Phytocannabinoids are powerful and complex compounds found most abundantly in Cannabis. To date, scientists have recognized and isolated 144 different cannabinoids, of which 114+ are naturally produced, non-byproduct structures. Only a few of these are produced in high enough quantities (with current genetics) to isolate and produce in a laboratory setting, which we’ll go through today.
Due to the specific structures of these cannabinoids, many of them are known to match receptors within the mammalian endocannabinoid system, similar to the endocannabinoids we discussed in a previous blog post.
Let’s start with the four most well-known cannabinoids found in the plant and within the market today: CBG, CBD, THC, and CBN.
Cannabigerolic acid (CBGa) and its active form, Cannabigerol (CBG), are considered the “mother” of all enzymatically derived cannabinoids. CBGa is derived from precursor chemicals olivetolic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate and is generally easy for the cannabis plant to synthesize. Both CBGa and CBG are considered non-psychoactive. CBG has been shown to have analgesic, anti inflammatory, and anticancer-cell properties. It has even been shown to reduce intraocular pressure, making it helpful in treating ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, and cancer.
Next on our list is a cannabinoid that many associated with Cannabis sativa are very well familiar with: THC. Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) and it’s active, decarboxylated form Δ⁹-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are well known for their psychoactive effects. THCa is derived from CBGa through a direct enzymatic reaction in the plant and then through some form of decarboxylation, THC, before being consumed. THCa has been shown to have antibacterial properties and can act as a potent neuroprotective, making it effective in helping patients with Alzheimer’s. Whereas THC is well known to be psychoactive and produce its characteristic “high”, it can also assist with nausea, pain, muscle spasticity, glaucoma, anxiety, and appetite, making it effective in fighting the symptoms from cancer treatments, seizures, and hard-to-treat pain.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) and it’s active form Cannabidiol (CBD) are also found in high quantities in the Cannabis plant. Enzymatically derived directly from CBGa, CBDa has the same number of atoms arranged only slightly different from THCa. Although similar in structure, CBD(a) has many different indications than THC(a). CBDa has been shown to assist with nausea, inflammation, and some studies suggest anticancer properties. CBD, on the other hand, has been clinically shown to help with seizures, inflammation, pain, inflammatory bowel disease, migraine, depression, and anxiety.
Our last heavy hitter, Cannabinolic acid (CBNa), is the only one on our list that isn’t enzymatically derived from CBGa. It is known to be a minor byproduct of the degradation/oxidation of THCa. This degradation can occur from heat, UV exposure, or exposure to air. High levels can indicate a long-aged plant, even though high levels are still well below the 1% margin. CBN and CBNa are both shown to promote sleep, reduce inflammation, and reduce pain.
You can find many cannabinoids on a certificate of analysis for a product, including CBC, THCV, CBDV, and many others. Most CoA’s include 12 to 20 cannabinoids, but those outlined here will more-than-likely be the main active ingredients in the plant or product.
With so many cannabinoids proven to be produced by the plant, more information is needed and clinical research warranted within the scientific and medical community. With advancements in cannabis laws and regulations along with the desire for knowledge and pharmaceutical options, we will see many breakthroughs in genetics of cannabis and the production of needed minor cannabinoids in the near future.
Next week we’ll discuss the endocannabinoid system and the entourage effect.
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