The Next Big Cannabinoids

By SōRSE Technology

There’s no escaping it: Right now, CBD is in. Offering the medicinal appeal of cannabis without intoxicating effects, CBD is finding its way into virtually anything. Even after the buzz subsides and the conversation becomes more realistic and nuanced, the cannabinoid is likely to remain a staple of the health and wellness industry. Of course, THC is not going anywhere either, but they are only two of over 100 cannabinoids identified so far. Industry pros are starting to look to the horizon for what else the incredible plant has to offer.

CBG (cannabigerol) is sometimes called the “mother cannabinoid” since almost all other cannabinoids start as CBG. Its acid form, CBGA, is the precursor to the three main branches of cannabinoid development. Enzymatic action determines the proportion of CBGA that will become THCA, CBDA, or CBCA before heat from ultraviolet (UV) light transforms them.

(image credit: Science Direct)

Since by definition more CBG means less THC, breeders have not until very recently had much incentive to maximize CBG (with cannabinoid synthesis becoming cheaper by the minute, they might not need to). Cannabinoids tend to do a lot of the same things, but CBG appears to offer superior antibacterial, antispasmodic, and vasodilation action — potentially enough that it’s worth selecting for. Could CBG supplant CBD? That is possible, but more likely it will stand alongside it in the cannabinoid medicine cabinet.

Meanwhile, some growers believe that CBG’s potential lies not in what it does but what it can become: Unlike with THC (the percentage of which determines whether a cannabis plant is a federally prohibited drug), there are no regulations limiting the CBG content of a cannabis plant, and it is easier to breed a high-CBG genotype compared to one that amplifies other minor cannabinoids. Harvesting CBG is easier, too: By adding the appropriate synthase, producers could then transform it into any number of other cannabinoids.

On the other end of the cannabinoid lifecycle is CBN (cannabinol), created from the degradation of THC-A caused by exposure to air and UV light. It has gained a reputation as the go-to cannabinoid for sleep. To put it another way, it’s why one gets sleepy by smoking old weed.

CBN is poised for popularity because sleep issues are among the main points of entry for medicinal or semi-medicinal cannabis use. It may also offer a host of benefits common to cannabinoids, such as pain relief, anti-spasticity, and improved cell function. Yet it is the somnolence that most formulators are after: 5 mg of CBN was shown to be equivalent to a 10 mg dose of Diazepam in inducing sleep. CBN is also intoxicating, but only mildly, and is especially effective when paired with a moderate dose of THC.

There are scant few products on the market which advertise high-CBN, which in this case means a ratio above 1 mg CBN for every 10 mg of other cannabinoids. Tinctures are a natural form factor given their speed of onset and relatively long duration (though they are still not as long-lasting as an edible). If one is the sort of consumer who struggles to fall asleep but not to stay asleep, CBN could be a great option.

THC-V (tetrahydrocannabivarin) is the flashiest up-and-coming cannabinoid. It has been recognized since 1970, but only recently did it stand out from the crowd. It is being called the diet cannabinoid or “skinny weed,” because it has been shown to reduce appetite and weight in rats. It does so by suppressing the activity of the CB1 receptor (THC and CBG, by contrast, are appetite stimulants because they are CB1 agonists). THC-V, like CBD administered with correct timing, acts as a THC ballast. It can also improve insulin resistance, making it promising for diabetes treatments.

Additionally, THC-V offers a short-duration, clear and focused high (most likely) at sufficient dosages. From what little research exists, dosage seems key for all of its effects. Insulin resistance improvement and weight loss occurred at a daily dosage of 3 mg/kg of body weight in mice, which would translate to over 200 milligrams for an average-sized adult. Right now that’s a tough mark to hit, but in the future, market demands may offer potency at that level, or the minimum effective dose in humans may be found to be quite different.

Like other weight-loss supplements, THC-V is unlikely to offer a panacea. Its appetite-moderating effects may stem in part from reducing the pleasure derived from eating. It did not reduce food consumption in rats that were truly hungry, nor did it influence obese rats to lose weight. It is more appropriately viewed as a supporting player in the cannabis pharmacy.

If one loves CBD for its nonintoxicating therapeutic effects, it may be worth checking out THC-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). THC-A is the acid form of THC, how it looks before the application of heat (decarboxylation). The cannabinoid is emblematic of the minimally processed, whole-medicine approach that is gaining increasing traction in the cannabis space. Research indicates that it is a very powerful anti-inflammatory, even among cannabinoids. It has also demonstrated neuroprotective and anticancer effects. Large dosages can be taken without fear of inebriation, a major hurdle that THC faces. THC-A is already popular in medical circles, where it is derived by juicing fresh or frozen cannabis fan leaves. Devotees extrapolate that since other foods retain broader nutritional profiles in their fresh state, cannabis must do the same. It is a keen argument: The recent popularity of live resin, an extraction done without first drying and curing the flowers, speaks to its commercial potential.

Even huge fans of CBD can recognize our cultural infatuation with the cannabinoid for the trend that it is. Eventually, however, we will have to move away from the fad mindset. As stigma around cannabis relaxes and consumers become more comfortable with cannabis in general, they will become more educated and discerning in their preferences. The long arc looks to be one of diversified cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, likely in combination with other bioactives. Many cannabinoids do similar things, because they are chemically similar. Certainly, there are particular effects that are more pronounced in particular cannabinoids, but it would be a mistake to say that there is one cannabinoid that induces sleep and another that improves appetite. They are meant to work together.