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Humulene and its Therapeutic Potential, According to Science
It’s not just you and your nose – opening a bottle of beer and a bag of cannabis does feel very similar scent-wise quite often. And the reason for that is humulene, a popular terpene that’s the common denominator between many cannabis strains and hops, and respectively beer. Humulene is one of the main culprits behind the distinctive blend of earthy, bitter, herbal, and floral notes that marks the aroma of those two ubiquitously celebrated sources of joy. It’s no wonder that the two make for such a power couple.
In fact, hops and cannabis both belong to the taxonomic family of Cannabaceae.
Besides hops, humulene is also found in sage, black pepper, ginseng, coriander, and more.
Cannabis connoiseurs may have noticed that humulene often goes hand in hand with caryophyllene in cannabis strains. This is no coincidence – humulene is actually an isomer of caryophyllene, a.k.a. beta-caryophyllene, meaning they share the same formula (C15H24), but arranged in a different structure. That’s why humulene is also referred to as alpha-caryophyllene, in addition to alpha-humulene.
In fact, the two terpenes often appear together in scientific studies that explore their therapeutic effects. On that note, let’s see what the science has to say about humulene’s properties in particular.
Humulene, working in concert with trans-caryophyllene within the essential oil of Cordia verbenacea, has shown strong relieving and inhibitory properties “in different inflammatory experimental models in mice and rats” in a study, published in the European Journal of Pharmacology.
Both terpenes, and especially humulene, mitigated the production of inflammatory compounds and/or the chemical interplays between them that fuel inflammation, their anti-inflammatory effects “comparable to those observed in dexamethasone-treated animals, used as positive control drug.” Dexamethasone is a popular corticosteroid.
Interestingly, this isn’t the only study that involves humulene and trans-caryophyllene in an anti-inflammatory context. In another study on animals, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, their effects were evaluated “in an experimental model of airways allergic inflammation.”
This time, humulune completely stole the show on all fronts, prompting the researchers to conclude that:
“α-Humulene, given either orally or by aerosol, exhibited marked anti-inflammatory properties in a murine model of airways allergic inflammation, an effect that seemed to be mediated via reduction of inflammatory mediators.”
Pharmacokinetics (Absorption by the body)
Pharmacokinetics deals with how substances are absorbed and metabolized by the body, which means it plays a part in all of their effects, influencing their time of onset and how much of their potential is fulfilled.
Another study on the essential oil of Cordia verbenacea and humulene, isolated from it, found that the terpene exhibits “a rapid onset relatively good absorption rate following oral and topical administration.” This is in line with the second aforementioned study on humulene’s anti-inflammatory effects and its conclusions regarding the terpene’s efficacy when administered orally or as aerosol.
“Taken together, these findings further contribute to an explanation of the topical and systemic anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties previously reported for the essential oil and for alpha-humulene obtained from Cordia verbenacea.”
An often-cited study from Planta Medica journal investigated the antitumor activity of balsam fir oil, with humulene taking the central stage.
As a likely mechanism behind the terpene’s cytotoxicity (toxicity to cells) to tumor cells, the scientists pointed at the increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as free radicals, as well as a time- and dose-dependent decrease in cellular glutathione (GSH), which is basically an antioxidant, the main line of defense against free radicals. In other words, humulene did to cancer cells what oxidative stress, which includes the natural process of aging, does to our bodies, sometimes causing cancer in the process.
Speaking of balsam fir oil, another study evaluated its antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. While inactive against the former, the essential oil was active against the latter, with humulene being one of the three constituents this activity was attributed to, along with alpha-pinene and which else but beta-caryophyllene.
Humulene has also been found to provide some protection against oxidative stress in diabetic rats. The antioxidant activity was marked by a decrease in 8-OHdG, one of the main products and thus indicators of DNA oxidation.
On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that humulene is also known to be an appetite suppressor.
Humulene’s multi-dimensional therapeutic promise, relative prominence in cannabis strains, and pronounced scent make it one the most note-worthy terpenes in the cannabis realm.