Cannabigerol (CBG). New CBD’s colleague or competitor?

Today, watching the news or opening the most popular social networks, we hear about cannabinoids more and more often. With such a hype around marijuana legalisation and its medical benefits, it seems we know everything about cannabinoids, their influence on our health, and mechanism of work. But is it really so? Health benefits sound very promising, but how are these effects reached? Can cannabinoids have any negative influence on our health condition? What about the addiction? Nowadays, there are still more questions than answers if we dive deep into the cannabinoids topic. Let’s try to puzzle out how these mystic chemicals got such high popularity and what is the exact mechanism of their work. 

All the cannabinoids that are known today are the chemical compounds occurring naturally in the cannabis plants. Cannabinoids are the main “drivers” of the wide array of psychoactive and medicinal effects cannabis may provide. For the moment, more than 110 cannabinoids have been discovered. Researchers claim this number is going to increase significantly in the near future, as studies continue to reveal more and more new complex molecular structures of the cannabis plant. Together with new cannabinoids, the list of potential benefits these chemicals cause for our health increases as well. Some of the cannabinoids have already shown impressive results in alleviating depression and anxiety, reducing pain, improving sleep and appetite. Studies investigating the beneficial effect of these compounds for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis treatment are going on and have already shown promising results. The list of cannabinoids’ health benefits impresses, but it hasn’t reached the peak yet. With the discovery of new cannabinoids, successful results of studies and trials, the array of possible opportunities for medical use continues its growth. 

Miracle or perfectly coordinated mechanism? Secrets of cannabidiol’s work

With all the variety of scientific literature available today regarding the therapeutic effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, one thing is doubtless - cannabis causes a profound influence on our bodies. This plant together with a variety of its compounds seems to affect every aspect of our minds and bodies. How is it possible, and what is the secret of such beneficial collaboration with our organism?

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Thousands of patients all over the world with a diversity of diseases and symptoms have been treated with cannabis. Cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, insomnia, eczema, Tourette syndrome - it is only a part of the conditions that can be treated with cannabinoids. All the patients undergoing cannabinoids treatment have different causes, symptoms, and vastly different psychological states. All the patients differ in age. Some of them are undergoing conventional therapies, while others are on a decidedly alternative path. They all are unique. However, despite all their differences, the majority of these patients agree on one point - cannabis helps to improve their condition. 

Nowadays, there isn’t any “magic pill” which will be able to cure everything. All the “panaceas,” hyped snake-oil remedies, and other expensive fads flare up like a spark and fade away just as quickly. They promote big claims along with little clinical or scientific proof to support their efficacy. Regarding the therapeutic potential of cannabis, it seems that there is no lack of evidence. Vice versa, today, there is an explosion of various scientific research and clinical trials on the therapeutic effects of cannabis and cannabinoids. Some physicians even state there is more evidence for cannabinoids than one can find on some of the most widely used therapies of conventional medicine. 

How can one plant help to alleviate so many different conditions? How can it provide both curative and palliative effects for patients? Is it really safe while offering such potent benefits? To find an answer to these questions, scientists did a great job. Eventually, all the studies and trials have led researchers to the discovery of a previously unknown physiologic system that appeared to be a central component of the health and healing of every human - the endocannabinoid system. To help you sort out the exact mechanism of cannabis work and its influence on our health, we collected answers to three the most frequently asked questions. 

  • What is the endocannabinoid system? The endogenous cannabinoid system or as it is also often called ECS has obtained its name after the plant that has led to its discovery. ECS is one of the most important physiologic systems that is involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and endocannabinoid receptors are located throughout our bodies in the brain, connective tissues, organs, immune cells, and glands. In each organ and tissue, the endocannabinoid system performs different tasks. However, the general goal is always the same - homeostasis. The main task of ECS is to maintain a stable internal environment despite the possible fluctuations in the external environment. Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, starting from the sub-cellular, to the organism. 

