The cannabinoid cannabigerol a.k.a. CBG is like an older child who finds themself outside of the center of attention when their younger siblings arrive. And yet, if it weren’t for CBG, cannabinoids like CBD and THC would not even exist.
So today we are shining the light on this unsung hero—CBG. For those of you new to this subject, we are going to fill you in on some basics first so you don’t get lost. For the more educated on this topic, read the subheads and skip ahead.
What is a Cannabinoid?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds. The first thing to know is that there are actually two distinct types of cannabinoids.
“Phytocannabinoids” are chemical compounds produced by plants (Phyto means “plant”). They are specifically produced by cannabis plants. “Endocannabinoids” are produced by the body (Endo means “in”).
There have been over 100 different phytocannabinoids identified in the cannabis plant. Now they don’t all appear in every single plant at the same time. In fact, one of the things to know is that the cannabinoids themselves change from one type to another depending on environmental factors. These factors are things like Ultraviolet light, heat, and oxygen.
There are two main endocannabinoids that have been identified in the human body—anandamide and 2-AG. (For Star Wars fans, these names may bring up mental images of a Jedi Knight—“Adandamide” and his trusty droid–2-AG—on Tatooine.) Anandamide is the Sanskrit word for “joy” and “bliss”.
Cannabinoids are one part of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The Endocannabinoid system is one of 12 systems in the human body. Other systems include the nervous system, the circulatory system, and the endocrine system. But unlike some systems—like the skeletal system, which is pretty darn easy to spot—the ECS is well hidden.
Relative to the discovery of all of the other bodily systems, the ECS is the new kid on the block. The ECS is so newly discovered that it is often not included in lists of the body’s systems.
The Endocannabinoid System was discovered in 1988 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. The ECS is comprised of the following:
- Endocannabinoids—the chemical compounds produced by the body to communicate with and signal the endocannabinoid receptors—CB1 and CB2
- CB1 and CB2 receptors which are found on the surface of cells throughout the cells and organs of the entire body
- Enzymes that synthesize and degrade the endocannabinoids
The ECS serves to regulate and maintain balance in the body. The ECS monitors such critical functions as immune response, sleep, appetite, cognition, energy level, cardiovascular, metabolism, breathing, and mood.
The ECS is really important to the balance and function of bodily systems. It is so important that some scientists believe that deficiencies in the system may result in common diseases and health conditions.
Phytocannabinoids Mimic Endocannabinoids in the Body
What is really fascinating about this entire area is that the phytocannabinoids in cannabis fit perfectly with the ECS receptors in the human body. Scientists believe that the reason for this is that the plant species evolved to adapt to humans and other vertebrates. The study “The Endocannabinoid System: An Osteopathic Perspective” puts the genuses of the ECS system at 600 million years ago. Cannabis, on the other hand, only arrived on the scene 34 million years ago. So it is clear simply from the timeline of evolution which one adapted to the other.
“Humans likely did not evolve receptors for a cannabis compound. Indeed, the cannabinoid receptor evolved long before cannabis,” reported the study.
Ancient medicine men from places like China, Tibet, and India did not understand the chemistry (or even the existence) of the ECS. But thousands of years ago, cannabis came into use for healing in each of these places.
What do Cannabinoids DO in the Body?
What a particular cannabinoid does in the body depends very much on which cannabinoid you are talking about.
Marijuana is legally defined as a cannabis plant containing higher than .3% THC. The average marijuana plant has 12% THC. Cannabinoids like THC actually bind with the CB1 receptors in the body. This effectively blocks the body’s own endocannabinoid, anandamide, from interacting with these same receptors.
According to WebMD, medical marijuana is most commonly prescribed for the following conditions: chemotherapy side effects—nausea, vomiting and weight loss; muscle spasms and stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis; various pain syndromes; and seizures.
CBD, on the other hand, does not bind with ECS receptors. Instead, it interacts by preventing the body’s enzymes from degrading and eliminating its own endocannabinoids. This allows the body’s own endocannabinoids to do their job of creating homeostasis (balance) in the body’s systems.
Interestingly enough, Healthline reports that CBD is often used by consumers for many of the same things that THC is used for—pain, nausea, inflammation, insomnia etc. The primary difference being that CBD does not produce the “high” of THC. CBD also does not produce the potential temporary side effects of THC such as coordination problems, shower reaction times, memory loss or the potential long term psychiatric effects.
And Now For CBG
CBG was discovered in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his team at Hebrew University in Israel. We have written about Dr. Mechoulam in the past because it was he and his team also discovered CBD and THC.
CBG is considered a “minor” cannabinoid. It is available in low quantities from most strains of cannabis. As measured in weight by volume, CBG typically composes below 1%, although some strains may have between 6 and 8%.
