CB1 and CB2 are the major receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system. CB1 receptors are more common in the nervous system. CB2 receptors, which are activated by β-caryophyllene, are more common in other places, like the immune system.
CB2 receptors are found in immune tissues throughout the body and are increased in the brain in disease or following injury. Their activation reduces inflammation, which lessens pain and reduces the damaging consequences that chronic inflammation has on brain function and risk for developing brain diseases.
Research on β-caryophyllene is somewhat limited. On one hand, it’s tempting to generalize the therapeutic benefits of β-caryophyllene based on the effects of other compounds that activate CB2 receptors. After all, CB2 receptor activation by other compounds can play an important role in reducing pain, preventing seizures, and even decreasing plaque buildup in the arteries.
But not all activators of CB2 receptors have the same effect. Differences in the specific way that β-caryophyllene activates CB2 receptors can lead to differences in the strength of therapeutic effects.
The data suggest that, in many cases, β-caryophyllene can provide pain relief. In one study, scientists injected mice with β-caryophyllene and found that they experienced less pain than those treated with the control solution. Furthermore, β-caryophyllene enhanced the pain-reducing strength of low-dose morphine.
This could be one reason why those using prescription opioids from pain are often able to decrease their dose of opioids when they begin using medical cannabis.
Inflammation and Brain Aging
There are numerous inflammatory diseases that affect the digestive tract. Colitis is one such disease where inflammation of the intestines causes pain, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and even increases risk for cancer. In mice that were experimentally given colitis, treatment with β-caryophyllene helped by decreasing inflammation in the colon.
The activation of CB2 receptors by β-caryophyllene certainly plays a role in its anti-pain effects, but it also contributes to its ability to protect the body and brain from disease. For instance, brain inflammation plays a substantial role in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, β-caryophyllene activated CB2 and PPAR-γ receptors and reduced hallmark features of Alzheimer’s such as the accumulation of brain plaques. These actions also protect against the cognitive decline that characterizes this model of disease.
Excerpts published: Elysse Feigenblatt/Leafly