Cannabinoid Crash Course: CBD, CBG, CBN, and THC
If you’ve shopped for broad spectrum or full spectrum CBD oil tinctures, capsules, or other products, then you’re likely aware that they contain all of the active cannabinoids that are naturally found in hemp. Knowing that is one thing, but understanding what it means is entirely another.
In this article, we’re going to be shining a spotlight on several of the most important cannabinoids you’ll hear about in the CBD marketplace: CBD, CBG, CBN, and even their infamous cousin THC.
Overview of the (Phyto-)Cannabinoid Lifecycle
In the U.S., formal research into cannabis has been legally restricted for decades. We’re finally starting to see more state- and Federally-sponsored research take place, but the dark age of prohibition has set this field back dramatically. Uncertainty still exists about how these phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from plants) form, the ways they interact with the endocannabinoid system (cannabinoids in the body), and their potential clinical benefits.
One thing is certain, though: both hemp and marijuana contain a massive number of different cannabinoids. They all have different structures and effects within the human body, but they are all children of the “mother” cannabinoid: cannabigerol (CBG).
As CBG is exposed to heat, light, and oxygen, its chemical composition changes, transforming the compound into a new, chemically distinct cannabinoid.
But that’s getting a bit dense for this quick crash-course article. Let’s get out of the weeds and focus on just a few of the most important cannabinoids: CBG, CBD, CBN, and THC.
Cannabigerol — CBG, the mother cannabinoid
The font from which all good phytocannabinoids flow, Cannabigerol (CBG) is often referred to as the “mother cannabinoid”. Like CBD, CBG is non-psychoactive, so it won’t cause a high or mental impairment. Also like CBD, it may have surprising and powerful benefits. Of course, research into these is ongoing, but existing research has linked CBG benefits to at least the following:
- Reducing glaucoma symptoms and intraocular pressure
- Improved bladder function
- Neuroprotective for Huntington’s disease
- Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Appetite stimulation
- Antibacterial properties
Some of these potential CBG benefits overlap with those of CBD, but some others are distinct. In all likelihood, it’s this range of overlapping and complementary benefits that contributes to the entourage effect. This full bodied, pleasant sensation comes from taking full- or broad spectrum extracts, which contain CBG and other active cannabinoids alongside CBD. Many users believe that the entourage effect is the key to truly effective CBD treatment, and CBG plays an important part in that.
However, CBG usually appears in only very small amounts — making up less than 1% of the cannabinoids found in hemp. As awareness of its powerful properties increases, however, some growers are developing special, CBG-heavy strains of hemp. Similarly, some manufacturers are isolating CBG, creating rich and powerful infusions that harness the full power of this fascinating compound.
Cannabidiol — CBD, the therapeutic cannabinoid
Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, is one of the two most famous cannabinoids. CBD is non-psychoactive, and so will not get users “high”. Interest in CBD has surged over the past few years as research and news media shines the spotlight on its potential to treat a wide variety of symptoms. CBD was thrust into the public eye following the case of Charlotte Figi, a young girl suffering from a debilitating form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome.
When traditional treatments failed to relieve her symptoms, CBD treatment was the only effective option. It dramatically improved her symptoms, and reduced the frequency of her seizures to 2 to three per month — a startling reduction from the 300 weekly grand mal seizures she suffered before.
Although formal research is ongoing, other case studies and anecdotal reports show that CBD is effective at treating a wide variety of other symptoms and disorders. The FDA recently approved the first CBD-based drug, so the future looks bright for CBD research.
In the meantime, more and more users are trying CBD every day, and users report impressive benefits to many aspects of their daily lives.
Cannabinol — CBN, the sleepy cannabinoid
Cannabinol (CBN) is one of the least understood of hemp’s phytocannabinoids. That’s due in part to how little CBN is found in the typical batch of hemp flower. It is formed as hydrocannabinols, such as THC, are exposed to oxygen for long periods of time. Thus, it is mostly present in aged hemp, and only in very small quantities.
The treatment applications of CBN are still very poorly understood, but the compound has shown incredible promise in one field: treating sleep disorders. Several studies have found that CBN can help fight insomnia, and a growing body of research is aimed at understanding precisely how this mild sedative works.
Unlike CBD and CBG, CBN may have mild psychoactive properties — though far less pronounced than those of THC. Depending, however, on how the CBN is formed and extracted, these effects can be minimized or even eliminated, creating a non-psychoactive CBN product.
As with CBG, some manufacturers are beginning to concentrate CBN and infuse it into their traditional CBD products. Because CBN is still so poorly understood, these products are rare — but the compound’s sleep-aid benefits have already produced a number of potent anti-insomnia oils and other products.
Tetrahydrocannabinol — THC, the recreational cannabinoid
Better known as THC, tetrahydrocannabinol is the compound responsible for cannabis’s bad-boy reputation. This is the potent, psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the infamous stoner high, the munchies, and the various “reefer madness” scares that have swept the nation from time to time.
Although THC may have some legitimate therapeutic benefits, these are overshadowed by its head-clouding and coordination-reducing psychoactive effects. As of now, THC-rich cannabis is still a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance under U.S. law — so almost no formal, reputable research has been performed on it. Certainly, the munchies prove that THC makes for an effective appetite stimulant, but little else can be confidently claimed.
Most CBD products available today contain no THC; broad spectrum and CBD isolate products, for instance, have had all traces of the compound carefully removed. Full spectrum CBD oils, however, do contain trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3% by weight). But this miniscule concentration is not enough to create a high, nor to meaningfully contribute to the entourage effect.