Beta-caryophyllene (BCP) is a sesquiterpene found in Copaiba, Melissa, Ylang Ylang, and Black Pepper essential oils. Previous research has shown that beta-caryophyllene is an agonist of the cannabinoid type 2 receptor (CB2 receptor), meaning that it activates the receptor just as an endogenous signal would. The CB2 receptor has a number of functions both inside and outside of the central nervous system. CB2 receptors are expressed in the hippocampus, which is heavily involved in learning and memory, as well as the ventral tegmental area, which is a major player in neural circuits of pleasure and reward. CB2 receptors are also expressed in immune cells and peripheral nervous system pathways involved in the sensation of pain. New research suggests that activation of the cannabinoid system may help to support neuron health.
In a new study by collaborating scientists from Mexico and Spain, a research model of neuron inactivation was designed to test this theory. In the model, dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra were exposed to 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), which activates microglia (nervous system immune cells) and inactivates dopaminergic neurons. The study found that exposure to caryophyllene before MPTP lessened the extent of nervous system inactivation, protected neurons, and reduced microglial activation.
To confirm that the mechanism of neuroprotection was indeed the activation of the CB2 receptor, the researchers replicated the experiment completely, except they added AM630, a CB2 antagonist, along with the beta-caryophyllene. They found that the previously observed neuroprotection and inhibition of glial activation were abolished when the CB2 antagonist was administered together with beta-caryophyllene.
These results clearly indicate that beta-caryophyllene can protect neurons via the cannabinoid pathway by activating the CB2 receptor. These results support a body of evidence suggesting that beta-caryophyllene and essential oils rich in beta-caryophyllene support a healthy nervous system. Further research by medical professionals will help us understand how to apply these findings in human healthcare.