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Understanding Cannabinoids

While Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are the only two cannabinoids that are currently required to be tested for labelling, many LPs are starting to work with lesser-known cannabinoids as well.

What are Cannabinoids?

Stored in the hair-like glands of the cannabis flower (the trichomes), cannabinoids are the prized parts of the bud that are thought to create various effects. While intoxicating THC and non-intoxicating CBD are the most well-known, there are currently more than 100 identified cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the decarboxylated (heated) version of the acids THCA and CBDA that appear in the ‘raw’ plant.

Cannabinoids work with the body’s endocannabinoid system to ‘unlock’ specific functions from memory and movement to appetite and sleep. Anandamide is the body’s naturally occurring cannabinoid, also known as the ‘bliss chemical’ as it creates feelings of euphoria. Phytocannabinoids such as THC and CBD are found in the cannabis plant and replicate natural cannabinoids.  CB1 and CB2 are the body’s two major cannabinoid receptors. THC mainly interacts with CB1s, which are commonly found in the central nervous system and the brain and are thought to regulate anxiety, appetite, stress, and nausea. CB2 receptors are often associated with having anti-inflammatory healing properties in other major organs and these are more likely to interact with CBD.

Producers are leading the way with research and development of lesser known cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, THCV, and Delta 8.

New research is being done into how other cannabinoids interact with the ECS and several are showing promise as non-intoxicating compounds that may have therapeutic properties. US producers are leading the way with research and development of lesser known cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, THCV, and Delta 8.

“While some consumers are requesting these cannabinoids, education is definitely a challenge,” says US hemp company Goodekind’s co-founder Flip Croft-Cadera.  “People who have been following the research have been waiting for these cannabinoids to be brought to market, but they are the trend-setters. Most CBD users still don’t know that there’s a plethora of cannabinoids besides CBD or THC.”

Cannabigerol (CBG)

Known as the ‘mother’ cannabinoid, CBG looks set to be the next ‘big thing’ in cannabis. “CBG is the stem cell or mother cannabinoid meaning that it is one of the first cannabinoids to be made in the plant and other cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBC differentiate from it,” says Emma Chasen, Cannabis Educator & Industry Consultant at Eminent Consulting Firm. “CBG has a range of therapeutic potential as an analgesic, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer agent. Scientific evidence also suggests CBG may be helpful in relaxing the smooth muscle of the digestive system, suggesting potential as a novel therapeutic for IBS and Crohn’s disease.”

Studies also showed that CBG has anti-bacterial properties against the drug-resistant MRSA bacterium. Pat McCutcheon, CEO of MediPharm Labs explains, “Harmful bacteria like MRSA are so hard to treat because they protect themselves with their own robust biofilm, which is difficult for antibiotics to penetrate. At McMaster University in Hamilton, Dr. Brown’s team, which included MediPharm Labs’ R&D Manager Dr. Tait Gale, discovered through in vitro and murine in vivo studies that CBG is able to pierce this biofilm and effectively target these resilient bacteria. This could have significant potential for the development of antibiotic/anti-septic new drugs that have favorable outcome in humans as well.

CBG is able to pierce this biofilm and effectively target these resilient bacteria.

CBG might also mitigate the effects of THC. “CBG interacts with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, acting as a possible inhibitor to the psychoactive effects of THC,” says Katherine Merryfield, owner and founder of Kat’s Naturals, a CBD company that formulates therapeutic grade hemp-derived blends. “CBG is also thought to boost anandamide, an endocannabinoid that naturally increases dopamine levels and is responsible for regulating various health functions such as mood, sleep, and appetite. CBG has been found to regulate neurohormones, which actively affect physiological processes including mood, metabolism, pain response, and appetite.”

Producers are leading the way with research and development of lesser known cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, THCV, and Delta 8.CBG earned the name the ‘Rolls Royce of cannabinoids’ due to it being expensive to produce as it appears in such small quantities. However, it’s starting to appear in products in Canada, such as Spanish company Hemp Trading’s THC-free strain Panakeia, which is high in CBG. It’s the first CBG and feminized seed to be approved by Health Canada on the list of approved cultivars and it has 18% CBG and 0% THC. CBG is harder to research too, as it generally appears in small quantities, but the cultivation of a high-CBG cultivar opens new possibilities. “Thanks to this development, CBG can be obtained in much larger quantities, opening the door to large-scale production in a legal manner, as well as doing more research to evaluate its medicinal properties,” says Hemp Trading’s CEO Ernesto Llosá.

Cannabinol (CBN)

CBN is a naturally occurring non-intoxicating cannabinoid that is created when the cannabis plant ages, and THC is exposed to light and oxygen. “When THC is oxidized, the degeneration process converts THC to CBN,” says Merryfield. “CBN works with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, unlike CBD which only interacts with CB2 receptors. CBN acts directly with the CB1 receptors making it mildly “psychoactive” but does not make you feel high, just sleepy.” CBN is mostly used as a sleep aid or sedative. It’s been shown to help regulate the immune system, working to relieve the pain and inflammation caused by several conditions including arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)

THCV’s appetite suppressing qualities are gaining attention, and scientific studies also suggest that THCV may stimulate bone growth and has potential as an anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant agent.  “THCV is showing popularity as another psychoactive cannabinoid found in some landrace strains and sativa strains (Durban Poison, Doug’s Varin),” says Denise Johnson, Head of Laboratory at Pura Labs. “It offers an alert and energizing effect and may play a role in appetite suppression.”

THCV’s appetite suppressing qualities are gaining attention.

While THC and CBD are the two cannabinoids currently required to be tested for labelling, many LPs are starting to work with lesser-known cannabinoids as well.Delta 8

In addition to naturally occurring cannabinoids, scientists are also starting to create artificial versions.

“Some distillation processes are producing new manmade cannabinoids that do not normally occur in nature such as Delta 8, 10, and 11 THC,” says Johnson.  “Not much is known about these cannabinoids as very few studies have been performed. Distillate high in these isomers of Delta 9 THC have been known to not be very psychoactive, but may have other unknown benefits.” Delta 8 THC is of particular interest as it offers the therapeutic action of Delta 9 THC without the high. “Hemp-derived Delta 8 THC is the breakout cannabinoid of 2020,” says Croft-Cadera.  “The growth of interest around Delta 8 is growing exponentially. Personally, I prefer Delta 8 THC over Delta 9 THC, due to Delta 8’s anti-anxiety properties.”

With new cannabinoids being discovered and developed every year, we may look back on 2020 as the year when we started to go beyond THC and CBD as the principal influencing cannabinoids in cannabis.