Cannabis is a remarkable plant that contains a wide array of bioactive compounds, including cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. In addition to well-known cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, the cannabis plant produces over 120 lesser-known cannabinoids such as CBG, CBC, CBN and THCV. These compounds are often referred to as “minor cannabinoids”, since they are produced in much smaller amounts compared to THC and CBD. In today’s blog post, we will delve into the fascinating world of minor cannabinoids, and shed some light on their unique properties and potential therapeutic effects.
Cannabinoids can exist in different chemical forms, including neutral, acidic and varinic forms. These variations arise due to the presence of different functional groups in the molecular structures of these compounds. In the raw cannabis plant, cannabinoids appear in their acidic forms (eg. THCA and CBDA) and are non-intoxicating. Upon exposure to heat (eg. smoking / vaping) or with the passage of time, acidic cannabinoids undergo a process known as decarboxylation, where they are converted into their neutral, biologically active counterparts (eg. THC and CBD). Varinic cannabinoids (eg. THCV and CBDV) contain two fewer carbon atoms than their non-varin counterparts (eg. THC and CBD), which causes them to have their own unique pharmacological effects (Walsh 2021).
CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid):
CBGA is present in high concentrations in the raw cannabis plant and is often referred to as the “stem cell” of cannabinoids since it is the parent compound from which all other cannabinoids are formed. Since CBGA is decarboxylated to CBG over time, it is rarely found in significant amounts in mature cannabis flowers. Thus, harvesting cannabis plants very early will yield higher levels of CBGA compared to later in the plant’s life. While less is known about the therapeutic effects of CBGA compared to other minor cannabinoids, research suggests that CBGA may have anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties.
THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid):
THCA is the precursor to THC and is found in raw, unheated cannabis. THCA is non-intoxicating and shows potential as an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agent. Animal studies also suggest that THCA may be a more desirable alternative to THC for the treatment of nausea and vomiting, since it is more potent and devoid of psychoactive properties. THCA also exhibits potent neuroprotective properties, and shows potential for the treatment of neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory conditions.
CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid):
Similar to THCA, CBDA is the precursor to CBD and is the main cannabinoid in fiber and seed-oil rich hemp plants. Preliminary research shows that CBDA exhibits potential as a promising anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent. In addition, CBDA can also be used to reduce nausea and vomiting. Since both CBDA and THCA are devoid of psychoactive properties and are more potent compared to CBD and THC for relieving nausea and vomiting, these compounds could be a great option for those who seek relief, without the psychoactive effects of THC.
CBCA (Cannabichromene acid):
CBCA is a non-psychoactive compound found in raw cannabis, which is converted to CBC through decarboxylation. While research on this minor cannabinoid is still limited, there is encouraging evidence to suggest that CBCA may serve as a novel antibiotic against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
THCV is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is typically found in very small amounts in cannabis flowers. However, due to its unique properties, breeders are starting to develop strains with higher concentrations. THCV has gained a lot of attention in recent years for its potential in weight management. In animals with dietary-induced obesity, THCV improved glucose tolerance and increased insulin sensitivity in a dose-dependent manner. THCV also reduced food intake and stimulated weight loss in studies performed on mice. In a recent study on the potential therapeutic benefits of THCV, the authors concluded that THCV may serve as a novel therapeutic for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
CBDV is found in landrace cannabis strains that have relatively high amounts of CBD and low amounts of THC. CBDV shows promise for the treatment of conditions such as nausea and vomiting, autism, muscular dystrophy and epilepsy. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that CBDV might even be more effective than CBD for treating epilepsy.
CBC is one of the most abundant minor cannabinoids found in cannabis. It has shown efficacy in reducing pain and inflammation without the negative side effects associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and when combined with THC, the anti-inflammatory effects of CBC are amplified. CBC also exhibits neuroprotective properties and could potentially be used for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, CBC may have potential in cancer treatment, as it increases the levels of Anandamide, which has been shown to inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation and induce colorectal cancer cell death.
CBG, which is formed via the decarboxylation of CBGA, has gained a lot of attention in recent years for its potential therapeutic applications. Research suggests that CBG exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as colitis and IBS. CBG also has neuroprotective properties, and might be helpful for the treatment of neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple sclerosis. In addition, CBG shows promise as an antibacterial agent for the treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. CBG also shows potential for the treatment of metabolic syndrome (a group of interconnected conditions eg. insulin resistance, obesity, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol levels). Furthermore, CBG has anti-cancer properties, and is able to inhibit various hallmarks of glioblastoma – a fast-growing and aggressive type of brain cancer. CBG also shows promise as an appetite stimulant, and may be used as a novel treatment for chemotherapy‐induced weight loss / eating disorders.
CBN results from the degradation of THC over time. CBN has been identified as a potential pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory agent, and when combined with THC, can also be used to treat glaucoma (increased pressure within the eyes). Studies have also shown that CBN exhibits antibacterial properties against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While not as potent as THC, CBN can be used as a non-intoxicating appetite stimulant. Although CBN-rich products are often marketed for promoting sleep or relaxation, evidence for its sleep-promoting effects still remain inconclusive. However, when CBN is used together with THC, it causes greater sedation compared with either cannabinoid alone (Walsh 2021).
While research into minor cannabinoids is still in its infancy, these compounds offer a vast landscape of therapeutic potential. As research continues to unfold, minor cannabinoids may pave the way for new treatment options and a deeper understanding of the therapeutic power of the cannabis plant.