Like THC, CBG binds with the receptors of the ECS. Unlike THC, CBG does not have mind-altering side effects, so it will not make a person high.
CBGA – The Source of Cannabinoids
If you have been following and studying the fascinating topic of the endocannabinoid system (and cannabinoids in general), this section is going to answer some questions. If you haven’t asked these questions, this section will preempt you having to ask these questions in the future.
Questions like, “Why the hell can’t I find a definitive list of the pytocanniboinds that have been discovered?” and “Why do many sites give a specific number of cannabinoids without backing it up with an actual list?”
Well, the fact is, there is a relatively small number of core phytocannabinoids. The rest of the discovered cannabinoids are variants or analogues of that core group. According to research published in the 2016 book Neutraceuticals, the core group of cannabinoids includes: 1. Cannabichromene (CBC) 2. Cannabicyclol (CBL) 3. Cannabidiol (CBD) 4. Cannabielsoin (CBE) 5. Cannabigerol (CBG) 6. Cannabinol (CBN) 7. Cannabitriol (CBT) 8. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
However, Phytocannabinoids Don’t Stop There
This core group all have a natural form, an acidic form, and a varian form. Take CBG. There is the neutral form, CBG; the acidic form, CBGA; and a varian form (this has fewer carbon atoms), CBGV. Just to make things even more interesting, varian forms additionally have acidic precursors i.e CBGVA.
Both CBD and CBG, for instance, have seven variants! The seven variants of CBD are analogs of one another as are the seven variants of CBG. According to a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, this explains the wide disparity in the number of cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant that are cited in research and what is reported in the popular press.
All cannabinoids actually derive from their acidic precursor. In their 50-page white paper, Hemptown USA gives a great description of this process. So, THC comes from THCA and CBD actually comes from CBDA.
But both CBDA and THCA come from CBGA. So who’s your mama?
CBGA baby, that’s who.
What Research Says About CBG
Some researchers believe that CBG may partially counteract the psychoactive effect of THC (similar to CBD).
The study “Beneficial Effect of the Non-psychotropic Plant Cannabinoid Cannabigerol on Experimental Inflammatory Bowel Disease” (2017) explored the potential of CBG helping those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
“We investigated the effect of CBG, a non-psychotropic cannabis-derived cannabinoid, in a murine model of colitis,” reported the study. The study found that CGB reduced colitis in mice and concluded that “CBG could be considered for clinical experimentation in IBD patients.”
Research and Huntington’s Disease
The 2015 research study “Neuroprotective Properties of Cannabigerol in Huntington’s Disease” found that CBG may help those battling Huntington’s Disease.
Huntington’s Disease is a fatal genetic disorder “that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities usually during their prime working years and has no cure,” according to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
The study which involved mice found that cannabinoids like CBG deliver benefits through a variety of mechanisms.
“Different plant-derived and synthetic cannabinoids have shown to be neuroprotective in experimental models of Huntington’s disease through cannabinoid receptor-dependent and/or independent mechanisms,” reported the study.
Researchers stressed the neuroprotective qualities of CBG.
“CBG was extremely active as a neuroprotectant in mice, improving motor deficits and preserving striatal neurons against toxicity.” The study also noted the antioxidant properties of CBG, stating that it “improved the levels of antioxidant defenses.”
The study’s authors concluded, “Our results open new research avenues for the use of CBG, alone or in combination with other phytocannabinoids or therapies, for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s Disease.”
CBG research has been done in other areas as well. These areas include CBG as an appetite stimulant, an antibacterial, for bladder disorders, cancer, tumors, immune response, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma. Much more research must be done using human subjects to determine CBG’s exact effect on the human body, however, initial research shows that CBG has high potential and warrants further study.
CBG Dominate Hemp
Not only is CBGA the mama of all other cannabinoids produced by cannabis, but CBG cannabis may also own an entire slice of the cannabis sativa genome.
A 2002 research study, which was confirmed by multiple follow-on studies, found a CBG strain to be a potential fourth cannabis chemotype—in addition to the universally recognized sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Research has shown that CBG dominant cannabis can sometimes yield up to 94% CBG and as little as .001% THC.
In addition to this, cultivars of hemp have bred and evolved CBG dominant strains of hemp over time. Fusion CBD is one of the pioneer hemp farms growing and harvesting CBG dominant hemp.
“The future of the hemp industry is offering specific strains that are dominant in one cannabinoid or another,” said Fusion CBD co-founder Adam Kurtz. “CBG has very similar properties to CBD, just potentially different effects to the end consumer. We are still learning about it.”