Cannabis flowers are full of chemical complexity, and THC and CBD are only a small part of the picture. Here's everything you need to know about a lesser-known cannabinoid: CBG. Discover how cannabis creates this molecule, why THC and CBD would not exist without it, and what unique effects and benefits the cannabinoid offers.
Have you ever taken a closer look at a cannabis flower? If so, you probably noticed a bunch of shiny crystals. These tiny structures are known as trichomes, and they contain much of the chemical complexity of the cannabis plant.
We all know THC and CBD now. But the trichomes produce over 100 different chemicals that belong to the cannabinoid family. Cannabis scientists are currently unraveling the properties of these ingredients, and some of them stand out as particularly impressive.
They include a molecule known as cannabigerol (CBG). Aside from its potential human benefits, CBG plays a fundamental role in the formation of THC, CBD, and other key components of the cannabis plant.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about this fascinating chemical. Discover how it originates in cannabis, what effects it has and how it differs from the better-known cannabinoid CBD.
What is CBG (Cannabigerol)?
CBG belongs to the cannabinoid family and plays an interesting role both inside and outside the cannabis plant.
The pioneering cannabis researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam isolated CBG from cannabis in 1964, the same year he also isolated THC. However, unlike THC, CBG does not produce any psychotropic effects in humans.
THC creates a high because of the way it interacts with the endocannabinoid system, a body's own network of receptors to which internally produced cannabinoids (also called anandamide and 2-AG) attach. Due to its molecular similarity to the body's own cannabinoids, THC binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain, resulting in a "high".
CBG, on the other hand, presumably binds to the traditional cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 with low affinity. However, it binds to the receptors of the "enlarged endocannabinoid system", including the vanilloid receptors, which are involved in signaling in the nervous system, with much greater effectiveness.
Within the herb, CBG serves as a chemical precursor for other cannabinoids that we know and love. More specifically, it is the acidic form of CBG - CBGA - that is responsible for the existence of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. As such, CBGA (and CBG itself) has earned the title of “Mother Cannabinoid”.
Biosynthesis of CBG
To understand how CBG is made in cannabis, we need to understand the basics of biosynthesis. The biosynthesis of cannabinoids takes place in the trichome glands. “Bio” refers to life and “synthesis” refers to the creation of something. This complex-sounding word simply describes how something - in this case a cannabinoid - is made.
There are several biosynthetic pathways in the cannabis plant to produce different cannabinoids. One of them starts with our mother cannabinoid, CBGA (cannabigerolic acid).
After the formation of CBGA, plant enzymes act on the molecule. These proteins catalyze a reaction that converts the chemical into other cannabinoid acids, including THCA and CBDA.
A specific enzyme is required to convert CBG into a corresponding molecule. When the enzyme THCA synthase acts on it, CBGA is converted into THCA. When the CBDA synthase drives the reaction, the mother cannabinoid turns into CBDA.
It is only when THCA and CBDA are exposed to adequate heat that they lose the "A" in their name and transform into their activated (or "decarboxylated") versions, THC and CBD. The same goes for converting CBGA to CBG.
Currently, CBG is only found in very small amounts in most cannabis strains. However, researchers have developed chemovars (chemical strains) that have 100% of their cannabinoid profile as CBG. The results of these breeding programs show that high-CBG strains will soon become a popular part of the cannabis market.
Where does CBG come from?
Now you know that THC and CBD ultimately descended from CBGA. But where does the mother cannabinoid itself come from?
As with most things in plants, the process starts with sunlight. Cannabis plants use the power of photosynthesis to convert light energy into simple carbohydrate sugars that serve as an energy source. These units of energy enable the plant to perform basic physiological processes, including metabolic functions.
The plants then use the coenzyme acetyl-CoA to set in motion a long and complex process that includes a chain of chemical reactions that we don't want to bore you with here. At the end of this process, cannabis plants have two key molecules: geranyl pyrophosphate (just remember this as “GP”) and olivetolic acid (“OA”).
Once these two molecules are formed and available, most of the work is done. All it takes is a reaction between these two chemicals to form CBGA, which then forms the basis for the other major cannabinoids mentioned above.
Why use CBG?
But why should we care about CBG at all? We already have THC, which does the psychotropic side of things, and CBD does a good job of providing the benefits of cannabis without getting us high.
These are good arguments, but we must remember that almost every cannabinoid has something unique to offer. CBG creates effects that are entirely due to the way it works in the body. It interacts with receptors inside and outside the endocannabinoid system to produce effects that THC and CBD are incapable of.
