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Brain-Beneficial Cannabinoids Are Sitting in Your Spice Rack

Dietary cannabinoids are being developed into therapies for many CNS disorders.

Key points

  • Some spices contain a compound called β-caryophyllene that contributes to their aroma and taste.
  • BCP is also a major component in the Cannabis sativa plant that is an agonist of the endogenous cannabinoid receptor, CB2.
  • BCP offers many other health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and analgesic effects.
  • BCP prevented the self-administration of many different highly rewarding drugs and might be effective therapeutic to reduce drug craving.

You might want to add some additional dashes of cloves, oregano, cinnamon, hops, basil, or rosemary to your next casserole. These spices all contain a compound called β-caryophyllene (BCP) that contributes to their aroma and taste. BCP is what produces the bit of pungency associated with the smell of freshly cracked pepper. Thanks to its distinctive flavor and excellent safety profile, BCP was approved by the FDA as a “generally recognized as safe” food or cosmetic additive (CFR-Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, 2020). BCP is also a major component in the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis strains with high levels of BCP tend to be spicy and musky and carry prominent notes of diesel fuel.

BCP was first synthesized in 1964. Many years later, as knowledge about the brain’s endogenous cannabinoid system advanced, it was identified as a selective activator of CB2 receptors. The brain’s endocannabinoid system consists of two cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. The brain’s CB1 receptors are primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of the cannabis plant. BCP has almost no effect on this receptor. Thus, you would have to consume about 60 jars of rosemary in order to produce a modest degree of euphoria. However, BCP offers many other health benefits. For example, recent studies have shown that BCP exhibits anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and analgesic effects. BCP has also been found effective against the oxidative and inflammatory consequences of cerebral ischemic injury.

Recent studies have also focused on the ability of BCP to treat substance-abuse disorders. The rationale is that because CB2 receptors are found in brain regions that are related to drug abuse and addiction, BCP treatment might reduce craving. BCP was investigated using a variety of behavioral paradigms, including drug self-administration. Animals were given the chance to self-administer cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, or methamphetamine. The studies discovered that, remarkably, BCP prevented the self-administration of these highly rewarding drugs. Additional studies confirmed that this effect was mostly, but not entirely, due to the action of BCP on the CB2 receptor.

Another recent study compared the analgesic potential of CBD and BCP administered either individually or in combination. Both compounds produced a modest dose-dependent reduction in pain sensitivity. When co-administered together, CBD and BCP produced synergistic and dose-dependent reductions in pain responses in both males and females. Interestingly, the antinociceptive effects of both individual and combined treatment were generally less robust in females than males. Together, these results suggest that co-administration of CBD and BCP may offer a safe and effective treatment for the management of chronic pain.

These very promising results require additional studies in humans to establish its therapeutic potential as a new pharmacotherapy for chronic pain and drug abuse disorders.


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

Asth L et al., (2023) Effects of beta-caryophyllene, a dietary cannabinoid, in animal models of drug addiction. Current Neuropharmacology, 21:213-218

Eeswara A et al., (2023) Combined non-psychoactive Cannabis components cannabidiol and β-caryophyllene reduce chronic pain via CB1 interaction in a rat spinal cord injury model. Plos One,

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