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A Chemical in Cannabis and Rosemary Can Reduce Food Cravings

β-caryophyllene reduces cravings for highly tasty foods.

Key points

  • The endocannabinoid system of neurotransmitters increases the pleasure of eating when one is very hungry and decreases it when one is sated.
  • The normal function of these neurotransmitters can be dysregulated by long-term binge eating of highly palatable and caloric foods.
  • The cannabinoid β-caryophyllene reduces the reinforcing and motivational properties of highly palatable food and thus controls binge eating.

Our brains evolved three different neurotransmitter systems that flood us with ecstatic joy whenever we consume high-calorie palatable food, usually as some combination of fat, salt, and sugar. These three neurotransmitter systems include dopamine, endorphins (a large family of endogenous opiate-like chemicals), and endocannabinoids (an endogenous family of eight marijuana-like chemicals). The more palatable and enjoyable a particular food is to eat, the greater the hedonic pleasure it induces.

The normal function of these neurotransmitters can be dysregulated by long-term binge eating of highly palatable, highly caloric foods. After many years of binge eating, the normal homeostatic control of feeding, and control of body weight, can be lost due to mechanisms that are now known to also underlie drug addiction.

The role of the endocannabinoid system in eating

In general, how much we eat every day is regulated by a complex interplay between information originating in the body about how much energy is stored and the interaction of these brain reward circuits. The endocannabinoid system plays a fascinating dual role; it regulates our food intake by providing joy to the eating experience, as well as controlling our energy balance at the level of the mitochondria.

Essentially, the role of the endocannabinoid system is to fine-tune the degree of pleasure that we derive from eating a specific food according to how badly the body needs to consume those calories. Endocannabinoids increase our experience of pleasure when we are very hungry and decrease the pleasure of eating when we are sated.

Endocannabinoid receptors exist in at least two types. Type 1 can produce euphoria while Type 2 does not. The Type 2 receptors have been localized to brain areas that mediate appetite. Drugs that stimulate the cannabinoid Type 2 receptors reduce food intake and improve body weight in diet-induced obese mice.

The benefits of β-caryophyllene

A recent study investigated the benefits of β-caryophyllene (BCP), a plant-derived terpenoid (a class of chemicals that includes THC, the psychoactive agent found in cannabis) that is found in different essential oil plants, including rosemary, black pepper, copaiba, and cannabis. BCP is a selective stimulator of Type 2 cannabinoid receptors.

A recent study determined whether systemic BCP administration could reduce the motivational and reinforcing properties of highly palatable food in a group of fasting female mice. Females were the focus of this study because, in humans, the prevalence of eating disorders is higher in females than in males. Additionally, females are more likely to have binge eating behavior than males.

The results of a recent study demonstrated daily treatment with BCP reduced both the reinforcing and motivational properties of highly palatable food. Thus, selectively stimulating this Type 2 endocannabinoid receptor reduced the influence of hunger and satiety when deciding to avoid highly rewarding foods. This drug may hold great promise for helping people to reduce their cravings for highly tasty palatable foods.


Wenk GL (2019) Your Brain on Food. How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press.

Dos Santos Barbosa LA (2023) β-caryophyllene, a cannabinoid receptor 2 agonist, decreases the motivational salience and conditioning place preference for palatable food in female mice. Addiction Biology.

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