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Caryophyllene: The Zombie Cannabinoid Clouding the Cannabis Landscape

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Beard Bros Pharms - Caryophyllene β-Caryophyllene – also known as Beta-Caryophyllene or more simply as Caryophyllene – is commonly recognized as the first known “dietary cannabinoid”. As a common component of food that has GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, and is approved by the FDA for food use, β-Caryophyllene is the primary sesquiterpene contributing to the spiciness of black pepper.

Caryophyllene is also found in natural abundance in cloves, hops, rosemary, and, of course, in cannabis. In fact, it is getting increasingly more difficult to find flowers on a dispensary menu that have something other than Caryophyllene in the dominant position on the terpene profile.

All of your favorite “Dessert” named strains – Gelato, Ice Cream Cake, Cookies, etc. – are heavy in Caryophyllene, using less abundant terps like Limonene, Myrcene, and others to create some semblance of ‘variety’ in genetics.

This wasn’t always the case.

California has always set the trends that the rest of the cannabis world follows, and since 2004 the Emerald Cup has been at the forefront of that influence gathering the state’s best buds each year for what has evolved into the world’s largest and most diverse cannabis competition.

As cannabis lab testing became more widely available and more widely trusted, the Emerald Cup partnered with SC Labs to provide analysis on all products entered into the annual competition. Not only did this ensure that Emerald Cup Judges were only consuming safe products, but it provided a trove of data on what those products contained.

Not only were cannabinoid levels like CBD and THC now readily available but eventually detailed terpene profiles were reported as well.

For many years, the data clearly showed that the majority of Emerald Cup flower entries were Myrcene-dominant. Lots of Kush and OG varieties in those days. This lined up perfectly with hundreds of thousands of cannabis flower lab tests that SC Labs was performing in the California marketplace.

In 2021, however, tastes changed. At least, what became available to taste changed and as it has for nearly two decades, the Emerald Cup reflected that.

Sorting through the data collected that year by SC Labs, it was discovered that Caryophyllene-dominant terp profiles made up 54% of all Flower entries in the 2021 Emerald Cup and, sure enough, the main Flower category winners that year were Gelonade, a cross of Lemon Tree and Gelato #41 (Caryophyllene dominant), Ice Cream Cake, a cross of Wedding Cake and Gelato (Caryophyllene dominant), and Gorilla Snacks, a GG #4 and Girl Scout Cookies cross (Caryophyllene dominant).

The Emerald Cup has several subcategories in the Flower division, and in the 2022 Emerald Cup, some of those subcategories had anywhere from 65-80% of their entries as Caryophyllene/Limonene dominant “Dessert” strains.

Sure enough, this year’s 1st Place winner for Sungrown Flower and Best in Show overall was Lemon Sponge Cake by Farmer and the Felon. This cultivar came in with 2.78% total terpenoids dominated by (you guessed it!) Caryophyllene and Limonene.

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One Terpene Dominates the Market…Why Does This Matter?

California and many other states with established regulated cannabis markets are experiencing a massive oversupply of mostly midgrade weed. This depresses values for the entire market making every harvest less and less lucrative for the farmers who bring the weed to the masses.

Like a Mobius Loop of Mids, too many farmers fall into the tail-eating trap of chasing market trends even as those trends wreck the value of their crops and homogenize the marketplace to the point where every shop and every menu offers the same old shit.

Beard Bros Pharms - Mobius Loop of Mids

Here in Cali, consumers cannot see the weed or smell the weed prior to purchase, so when they see a menu full of Cookies and Crashers and Cakes, all they have to go by in order to differentiate between it all is wacky branding and wackier THC totals.

That is not how you build a healthy and diverse marketplace full of enthused consumers.

It’s how you get what you’ve got now.

This problem is compounded immensely by the convoluted supply chains that regulated cannabis markets are typically burdened with. California, once again, serves as a prime example.

The insane amount of time that it takes for an 8th of weed to get from a farmer’s field to a consumer’s stash here in Cali all but guarantees that the flower that comes out of the jar or bag will hardly resemble its original form from when it was harvested, processed, and packaged.

Our big takeaway from looking at all of the data and results from the Emerald Cup and SC Labs is that the difference between some of the most popular strains of all time often comes down to incredibly nuanced variations in terpene profiles.

However, we know how volatile cannabis compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes are. We also know that environmental conditions like ambient temperature, exposure to light, or just being crushed at the bottom of a tote in the back of a Sprinter van stuck in traffic for hours on the 405 in L.A. can accelerate the degradation of a cultivar’s true full spectrum expression.

One study showed that after just one month of “standard storage”, cannabis samples had lost anywhere from 10-50% of their terpene content! Good luck finding dispensary weed that is less than a month old on its package date.

So, as these products move slowly up the cannabis supply chain and as their terpenes degrade, those terps found in lesser abundance vanish from the terpene profile completely. Meanwhile, super-dominant terps – like β-Caryophyllene in today’s markets – not only remain dominant but increase their dominance as other drop off. That’s a different strain than what the farmer harvested and even from what the lab tested.

Something to consider next time you grind up some frosty purple weed with a hype name that is all THC and Caryophyllene and fails to get your head right.

Nothing But Love for β-Caryophyllene

Don’t get it twisted… Caryophyllene is not only an essential component in some of our all-time favorite strains (Beard Bros Pharms Extreme Cream ring a bell?), but it has some fascinating therapeutic properties as well.

beta-caryophyllene terpene cannabis β-Caryophyllene was one of the first cannabis-derived compounds other than THC, CBD, and CBN shown to bind directly to endocannabinoid receptors. Caryophyllene is known to selectively bind to the CB2 receptor. Though the CB1 series of receptors is responsible for the psychoactive effects associated with certain cannabinoids such as THC, CB2 receptors are a therapeutic target for treatment of inflammation, pain, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, and more.

The bottom line here is that the beauty and the gift of the cannabis plant is in its variety. This variety allows the plant to do so many different things to meet the many different needs that people need help with. Each cultivar produces a unique and full spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and more, and all of those work better in harmony with one another.

Preserving that true and full spectrum should be the highest priority at all stops on the cannabis supply chain.

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