β-caryophyllene is present in the essential oils of various plants including rosemary, hops, black pepper and cannabis. Like most terpenes, beta-caryophyllene contributes to the unique aroma associated with plant oils.
But in 2008, German researchers discovered that beta-caryophyllene also acts as a cannabinoid by binding to marijuana pathways in the body.
Although some compounds like THC activate both cannabinoid pathways — CB1 and CB2 receptors — beta-caryophyllene specifically targets the CB2 receptor, which does not produce a high.
“The results also support the involvement of the CB2 receptor”Interestingly, a new study conducted with mice suggests that beta-caryophyllene may be useful in treating anxiety and depression. The findings were published online in the journal Physiology & Behavior.
“The present study has clearly demonstrated the anxiolytic and anti-depressant effect of β-caryophyllene and its underlying mechanism in a CB2 receptor-dependent manner in rodents,” wrote the authors, a team of scientists with the United Arab Emirates University.
“The results also support the involvement of the CB2 receptor in the regulation of emotional behavior and suggest that this receptor could be a relevant therapeutic target for the treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders.”
Previous studies have also demonstrated a role of CB2 receptors in reducing anxiety and depression, the team adds.
On the other hand, CB1 receptors, which are more widely dispersed in the brain, are known to exert a ‘biphasic’ effect when it comes to anxiety and depression. Studies show cannabinoids that target CB1 receptors can help at low doses, while high doses seem to make things worse.
A better understanding of beta-caryophyllene’s properties, however, may help explain why cannabis users often cite relief of anxiety and depression as reasons for their use.
According to a 2013 report in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, “epidemiological studies have indicated that the most common self-reported reason for using cannabis is rooted in its ability to reduce feelings of stress, tension, and anxiety.”