The research on CBG is still quite preliminary. Certainly we cannot take the current knowledge as evidence that the molecule produces certain effects. We have to wait for controlled human studies before we can make a real assessment of the effects of CBG.
CBG and the nervous system
CBG binds to vanilloid receptors, some of which play a role in transmitting pain signals in the central nervous system. The active ingredient of chilli peppers (capsaicin) targets the TRPV1 receptor and thereby triggers sensations of heat and pain. However, as soon as it has inflamed this area, it leads to a desensitization and makes the receptors temporarily unable to recognize further stimuli.
It is believed that CBG works in the same way, except that the cannabinoid does not cause irritation. Since CBG binds to the same receptor site, it could also have soothing effects in a similar manner.
In early research, CBG was also examined for its potential as a therapeutic for the nervous system. Research published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology shows that molecular relatives of CBG were able to relieve irritation in components of the nervous system of mice.
The parent cannabinoid also appears to help relax muscles. By stopping the resumption of GABA, a relaxing neurotransmitter, CBG can help relieve tension and cramps.
CBG and the brain
Ultimately, could CBG be called a nootropic cannabinoid? Possibly. Early research in mice looked at CBG's ability to improve mood. Since it interacts with the serotonin receptors in the brain, scientists are curious to see if CBG could be of any benefit to those suffering from tension and shaky nerves.
A study in the journal Neurotherapeutics attempted to determine the neuroprotective effects of CBG. The researchers tested the cannabinoid in an animal model of Huntington's disease, a condition that affects mood, movement and thinking. Overall, their results paved the way for future, more in-depth research on this topic.
CBG and the digestive system
Recent discoveries about the microbiome and gut health show how important the digestive system is to human health.
Irritable bowel syndrome currently affects around 10-15% of the population in Europe and North America. The condition is likely due to a malfunction of the immune system in the gut, causing stomach pain, cramps, and gas.
In a study published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology, CBG was tested on mice for the incurable disease. The researchers found that the biomarkers associated with the disease were reduced and the production of free radicals in the intestinal cells was reduced.
CBG and the musculoskeletal system
In the future, CBG could also play a role in promoting bone health. Osteoporosis, the loss of bone density, occurs when the cells that break down bone displace those that build bone tissue. It arises due to genetic factors, hormonal changes and a lack of adequate exercise in the form of exercise.
Initial research has investigated whether CBG can aid the process of bone healing, but we are still a long way from finding real answers to CBG's bone health-promoting potential.
The future of CBG
After the scientists revealed the mechanism and potential effects of CBD, it gained traction. From then on, consumers quickly took advantage of the cannabinoid, and many today rave about the effects they are experiencing. CBG is likely to head in that direction. Initial research looks promising, but we need extensive human studies to really figure out what the cannabinoid can do.
Numerous cannabis and hemp products have appeared on the market, by Raw flowers up to Dyingthat contain high amounts of CBG. Looking ahead, CBG will likely be part of the cannabinoid pantheon alongside CBD and THC.
Which is better: CBG or CBD
Neither CBD nor CBG are better. Although they share similarities, they act in different ways. CBD certainly has more scientific evidence and popularity behind it. However, as CBG continues to be researched and gained more public attention, users will likely opt for the cannabinoid in addition to THC and CBD formulations.
While CBG and CBD are different in many ways, they could make a great pair when consumed together. By taking advantage of the qualities of both substances, consumers can support their well-being from multiple perspectives, even if we don't yet know exactly what CBG is capable of. This practice, which is related to the “entourage effect” theory, supports the idea that multiple cannabinoids are better than one when it comes to effects in humans.
Is CBG Safe?
Available studies show that CBG is safe to use and well tolerated in animals. Unlike THC, CBG has no psychotropic side effects.
If you are curious to experience the effects of CBG yourself, you should check out the range of CBG oils and CBG-rich cannabis strains.
CBG: An expensive cannabinoid
Extracting and isolating CBG from hemp and cannabis plants is an expensive process. This particular cannabinoid is only found in traces and has never been the focus of cannabis breeders over the years. Instead, THC and, more recently, CBD have been in the spotlight as the two cannabinoids.
Most cannabis strains contain less than 2% CBG, which means it would take a lot of ripe bud to isolate just a small amount of CBG. Otherwise, a grower could forego an entire THC / CBD crop by harvesting early to use more CBG before its natural conversion into other compounds. In addition to its scarcity, the extraction of CBG requires expensive equipment, and breeding of new CBG-dominant strains can take years, which further increases costs.