Terpenes boost medicinal benefit and provide a way for cannabis consumers to get personalized medicine. True terpenes are the real deal.
In the ever-evolving world of the cannabis news cycle, the healing powers of cannabinoids are now old news. Scientists haven’t quite pegged down the exact number of known cannabinoids (is it 113, 60, or 70?), and we only have a small understanding of the primary ones, researchers are turning their attention to true terpenes. These are the terpenes that are present in aromatic plants, including cannabis.
If you haven’t heard of them yet, true terpenes are the compounds responsible for the varied and deliciously aromatic nature of cannabis. All that skunkiness, and the fruity, the sour diesel fumes, and more, stem directly from the unique combinations of terpenes found within each strain. Just like cannabinoids, terpenes are proving their therapeutic worth, including one of the most promising of the true terpenes: beta-caryophyllene.
What is Beta-caryophyllene?
As is the case with cannabinoids, the number of terpenes in cannabis vary depending on whom you ask. Most people place the number between 140 to 200. Beta-caryophyllene is one of the most predominant terpenes in cannabis.
Beta-caryophyllene adds the spicy to the palette of cannabis. It’s the same terpene that is present in black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. While all terpenes are experiencing a bit of a hay day, beta-caryophyllene, in particular, is gaining a lot of traction because it is the only known true terpene to interact with our endocannabinoid system. It’s also one of the most robust as it stands up to the heat of decarboxylation.
Medicinal Benefits of Beta-caryophyllene
As beta-caryophyllene interacts with CB receptors, it is the focus of intense study. Already researchers have uncovered its unique ability to communicate with the CB2 receptor, which is the one responsible for pain (acute, chronic inflammatory, and neuropathic), inflammation (neuroinflammatory, peripheral disorders), and neuroprotection.
The main focus of the research is its potential for effective pain management. Considering the many problems associated with the current pain treatment options, such as opioids, it not surprising that patients and researchers alike are exploring all alternatives. There is particular interest in natural, plant-derived, and non-psychoactive beta-caryophyllene.
In a 2008 study on mice — published in Communicative and Integrative Biology — researchers uncovered, for the first time, that beta-caryophyllene selectively binds to the CB2 receptor and acts as a full agonist. This means it locks into the receptor, like a hand in a glove, to activate it. The study found, that when mice received an oral solution of beta-caryophyllene, there was a potent anti-inflammatory effect. Mice bred to lack the CB2 receptor did not experience the same anti-inflammatory benefit from beta-caryophyllene exposure.
Recent research, published in the European Journal of Pain (2013) — saw aset of mice exposed to capsaicin-induced pain. When injected with beta-caryophyllene, the authors behind the study measured a substantial decrease in the level of pain response. Interestingly, the authors also found that a beta-caryophyllene injection boosted the pain reducing power of morphine. These results also support other research which has found cannabis compliments and improves opioids’ analgesia capabilities.
Understanding Synergy in Cannabis
Many cannabinoids in cannabis have benefits for pain and inflammation. For example, THC has proven itself to be a powerful and preferred method for combating chronic pain. Cannabidiol (CBD), THC’s non-intoxicating cousin, also has benefits for pain, but its mechanisms of action is less well understood. Researchers theorize its associated with CBD’s anti-inflammatory characteristics.
The cannabis plant contains more than one property capable of attenuating the experience of pain. And when you use whole plant medicine, these can work together to bring maximal medicinal benefit.
If you’ve not heard of the Entourage Effect before, its the understanding of how cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds in cannabis work together for a benefit that is greater than the individual parts. Instead of simply being the sum of its parts, different chemical compounds in cannabis work together for exponential improvement. The theory goes that, of the roughly 400 compounds, each has a unique relationship to the others. Some work to reduce the adverse side effects, others may boost the benefits.
Given more research, strains high in beta-caryophyllene could make an appropriate choice for patients with chronic and persistent pain. Certain strains have elevated concentrations of this pain-relieving terpene: Death star, Sour Bubble, and Candyland. As the research into the role of terpenes evolves, it is exciting to know aromatics will soon be a sought after medicine that we can use to treat specific conditions.