or demotivated? A few tokes on Super Silver Haze will soon have you feeling great again.

Super Silver Haze has an eclectic mixture of earthy, sweet and citrusy flavors. With BCP a utility terpene in this strain, we can surely attribute the compound to providing those earthy tastes. 

Death Star

This strain has a slightly scary name but it’s nothing to be afraid of! This indica-dominant strain is made with a delightful combo of Sour Diesel and Sensi Star. This is a really potent strain. While many users report the effects as slow to hit, once they do, you sure know about it. Death Star has a diesel-like flavor from, of course, the Sour Diesel, but it’s the earthiness that overpowers all, thanks to the BCP packing a serious punch.

Try Death Star if you want deep relaxation after a long day at work, if you want a great night’s sleep, or to put yourself in a good mood when chilling either alone or with friends. 

BCP shows why natural cannabis extracts beat synthetics 

There is a raging debate in the cannabis industry about whether natural or synthetic extracts work best. Synthetic advocates suggest that we know which cannabinoids are needed, and that we can simply use these to make medicinal cannabinoid oils. But this ignores the potential benefits of other compounds in cannabis, that haven’t been studied much, but do appear to have benefits. Just a glance at the smattering of studies on BCP shows it has potential.

You may not see BCP at pharmacies as a medicine, but it’s a fantastic supplement. If you want to enjoy its benefits, get hold of one of the aforementioned marijuana strains, or pick up a full-spectrum CBD product today.