Terpene Harvest: Wintersweet and Beta-Caryophyllene

Welcome to the third article in Gofire’s Terpene Harvest series. This collection of educational content explores the science and biochemistry of 18 terpenes, with a unique focus on the plants in nature that manufacture these highly medicinal and fragrant aromatic molecular compounds.  

January Harvest: Wintersweet

Wintersweet, also known by the scientific name chimonanthus praecox, is an ornamental plant native to China, where it has been cultivated for more than 1,000 years. In Japan, this plant is known as Japanese allspice. Although technically a shrub, this deciduous flowering plant sometimes achieves heights of 15 feet (five meters).  

During the warm season, when most plants are in bloom, wintersweet plays the role of the shy introvert, displaying only green foliage of no special merit. In winter, however, this green is disrupted by the emergence of waxy yellow flowers that emit a lemony fragrance with heavy hints of spice. In the United States, this plant thrives mostly in southern regions.    

Wintersweet is noted as much for its unusual winter bloom cycle as for its intense and attractive aroma. According to Portland Nursery, “Chimonanthus spends most of the year unnoticed, but [in] January, it lets loose a barrage of flowers that are delicate in appearance but [that] arguably carry the best scent of any flower, anywhere.”  

Like other plants featured in this series, Wintersweet shares a terpene with hemp. In this particular case, it is the volatile chemical compound beta-caryophyllene (BCP). In fact, the peppery aspect of this fragrant plant is provided by BCP, which is also present in black pepper.  

January Terpene: Beta-Caryophyllene

beta-caryophyllene (or BCP) terpene chemical compoundA variety of plants, including basil, black caraway, cinnamon, clove, copaiba, hops, lavender, oregano, and rosemary produce the aromatic terpene beta-caryophyllene. This special molecule is often employed as a flavor additive by the food industry. 

First discovered in 1964 by Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam, this major (or primary) terpene is unique because it has been categorized by scientists as both a terpene and a cannabinoid. In 2008, a group of German scientists from the Department of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, published a study that found BCP to display properties and participate in biophysical mechanisms that indicated it is a cannabinoid. 

The researchers found that BCP binds with CB2 receptors present in every organ and gland of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS)—similar to the behavior of a cannabinoid such as cannabidiol (CBD). According to SC Labs, a leading testing laboratory based in Santa Cruz, California, BCP is the “only terpene known to interact with the human ECS.”

The study’s researchers concluded that “[hemp] essential oil may contain CB2 receptor-active compounds other than classical cannabinoids and that these ligands may also commonly occur in other plant species.”

Beta-caryophyllene produces an aroma that is reminiscent of spice. This terpene features a boiling point of 266° F (130° C), of note to those who engage in the vaporization of plant-based terpenes. Medical-grade vaporizers and inhalers that feature manual temperature adjustment allow users to accurately define the vape temperature of their herbs, driven by the boiling points of the terpenes and cannabinoids most desired in terms of their bioavailability.     

Wellness Efficacy

The primary medicinal efficacies of BCP are anti-cancer, reduced inflammation, and analgesia (pain relief). When dosed correctly by licensed caregivers, BCP can also induce sleep, helpful for those suffering from insomnia, anxiety, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition, BCP has demonstrated antifungal and antimicrobial properties.

Reductions in inflammation have been shown to be helpful for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including arthritis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, fibromyalgia, bursitis, eczema, and psoriasis. BCP may also act as an effective antidepressant.

Beta-caryophyllene Research Studies

A range of research studies spanning dozens of years has revealed the sometimes powerful potential wellness benefits of the terpene BCP. 

A 2018 study entitled “β-caryophyllene Protects Against Alcoholic Steatohepatitis by Attenuating Inflammation and Metabolic Dysregulation” that was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology investigated the ability of BCP to act as an effective treatment for liver disease and related ailments. 

The study’s authors found that treatment with BCP “alleviated…chronic and binge alcohol-induced liver injury and inflammation.” The research supported the 2008 research from the University of Bonn by revealing that the ability of BCP to deliver “protective effects” against liver injury was “attenuated in CB2 receptor knockout mice, indicating that the beneficial effects of this natural product in liver injury involve activation of [CB2] receptors.” The study concluded that BCP features an acceptable safety profile in humans and, thus, features “a high translational potential in treating or preventing hepatic injury associated with oxidative stress, inflammation, and steatosis.”

A 2016 study entitled “β‐caryophyllene and β‐caryophyllene Oxide—Natural Compounds of Anticancer and Analgesic Properties” that was published in the journal Cancer Medicine explored the ability of BCP to act as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of cancer, with a special focus on its ability to manage pain. 

The study reported that both BCP and beta-caryophyllene oxide (BCPO) “possess significant anticancer activities, affecting growth and proliferation of numerous cancer cells.” The research noted that additional studies are necessary to properly understand the underlying mechanisms by which terpenes such as BCP achieve their seemingly striking medicinal efficacy. 

The researchers found both BCP and its analog sibling BCPO to have significant anti-cancer efficacy and that BCP also offers pain relief. “BCP has the ability to reduce pain without causing psychoactive side effects as other CB1 agonists do, which makes it particularly valuable in chronic pain treatment.”    

A 2014 study entitled “The Cannabinoid CB2 Receptor-selective Phytocannabinoid Beta-caryophyllene Exerts Analgesic Effects in Mouse Models of Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain” that was published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology investigated the ability of BCP to treat pain. 

The study found that “orally administered BCP reduced inflammatory pain responses…in a CB2 receptor-dependent manner.” The research found that BCP inhibits neuropathic pain through the activation of CB2 receptors in the ECS. The study also revealed a complete “absence of psychoactive effects” following BCP treatment. 

A 2008 study entitled “Beta-caryophyllene is a Dietary Cannabinoid” that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America explored the ability of BCP to aid in pain management and to reduce systemic inflammation. 

Reported the study’s authors, “BCP at 5 mg/kg strongly reduces the carrageenan-induced inflammatory response in wild-type mice, but not in mice lacking CB2 receptors, providing evidence that this natural product exerts cannabimimetic effects” in living creatures that feature an ECS. 

About the Author

Curt Robbins is a technical writer, instructional designer, and lecturer who has been developing science-based educational and training content for Fortune 200 enterprises for more than 30 years. His clients have included Federal Express, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Northrop Grumman, National City Bank, Strainprint Technologies Ltd., the J.M. Smucker Company, and USAA. 

Robbins has developed more than 600 educational articles regarding hemp and its various health components, including terpenes, cannabinoids, and the human endocannabinoid system. He currently serves as Director of Curriculum Development for Higher Learning LV™ based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Robbins can be found on Twitter at @RobbinsGroupLLC and via email at [email protected].  

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