In this article, we review the endocannabinoid system and the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), and Beta-caryophyllene (BCP).
The endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid (EC) system helps the body manage anxiety, inflammation, and other physiological responses to different forms of stress. During strenuous exercise, stress, and other related stimuli, the body produces compounds called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids (ECs) are signaling molecules that trigger the activation of the EC system when they are detected by cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors (CRs) not only detect the presence of ECs, but they are also affected by molecules from outside sources that chemically resemble endocannabinoids. The term cannabinoid refers to any compound, produced by the body or from an outside source, that triggers the EC system by activating CRs. Anandamide is an EC compound produced in the body. Anandamide activates two types of CRs, cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2).
A “runner’s high” is a perfect example of the EC system at work. After a long period of strenuous exercise, the body begins to produce anandamide in order to activate CRs and turn on the EC system. The “runner’s high” has two components: slight euphoria, and soothing of the discomfort in the muscles and joints. These two outcomes are linked with two distinct structures: the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and central nervous system, and are linked with pleasure and reward pathways. CB1 receptor activation leads to feelings of euphoria. CB2 receptors are found in the rest of the body, like the muscles, skin, and vital organs. They are mainly found on the surface of white blood cells, and their activation affects the regulation of inflammation chemicals called cytokines.
THC & CBD
THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. According to GC/MS analyses conducted by doTERRA’s analytical chemists, it is found in high concentrations in many brands of cannabis oil, and it can also be found in hemp and CBD oil in more than just trace amounts. THC is known to activate both CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is generally accepted as a potent drug with powerful psychoactive properties.
CBD, another compound found in high quantities in marijuana, CBD oil, and hemp oil, does in fact interact directly with CB1 and CB2, but the interaction is so weak as to be negligible.2 CBD actually exerts its effects on the EC system by a different mechanism than most cannabinoids.
Research shows that CBD acts on the enzyme FAAH, which breaks down anandamide. CBD actually slows down the enzyme’s activity, which leads to increased levels of anandamide in the body.1 The reason why this is significant is because anandamide interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors. Higher levels of anandamide would result in increased feelings of euphoria due to increased activation of CB1 receptors, as well as soothing of the tissues due to activation of CB2.
CBD, by increasing levels of anandamide, has similar pharmacological effects as THC in that it affects the same two cannabinoid receptors, however the magnitude of the effect is much smaller compared with THC. CBD is generally considered non-hallucinogenic.
Soothing the tissues without triggering any sort of psychoactive response can be accomplished by using a compound with selective interaction with the CB2 receptor. Beta-caryophyllene (BCP) is a sesquiterpene compound found in hundreds of different plant species, and it has recently been recognized for its unique ability to interact with CB2 but not CB1 receptors.3 Thus the alleged benefits of CBD or THC can be obtained without the psychoactive effects by using a product containing BCP. doTERRA’s new Copaiba essential oil has the highest BCP content of any oil, around 55% as confirmed by GC/MS analysis of doTERRA’s own Copaiba oil.
There is ample evidence pointing to the therapeutic benefits of oral supplementation of beta-caryophyllene, but like CBD and hemp oil, further research in the form of human clinical trials is required. More promising are the low doses at which some of these studies have been conducted. These dosages suggest that as little as 1-2 drops of Copaiba oil or 3-4 drops of Black Pepper oil may provide noticeable results in humans. At this time, the systemic soothing properties of beta-caryophyllene have potential benefit as treatment for a wide range of health issues.* Still unexplored are the effects of CB2 receptor activation on human diseases for which there are few experimental models—such as learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders—that many claim can benefit from using cannabis.
- To learn more about BCP, check out the article “Beta-Caryophyllene” in our Research News section.
To summarize, there are many ways to modulate the body’s cannabinoid system. Products containing CBD, THC, and BCP all affect the endocannabinoid system. We acknowledge that health care professionals may recommend different products containing different kinds of cannabinoid compounds for different health issues. However, at doTERRA we believe that BCP-containing products are the most effective for healthy individuals seeking a product that they can use for self-care.