Everyone is always talking about CBD and THC. While we also certainly love these two cannabis compounds, what about all the other potentially therapeutic molecules found in cannabis? CBD and THC may be the most abundant and popular cannabinoids out there, but they’re far from the only ones.
In fact, there are over 100 different cannabinoids. While most of these are only naturally produced in small amounts, we’re now able to experience the benefits of some of these minor cannabinoids through breeding techniques and precise extraction methods.
Today, we’ll look at one minor cannabinoid, in particular, that’s been steadily rising in popularity—cannabigerol (CBG). What does CBG do? Keep reading to find out.
What Are Cannabinoids, And How Do They Work?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds specific to the cannabis plant that, when consumed by humans, can have a broad range of effects on the brain and body.
Here’s how it works. Inside all of us, there’s a complex chemical messaging system known as the endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short. The ECS helps maintain homeostasis by sending messages in the form of neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids, which bind to endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the brain and nervous system. Things like memory, appetite, mood, and reproduction are all partially regulated by the ECS.
However, endocannabinoids aren’t the only things that can trigger endocannabinoid receptors. When cannabinoids are introduced to the body, they also can affect the receptors. For example, THC mimics the endocannabinoids our bodies naturally produce by binding directly to our endocannabinoid receptors. Researchers speculate that this direct binding is why THC has intoxicating effects that no other cannabinoid does.
What Is CBG?
Despite only being present in extremely small percentages in most cannabis strains, CBG is sometimes referred to as the mother of cannabinoids. That’s because CBGa, the acidic form of CBG, can break down into the precursors for THC, CBD, and CBC. Special enzymes in the plant can convert CBGa into THCa, CBDa, and CBCa, which are then further broken down through exposure to oxygen and UV light into THC, CBD, and CBC.
When CBGa doesn’t convert to an acidic precursor, it becomes regular CBG neutral. Cultivators who want to grow strains with high CBG content have the arduous task of experimenting with plant genetics until they can find the ones that produce the right enzymes to prevent CBGa from converting to another acidic precursor.
But why would cultivators want strains with higher CBG content anyway? What is CBG good for?
Despite the fact it’s chock full of potentially medicinal compounds, cannabis is a notoriously difficult plant for scientific researchers to study due to the federal legal restrictions around procuring it. Even though cannabis is completely legal in many regions, and most states have robust medical marijuana programs, the DEA still classifies cannabis as a schedule I substance—a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Most of the studies we do have into the effects of cannabis tend to focus on CBD and THC, but there is some research into the potential benefits of CBG.
For example, one 2013 study found that CBG reduced inflammation in mice with irritable bowel syndrome.
Another study using animal models compared how both THC and CBG impacted ocular pressure on cats with glaucoma. According to the researchers, “These results suggest that cannabigerol and related cannabinoids may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of glaucoma.”
In 2015, researchers concluded that due to CBG’s neuroprotective qualities, it could potentially have some use in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders like Huntington's disease.
CBD and THC are great compounds, but to truly understand the full therapeutic potential of the cannabis plant, we need to pay attention to all the compounds the plant has to offer—including the minor cannabinoids like CBG.