Updated: Jun 20, 2018
However, it may finally have found its match in caryophyllene oxide a compound made by cannabis and certain spice plants. This compound could well be a new hero entering into an exhausting battle that never seems to end for many people.
The vast majority (80-90%) of foot nail fungal infections, or onychomycosis, are caused by a fungi called dermatophytes that thrives in the keratin rich environment of the outer layer of the skin, nails, or hair.
Keratin is a protein that builds structural strength and provides toughness. It protects skin cells (epithelial cells) from stressors.
However, once vulnerability exists fungi may enter through cuts or cracks where it settles and multiplies. Fungi waste begin to cause irritation and erode the strength and toughness of the nail and the surrounding tissues.
The nail begins to turn yellowish, white, or even brown. Affected tissues grow thick and porous. Cracks begin to appear, and the nail can eventually separate from the nail bed. While often considered only a nuisance or a cosmetic problem, it can lead to more serious infections and ulcerations especially in diabetics.
Onychomycosis infections are widespread, and it is estimated that 1 in 10 of all people have it. The infection rates increase significantly in seniors where 20% of those over 60 years old have it, as do 50% over 70 years old.1 Other high risk groups include people with recent injuries to the nail or nail bed, patients with weakened immune systems, or those with diminished perfusion (blood supply) to the lower legs.
Preventative measures include sunlight and dryness. Fungi like it dark and moist (that’s why fingernails are less commonly infected). Consider keeping your feet clean and dry. Use a sprinkle of baking soda in between your toes and on your nail beds after a shower. Additionally, you may also apply a bit into your socks or shoes (neutralizes odors too).
If you know you are vulnerable, avoid walking bare foot where the fungi is easily spread such as in public pools, showers, and steam rooms or wear slippers. If you’re visiting a nail salon, make sure the instruments (scissors) are sterilized.
Diagnosis is mostly done by physical examination but tests are available if just looking at it leaves reason for doubt.
Allopathic treatment is primarily composed of pharmaceutical drugs (oral azoles and allylamines) but may also occasionally include surgery and now laser treatments are becoming popular.
While oral drugs are defined as clinically effective, they can cause severe adverse effects and have limited success rates. Topical treatments have worse success rates and can take up to a year(s) for some progress to show. Surgical debridements and laser treatments may be cost prohibitive and also have limited success rates. All of the above methods have high relapse rates.
The common treatment failures of all these methods demand the innovation and development of new, safe, rapid acting, and inexpensive methods.
Beta-caryophellene oxide (an endocannabinoid receptor 2 or CB2 activating terpenoid) commonly found in cannabis and certain spice plants is easy to obtain, safe (fully approved by the FDA), and inexpensive – costing only pennies on the dollar. Even more important to the patient, it is similar in effectiveness to the azole (sulonazole) or the allylamines (ciclopiroxolamine) without the risk of adverse effects. Furthermore, positive outcomes typically occur in a short period of time such as 2 weeks compared to years for similar pharmaceutical results.2
Researchers posit that its effects are due to its capacity to reach deep into the affected tissue in ways that no other known topical substances can do. While not specifically covered in these studies, beta caryophyllene, can also be ingested for additional synergistic systemic support.
1 D.P. Westerberg, Voyack M.J. Onychomycosis: Current trends in diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Dec 1;88(11):762-70.
2 Depo Yang, Laura Michel, Jean-Pierre Chaumont and Joelle Millet-Clere. Use of caryophellene oxide as an anti fungal agent in an in vitro experimental model of onychomycosis. Mycopathologia 148: 79-82, 1999.