Written by: Dr. Diana Rangaves, Google Scholar, holds a Doctorate from the University of California, specializes in pharmacotherapy management, and founded ClinicalConsultantServices.com and DianaRangaves.com
The Therapeutic Potential of Secondary Cannabinoids
These days, most people know cannabis for its most prominent components: THC and CBD. Both are cannabinoids, or natural chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. However, cannabis has over 100 known cannabinoids, not just those two, and they all interact with the human body in different ways. CBG, CBC, and CBN are three more of cannabis’s more prominent cannabinoids. Understanding their differences and how they all interact with the body in unique ways will help cannabis users better select the strain that is right for them.
The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex system that sends signals from cell to cell across the human body. In fact, research has found that all animals, from mammals to reptiles to fish, have endocannabinoid systems. Studies into the exact way the ECS functions are ongoing, but so far, here’s what we know about its role in regulating human bodily functions.
The ECS is involved in the body’s regulation of sleep, mood, memory, appetite, reproduction, and fertility. It has also been linked to immune system responses, motor control, nerve function, skin function, learning, and the cardiovascular system. For the human body to maintain homeostasis, or a stable internal environment, it needs all these systems to work properly. As such, experts now believe that the ECS’s main role is to maintain homeostasis.
Anytime we consume a substance, it has an impact on the body. Consuming cannabis triggers a reaction from the ECS that can cause both physical and mental effects. For example, research has indicated that CBD can help people with anxiety. This is because of how it interacts with the ECS. All the various cannabinoids in cannabis interact with the ECS differently, meaning that they all could have different effects.
The Chemical Breakdown of Cannabis
Inside the cannabis plant are over 400 naturally-occurring chemicals. These include over 100 cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and many other components as well. The two most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis are THC and CBD. THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid that leads to intoxication. CBD is non-psychoactive, so it doesn’t make users feel “high,” though it has been found to have numerous therapeutic effects on the body, according to years of study.
Then there are the secondary cannabinoids, which include CBG, CBC, and CBN. These are also fairly plentiful in the cannabis plant, making them worthy of investigating how they work. While in the past, researchers mostly focused on the effects of THC and CBD, they are now starting to look into these secondary cannabinoids, as they might have their own therapeutic potential that could provide a better quality of life to those who suffer from certain health conditions.
CBG (cannabigerol) naturally appears in low levels in most cannabis strains because it is the parent chemical to both primary cannabinoids. In exposing it to UV light or heat, it transforms into either THC or CBD. Breeders are attempting to use genetic manipulation and cross-breeding to obtain high-CBG strains. Another effective method seems to be determining the optimal extraction time, which seems to be about six weeks into its flowering cycle.
Early studies into CBG indicate that it interacts with specific bodily systems, making it a promising medicinal substance. Research shows that it could be a highly effective treatment for glaucoma because it lowers intraocular pressure. Studies have also found it to decrease inflammation related to inflammatory bowel disease effectively.
One 2015 study on mice showed that CBG provided neuroprotection related to Huntington’s disease. Furthermore, CBG may inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells, such as those that cause colon cancer. It also has been shown to be an effective antibacterial agent, an appetite stimulant, and a potential treatment for bladder dysfunction disorders.
All of this CBG research is still in its early stages, so none of these medical benefits are certain just yet. The fact that it is non-intoxicating makes it a promising candidate, however, so more extensive studies will no doubt continue.
CBC (cannabichromene) is another non-intoxicating cannabinoid. Like CBD and THC, CBG is also the parent cannabinoid to CBC. The most promising medicinal findings from CBC studies have to do with its analgesic effects. Research indicates that it stimulates anandamide release in the body, which has powerful pain-fighting effects. It also binds with other receptors connected to pain perception.
CBC’s potential effectiveness as a pain reliever may also be associated with its anti-inflammatory effects, particularly when combined with THC. As an anti-inflammatory agent, it has been shown to have positive effects on acne as well.
CBC’s impact on anandamide means that it also may be effective in inhibiting tumor growth and serving as an overall anti-cancer agent. A 2010 study observed CBC used in conjunction with THC and CBD to have antidepressant properties. While further, more advanced research is necessary to confirm CBC’s possible medicinal uses, the results thus far have been promising.
CBN (cannabinol) is an interesting cannabinoid in that it develops from processes inside the cannabis plant. Right now, it appears impossible to specifically create a strain of high-CBN cannabis because of this. Instead, CBN is produced through oxidation from being exposed to air, light, and heat. For this reason, old cannabis tends to have higher levels of CBN.
THC is intoxicating because it binds to the ECS receptor CB1 to a large degree. CBN also binds to CB1, though not nearly as much. CBN is not known to cause intoxicating effects, however.
Research also indicates that CBN promotes sedation, meaning that it could help treat sleep issues. Psychopharmacology published a study that found CBN to increase appetite in rats. A different study also provided evidence that CBN could have anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and anti-convulsant effects.
Most of the studies on the effects of CBN have been small. Therefore, additional research is needed to confirm the potential therapeutic benefits of CBN.
Cannabis is a complex plant with a lot of medical potentials. Many of its components contribute to its effects on the body, not just CBD and THC. Secondary cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and CBN seem to have a number of therapeutic uses. Based on the positive results from research so far, expect more and more information to emerge about these cannabinoids in the near future.