Many of you have heard about CBD Oil – it’s had a lot of publicity lately. We’re going to take a brief look at what it is and why it’s become so popular, and then delve into some chemistry and some biology which will help us find other plants and essential oils that may be at least as effective as CBD oil.
What is CBD? Cannabidiol – aka CBD – is a chemical constituent (or compound) that is found in hemp and cannabis plants. Because it comes from plants, it’s known as a phytochemical. CBD is different from THC in that it doesn’t have a mind-altering effect on the brain. So why has it gained so much popularity in recent years?
The answer is both simple and complex. The simple explanation is that CBD works in and with our bodies to reduce inflammation, pain, seizures, and anxiety, and may be able to benefit those with certain chemical imbalances in the brain, help combat certain types of cancer, help with withdrawal from certain addictive substances, and help treat Type 1 diabetes. Reducing inflammation is a key factor in all of these conditions, and reducing inflammation is a key factor in helping our bodies return to homeostasis. So why isn’t everyone using CBD oil if it does all that?
There are legality issues worldwide with the use of CBD oil because it comes from the cannabis genus of plants. In the U.S., the federal government legalized products which come from industrialized hemp, but that’s not the final word on the matter. Each of the 50 states has to determine the legal status individually. In some states, CBD is only legal with a prescription in the case of severe epilepsy. In many states, it’s legal for everyone without a prescription as long as the THC content is below a certain level (0.3%).
Here’s the catch, there may be a small amount of THC in a batch of CBD oil, and at this time, independent testing of each batch is not widespread. So, there could be a risk of possibly having positive results for those who are required to take drug tests (and I am acquainted with some people who have had that happen). I have not personally tried CBD oil because Texas is one of the states where it’s legal only for those with severe epilepsy. If CBD oil becomes legal for everyone in Texas, I would like to try it topically – under certain conditions. The primary condition I would insist on is that I receive a GC/MS report from an agency that’s independent from the producing company so I know that what I’m getting is pure CBD oil (with no THC and no adulterants).
Well, that’s a lot of information on CBD oil, but this blog is supposed to be about something called Beta-caryophyllene (β-caryophyllene) and alpha-humulene (α-humulene). What are these, and how do they fit into the CBD picture?
β-caryophyllene is a natural phytochemical and phytocannabinoid that works in our bodies similarly to CBD oil, and α-humulene (another phytochemical) compliments, and has a synergistic effect with, β-caryophyllene. The good news is that these two natural chemicals are available and legal worldwide! So, let’s take a look at what these chemicals are, how they work in, and with, our bodies, and where we can find them in nature. This is where chemistry and biology come into play. We’ll look at the biology first.
Human beings (and all mammals) have what is called an endocannabinoid (EC) system in our bodies. This system helps control our appetites, mood, memory, sensitivity to pain, immune system, and inflammation. It is comprised of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors that will only allow cannabinoid molecules to attach to/activate them. The term endocannabinoid refers to the fact that our bodies produce their own cannabinoids. These endocannabinoids are fats produced by our bodies which help regulate all the information firing through the synapses of our brain cells. (Imagine millions of bytes of information being processed every second and you can see why we need an automatic filter.) The metabolic enzymes that are part of the EC system are proteins designed to maintain functioning cells, break down cells that are used up/not needed, and create new cells. Once the endocannabinoids have finished their job, the enzymes break them down. Receptors are proteins that get the messages being passed through the blood and then tell the cell what to do. There are two primary types of EC receptors, called CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors affect the brain and central nervous system. THC molecules activate CB1 receptors and in so doing have an impact on pain and cause a person to get “high’. CB2 receptors are found in neurones (cells that transmit nerve impulses) and immune cells – specifically in T-cells, B-cells, and hematopoietic stem cells (cells that create red and white blood cells). In other words, CB2 receptors work with our immune system – most prominently with controlling inflammation. When the EC system is working properly, our bodies should be reasonably healthy with minimal inflammation. Sometimes, our EC system has glitches occurring – you already know many factors that may cause problems: poor diet, excess stress, lack of sleep, smoking, too much alcohol, etc. In these cases, we may experience widespread or chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation can lead to a host of physical illnesses including skin conditions, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and many more.
In order to help reduce this chronic inflammation, in addition to making healthier lifestyle choices, we can learn about (and, with proper guidance, start using) foods, herbs, spices, and oils (both carrier and essential) to support our EC system. So, how can foods, herbs, spices, and oils help support our EC system? To answer this question, we need to learn some chemistry.
There are certain plant chemicals that can interact with our EC system. For example, THC interacts with CB1 receptors and CBD interacts with CB2 receptors.
β-caryophyllene (BCP) is a chemical found in certain plants that can attach to the CB2 receptors in our bodies and activate those receptors to reduce inflammation. Chemically, BCP is classified as a sesquiterpene and is also considered a phytocannabinoid (because only cannabinoids can attach to our CB cells). Research and studies over the past 30 years have focused on understanding how BCP works in our bodies and on proving a variety of its therapeutic properties, including reduction of inflammation and pain, antioxidant and chemopreventive activity, neuroprotective effects, and effects on neurochemistry (i.e. depression, anxiety, and chemical imbalance disorders). So far, results indicate that β-caryophyllene is at least as effective as CBD – and you can find BCP in herbs and spices that you buy in the grocery store and in certain essential oils you use topically!!! Black Pepper, Rosemary, cloves, Star Anise (from China), Tulsi Basil, and hops all contain BCP, as do Balsam Copaiba, Black Pepper, Hemp, Hops, Tulsi Basil, and Helichrysum bracteiferum essential oils. Who knew that reducing inflammation could taste (and smell) so good?
BCP by itself is great, but it has a ‘cousin’ chemical that it works with synergistically -
α-humulene. Alpha-humulene is also a sesquiterpene and is an isomer of
β-caryophyllene. That means it has the same chemical formula as β-caryophyllene, but its structure is different. This structural difference is responsible for both chemicals having similar therapeutic properties, but different mechanisms of action.
β-caryophyllene is a cannabinoid, but α-humulene is not. These two chemicals work together like salt and pepper – they enhance each other’s efficacy. Let’s explore
α-humulene and the synergy between these two phytochemicals.
Alpha-humulene is the renamed alpha-caryophyllene. A multitude of scientific studies have proven that its therapeutic properties include reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and suppressing appetite. It has also been shown to have antioxidant and antitumoral effects – which are enhanced when combined with β-caryophyllene. Just as with BCP, α-humulene can be found in several herbs, spices, and essential oils. Ginger, sage, clove, basil, black pepper, oregano, rosemary, hops, ginseng, and cinnamon can flavor our food or make delicious teas with great anti-inflammatory, and in many cases, antibacterial/antiviral benefits for us. Of the essential oils, hops and hemp tend to have high levels of α-humulene, while smaller amounts are found in oils like black pepper, Helichrysum bracteiferum, Tulsi Basil, and Balsam Copaiba.
Together, these two phytochemicals make powerful allies against the prime culprit of many health issues – inflammation; and together, they can help us work towards homeostasis.
All this may sound too good to be true – not quite. This is not a magic cure, and none of these chemicals will be a panacea for everything that ails us. We need to take proper care of ourselves – you know, the whole diet and exercise thing – to get best results, but adding a moderate amount of β-caryophyllene and α-humulene into our diets, or using them topically may help.
(Note: Therapeutic properties of these chemical constituents are generalized here. For more detailed information on individual chemical constituents, watch for the membership section to open – I’ll have detailed reviews on phytochemicals which have proven benefits. )
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