Weeds ‘other’ cannabinoids
With more than 100 natural cannabinoids in marijuana, scientists are searchingbeyond THC and CBD for potential health benefits
You probably already know that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the compound in marijuana that gets you high, though it also has a wide range of therapeutic benefits. And CBD (cannabidiol), a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, is everywhere these days—hailed for helping with anxiety, seizures, pain, sleep disorders, workout recovery and more. For many people, THC and CBD are better together, as they work in tandem to produce a synergistic effect. They are certainly the most visible, and the most common, cannabinoids found at dispensaries.
But did you know that there are more than 100 cannabinoids naturally occurring in weed plants, many of which may have their own range of effects and benefits?
Though few have been thoroughly studied (and we have federal laws to thank for that), certain cannabinoids are emerging on the market—and in consumers’ awareness—as ways to curate an experience. Here are the details on some of the “other” cannabinoids and what they can do for you.
The molecular structures of THC and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) are similar, but the two differ in a small chain of atoms that change the way the two substances interact with the body. In low concentrations, THCV is not intoxicating. But in higher concentrations, THCV’s effects are often described as energizing to the body, focusing for the mind and lasting shorter than a THC high. These qualities contribute to the new proliferation of products on the market that advertise THCV as a brain booster that promotes focus.
For recreational users, THCV may moderate paranoia—one of the more undesirable effects of THC. According to David Lampach, CEO of California Cannabinoids, it also suppresses appetite in about 70 percent of users, helping nip munchies in the bud, so to speak.
For that reason, users seeking to stimulate their appetite with cannabis—those undergoing chemotherapy or treatment for an eating disorder—might do best to choose strains without much THCV. But for anyone looking to avoid eating a bag of potato chips chased with a liter of soda and a pint of ice cream while under the influence, this effect could be a real plus.
Beyond sharpening focus and suppressing appetite, THCV has a wide range of therapeutic potential. It’s sometimes described as “the midpoint between THC and CBD,” said Bill Heriot, head of R&D for Liposome Formulations, a biopharmaceutical firm developing a THCV drug.
THCV acts as a pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent in mice. Like CBD, THCV appears promising in epilepsy treatment, and could also increase motor control while decreasing the tremors and brain degeneration associated with ALS and Parkinson’s. Also similar to CBD, THCV has potential as an anti-psychotic and an anti-anxiety treatment effective for panic attacks. Studies have shown that THCV can play a role in regulating blood sugar, which can help treat Type 2 diabetes. Because it can promote bone health and bone formation, THCV also has potential applications for treating osteoporosis and bone loss associated with low-gravity environments, such as space.
For decades, growers sought to maximize THC content in their plants at the expense of all other, lesser-understood cannabinoids. As a result, THCV is found in only minuscule amounts within most strains grown for the market today. But some growers and producers, such as Medi-Cone and California Cannabinoids, are using breeding and environmental factors to bring greater ratios of it back into certain plants, resulting in strains like Black Beauty and Doug’s Varin.
Pineapple Purps, Girl Scout Cookies and Durban Poison are three of the more common strains associated with higher-than-average THCV content, though strain compositions do vary, and you need to check lab results to be sure. If you’re really interested in what THCV can do, it’s probably best to hunt down Black Beauty or to try one of the two new vape iterations of Doug’s Varin.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll find CBN, which is celebrated for its pain-relieving, appetite-stimulating, and sleep-promoting effects. It’s a cannabinoid found only in tiny amounts in fresh bud, but its concentration increases as weed ages because it’s a byproduct of the degradation of THC.
If you’ve ever left your stash out for too long, or exposed it to enough light and air before smoking, you may have experienced CBN’s mellowing, sedative effects.
Those with chronic pain, insomnia or trouble sleeping can benefit from strains such as Ace of Spades and Animal Cookies, known for higher CBN content.
Therapeutically, CBN may have benefit as an anti-cancer agent, an anti-convulsant and an anti-inflammatory.
As an antibiotic, it’s particularly promising to fight MRSA, a drug-resistant bacteria that can be life threatening. CBN is also found to help skin conditions such as psoriasis. Because it’s only mildly psychoactive on its own, CBN can potentially be isolated for the therapeutic effects without the high.
In contrast to CBN’s prevalence in older cannabis, CBG (cannabigerol) is most common in immature plants. That’s because it’s a precursor to other cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. As a cannabis plant reaches its full growth potential, much of its CBG is converted to one of those other cannabinoids. Apparently nonpsychoactive by itself, CBG does contribute to the “entourage” effect along with other cannabinoids and also has a range of potential uses.
It may work similar to certain antidepressants work, so could be useful in treating depression and anxiety. Little research has been done on this property of CBG, but it’s also been observed to increase dopamine, a vital hormone that regulates mood, sleep and appetite.
CBG is studied for its role in decreasing the eye pressure of glaucoma (while CBD has been shown to increase it). It’s also promising as a neuroprotectant for Huntington’s disease, an anti-inflammatory for irritable bowel syndrome and a remedy for bladder dysfunction. Though human studies are lacking, CBG has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in mice.
To increase CBG yields, some growers are cross-breeding plants known for their higher content. Others are harvesting buds earlier in the flowering cycle, before much of the CBG is converted to THC or CBD.
This cannabinoid is nonpsychoactive on its own but may have significant pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects helpful for osteoarthritis. It could also inhibit anandamide, part of the body’s natural system, associated with cancer-fighting properties. CBC (cannabichromene) also has potential as an acne treatment because it suppresses lipid production and calms inflammation in the skin. And working with other cannabinoids, CBC might one day prove helpful for those suffering from anxiety and depression.
Many people who have long grown, consumed and loved the plant say that cannabis holds possibilities we’re only beginning to understand. As legalization progresses through the states, and as cannabis consumers become more varied in age and need, we will likely find the market offering a greater array of cannabinoids to tailor the experience.