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Caryophyllene: A Guide to This Terpene’s Effects, Benefits and Strains

If you’ve ever worked with cannabis, you’re probably familiar with the cannabinoids, the large family of compounds that includes THC, CBD, CBN, and others still. 

While we often like to describe cannabinoids as the major “active ingredients” in cannabis and hemp, they’re certainly not the only ones. There’s a group of aromatic compounds called terpenes that not only play a major role in determining the sensory experience associated with each cannabis strain, but impart some medically impactful effects of their own.

Today we’re going to dive into the story of the caryophyllene terpene, one of the “heavy hitters” of the cannabis world. Identifiable by its spicy, peppery aroma, this terpene may also play a role in helping relieve pain, tame stress and anxiety, and even help individuals reduce their dependence on alcohol.

If you’re ready to learn about this fascinating natural compound, you’re in the right place. Let’s begin our “guided tour” of caryophyllene terpene effects.

A Spicy, Warm, and Energizing Terpene

Cannabis is nothing if not a complex and multilayered plant. Thus far, researchers have identified roughly 150 cannabinoids, but that number pales next to the roster of terpenes. 

Not only are there over 400 terpenes found in cannabis, but they’re the largest and most diverse family of natural compounds found on Earth. And while the caryophyllene terpene isn’t the most abundant one found in cannabis—that honor goes to myrcene—it’s a critical player in the cannabis ecosystem, imparting potentially important therapeutic benefits on top of its characteristic and distinctive scent.

Speaking of which, that’s a great place to jump into the story of caryophyllene: What does it smell and taste like? Some cannabis fans describe the terpene as imparting “warming” or “energizing” notes: Think black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and oregano, all non-cannabis compounds that—not coincidentally—contain the caryophyllene terpene as well.

In a moment, we’ll dive into the topic of high-caryophyllene strains of cannabis. But for now, let’s take a moment to examine potential caryophyllene benefits and effects. 

Caryophyllene Terpene Effects: A “Hidden” Powerhouse?

Given the pace at which clinical research is unlocking the secrets of cannabis compounds, it’s no great surprise that terpenes elicit effects beyond their sensory and flavor contributions.

But that said, the caryophyllene terpene is unusual, both in terms of the number of potential effects it contributes as well as the range of impacts it may ultimately be associated with. Caryophyllene not only contributes specific therapeutic benefits but may also play a much larger role in the cannabis world, interfacing directly with the endocannabinoid system (ECS)—a vital regulatory network that helps control sleep, immune response, memory, and other essential processes—in much the same way that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD do.

This phenomenon has a name: The entourage effect (sometimes termed “the ensemble effect”). In brief, it’s a theory—first proposed by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the first researcher to identify the role of THC—that the many compounds in cannabis work together to deliver far more impactful and nuanced effects than they do on their own. Let’s look at a few caryophyllene effects in greater detail. 

Caryophyllene As an Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory

A number of studies point to the terpene’s anti-inflammatory abilities. The terpene’s analgesic effects may be behind the longstanding belief that high-caryophyllene strains such as the “GSC / Girl Scout Cookies” family are especially effective at taming persistent pain.

What’s behind that pain-fighting activity? One factor may be the way in which caryophyllene interacts with the ECS. While the ECS contains two types of cannabinoid receptors—CB1 and CB2—only CB1 cells are associated with the euphoric and intoxicating effects of THC. Like CBD, caryophyllene only interacts with CB2 receptors, which are associated with inflammatory and neuropathic pain responses.

The fact that both caryophyllene and CBD share a common target receptor may be more than a coincidence. In a paper published in 2011, Dr. Ethan Russo theorized that specific compounds interact for specific effects, such as the caryophyllene terpene interacting with CBD to help treat alcohol dependence, a topic we’ll explore in greater depth in just a moment.

Caryophyllene Effects: Potential for Supporting Mental Health

According to a 2001 study, many terpenes, if not most, interact with our bodies’ hormonal systems to influence our levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and other brain chemicals. That broadly corresponds with one study pointing to caryophyllene’s ability to fight off anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders. 

This finding is underscored by another animal-based study that suggests caryophyllene “exerted antioxidant and protective effects, which can be targeted to treat neurological diseases and disorders such as anxiety.”

Caryophyllene and Alcohol Dependence: Early Research

One experiment from 2014 suggested an unanticipated use for caryophyllene: Helping us reduce our dependency on alcohol. While the test subjects were mice rather than humans, it suggests an exciting new approach in the treatment of alcohol dependence, a condition that affects some 30 million Americans at any given time. Incidentally, this finding has since been corroborated by other animal-based studies, which suggests larger-scale human studies won’t be far behind.

High-Caryophyllene Strains of Cannabis

Now that you know a bit about potential caryophyllene effects, let’s turn to the all-important question of how to find it in cannabis. Fortunately, because it’s a relatively common and well-researched terpene, that’s not terribly difficult to do.

If you’ve ever detected a characteristically peppery note in a specific cannabis strain, there’s a good chance you’re already on the trail! Some better-known high-caryophyllene strains include:

  • Girl Scout Cookies / GSC
    Known for its pungent, sweet aroma and bold notes of spicy mint and lemon, GSC is one of the most famous strains in the world of cannabis. With a pronounced and fast-acting euphoric effect followed by waves of relaxation, it’s particularly beloved for its ability to tamp down chronic pain, and anxiety, along with the nausea and appetite loss associated with chemotherapy.
  • Wedding Cake
    This sweet and flavorful hybrid strain is known for delivering equal parts uplift and carefree relaxation. That earthy, peppery aroma is a sure sign that this strain includes a healthy proportion of—you guessed it—the caryophyllene terpene.
  • Gelato
    Especially noted for its sweet, fruity, and creamy flavor, this hybrid strain delivers a well-rounded relaxation that’s great for wiping out physical discomforts such as aches or pains. Paired with long-lasting, euphoric creativity and cerebral stimulation, it’s no wonder Gelato is a veritable superstar of the cannabis world.
  • Sour Diesel
    A fan favorite since the 1990s, “Sour D” aka “Sour Deez” has become a cannabis legend. Dreamy, cerebral, and energizing, this much-loved strain features a pungent and unforgettable flavor profile that reminds many of fuel oil, hence the name. Thanks to its uplifting effects, many choose it to help relieve symptoms associated with depression, pain, and stress.
  • Biscotti
    Another powerhouse of the medical cannabis world, this cookie-scented strain delivers potent effects that help knock down stubborn symptoms such as anxiety, stress, and depression. With a sweet, vanilla-kissed flavor balanced by a mysterious diesel undertone, it’s no wonder so many cannabis fans turn to this popular strain.
  • Gorilla Glue
    This strain is famous for its heavy-hitting potency. That said, if you’re careful with this high-THC hybrid strain, you’ll be treated to a pleasant wave of relaxation. Because of its somewhat sedative effects, many prefer to indulge in this strain after daylight hours.

Get High-Caryophyllene Strains at Your Local Vireo Dispensary

As you can see, terpenes play a major role when it comes to the overall effects of cannabis and how it interfaces with our bodies. In addition to defining each strain’s characteristic flavors and aromas, they impart important medical effects—both on their own and in conjunction with cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.

At Vireo Health, the quest to understand how cannabis can support our health and wellness drives all our decision-making. The next time you visit the Vireo dispensary closest to you, we can help guide you to strains that are rich in this multi-tasking terpene. Or browse our menus for convenient home delivery in the state of New York! We’re here to answer any and all of your questions, so reach out anytime.

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