Updated: Jan 26
The cannabis industry is on the verge of another significant evolutionary step. It is well understood that cannabis can be useful as a personalized medicine, but the details of which ratios of each cannabinoid are ideal for any person are still mysterious. People are getting results from this plant and know to speak about THC and CBD, however these cannabinoids only represent some of cannabis’ potential. Minor cannabinoids like Cannabichromene (CBC), Cannabigerol (CBG), and Cannabinol (CBN) are already earning attention as specialized options with varying effects.
CBC, CBG, and CBN were discovered decades ago, but human research on the effects of their isolate forms is minimal. At the time of this writing, most published studies reflect the effects on animals, so the industry is relying on consumer anecdotes and word of mouth. Most cannabinoids have similar chemical characteristics in how they bind to our bodies’ receptors. The resulting biological changes are not the same though, as each compound has a few trademarks worth discussing further.
CBC is non-psychoactive cannabinoid, discovered in 1966, that develops in the early flowering stage of the cannabis plant. Unlike CBD and THC, CBC mostly interacts with our TRP channels and activates the CB1 receptor in the brain. TRP channels, like our Vanilloid Receptor, help the body mediate pain and temperature. Clinical trials have indicated that CBC can be a potent pain blocker due to this TRP. CBC’s anti-inflammatory properties also contribute to the cannabinoid’s ability to reduce pain. In mice studies, CBC was shown to lift mood and reduce depressive symptoms like sluggishness. CBC affects our skin’s sebaceous glands as this cannabinoid has proven to be a successful treatment for dry or sebhooric (acne) skin. CBC has promising data as a potential cancer fighter, anti-depressant, and anti-fungal option. Perhaps most interesting is that CBC has been shown to encourage neurogenesis—formation of new new cells—in the brain.
Cannabigerol is a minor cannabinoid, discovered in 1964, that shows up in low levels (often less than 1% at any moment) of the cannabis plant. Despite being a minor cannabinoid, all CBD and THC molecules begin as CBG before going through a natural chemical conversion as the plant matures. Little CBG exists on the plant at any given time, despite the abundance of CBD or THC on many flowering varieties of cannabis. CBG binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabis has long been known as an appetite stimulator, and CBG may be part of the reason. CBG has been used as successful treatment for chemotherapy-induced cachexia which comes as good news for people who struggle to eat, but don’t want to deal with the psychotropic effects of THC.
Similar to Cannabidiol, CBG is often used to relieve stress and anxiety. The industry touts this claim based on anecdotal stories as well as animal studies that evaluate muscle tension and brain GABA levels. It is not clear which biological systems CBG affects causing the increased GABA levels.
CBG is the embodiment of cannabis’ versatility as it has been shown to be helpful with glaucoma, bladder dysfunction, and IBS. The cannabis plant itself uses CBG to fight off bacterial infections. That property still exists when we take CBG as it has been proven to be anti-bacterial, even against MRSA.
While CBG and CBC carry similar properties to CBD, CBN is more closely related to THC. It may not pack the same psychoactive punch as THC, but in higher doses CBN can be mildly psychotropic. This trait may be due in part to the fact that CBN is the oxidation byproduct of Delta-9-THC, meaning that prolonged light, air, and heat exposure will convert Delta-9-THC into CBN.
CBN was first isolated and discovered in the 1800’s as a by-product of aging cannabis extract. Some believe that CBN’s affiliation to THC explains CBN’s sedative effects. Anecdotally, users have reported improved sleep with CBN products for years. We need more data to support CBN as a bonafide sleep aid. In its isolated form and clinical settings, CBN has not been demonstrated to improve sleep, but in the presence of THC, subjects report noticeable drowsiness.
Future of the Cannabinoid Products
Dozens of cannabinoids have been identified and isolated, but few have been studied in humans. CBD, THC, and THCV have been studied the most, but the three cannabinoids introduced here are most prevalent in the “next generation” of cannabinoid products. At this stage of the cannabis industry’s evolution, we are all pioneers learning which cannabinoids are best at yielding desired effects. There may not be a single cannabinoid that can rival THC or CBD in obvious potency, but we’re finding certain ratios of various cannabinoids result in different effects for the user. There is no limit to the varieties of cannabinoid profiles a human can sample. There will be other minor cannabinoids to explore in the future but for now, it seems like CBC, CBG, and CBN will have the first crack at becoming the next big thing in cannabis.