Let’s check one of the examples of this process. Autophagy is a process during which a cell sequesters part of its contents to be self-digested and recycled. The autophagy process is mediated by the endocannabinoid system. This process keeps normal cells alive and allows them to maintain a balance between the synthesis, degradation, and subsequent recycling of all the cellular products. Nevertheless, autophagy causes a deadly effect on malignant tumour cells, triggering them to consume themselves in a programmed cellular “suicide”. Finally, the death of cancer cells promotes survival and homeostasis at the whole organism level. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids can also be found at the intersection of different systems of our body, thereby allowing coordination and communication between different types of cells. For example, at the site of injury, cannabinoids can:

  • decrease the release of activators and sensitisers from the injured tissue;
  • stabilise the nerve cells to prevent excessive firing;
  • calm nearby immune cells to prevent the release of pro-inflammatory substances. 

Three absolutely different mechanisms are activated on three various cell types for a single purpose - to alleviate the pain and damage caused by the injury. 

By bringing together our immune system, nervous system, and all of the organs, the endocannabinoid system works a particular bridge between our mind and body. While understanding this system, we will be able to see a mechanism explaining how the state of consciousness can promote health or disease conditions. 

Besides regulating our internal and cellular homeostasis, cannabinoids can also influence the relationship of a person with the external environment. What does it mean? We have already mentioned that cannabinoids and cannabis influence both our body and mind. Socially, the cannabinoids taken can alter human behaviour, in most cases promoting creativity and humour. Through neurogenesis, neuronal plasticity, and learning, cannabinoids can directly influence our open-mindedness. They also may change the human ability to move beyond limiting patterns of behaviour and thoughts based on certain past situations. Physicians and scientists state that reformatting of such old models can become an essential part of health in our modern environment which is changing at tremendous speed. 

  • What are the cannabinoid receptors? Another popular question regarding the mechanism of cannabinoids work refers to endocannabinoid receptors. According to scientists, the endocannabinoid system evolved in primitive animals more than 600 million years ago. Such data were obtained after comparing the genetics of cannabinoid receptors in different species. Specialists state that all vertebrate species share the endocannabinoid system as an essential part of life and adaptation to environmental changes. It may seem that we know a lot about cannabinoids, although thousands of scientific articles have just begun to shed light on this subject filling the significant gaps in our understanding. The complexity of various interactions between cannabinoids, cell types, systems, and individual organisms are the main drivers for scientists today to search for explanations to unanswered questions. 

Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout our body. They are embedded in cell membranes and are considered to be more numerous than any other existing receptor system. The stimulation of the cannabinoid receptors is followed by a variety of physiologic processes. In numerous studies, scientists have identified two main types of cannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors predominantly present in our nervous system, organs, connective tissues, glands, and gonads;
  • CB2 receptors are found in our immune system and its associated structures. 

Many tissues in our organism contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and each of them is linked to a different action. Researchers assume that it isn’t a final model of our endocannabinoid system, and there may be a third cannabinoid receptor waiting to be discovered. In order to stimulate the receptors, our body naturally makes special substances - cannabinoids. Among the two most well-known molecules are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These molecules are synthesised on-demand from cell membrane arachidonic acid derivatives. They have a local effect and short half-life before being degraded by the enzymes of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). 

There are also plant substances that can stimulate cannabinoid receptors. They are called phytocannabinoids. The most famous of these substances is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which is also known for its psychoactive properties. Among other cannabinoids that are gaining popularity and interest of researchers due to its healing properties are cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). Most of the existing phytocannabinoids have been isolated from cannabis Sativa, although other medicinal plants, such as echinacea purpura, have also been found to contain non-psychoactive cannabinoids.

Laboratories can produce cannabinoids as well. Synthetic THC, known as dronabinol together with nabilone, which is a THC analogue, are both FDA approved drugs that are used to treat wasting syndrome and severe nausea. In addition to this, some clinicians have found them helpful in the off-label treatment of such conditions as migraine and chronic pain. To date, many other synthetic cannabinoids are studied in various animal research to reveal the full range of its health benefits. Some of these cannabinoids have potencies up to 600 times that of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.  

  • What is the connection between cannabis, ECS, and good health? The number of studies and clinical trials studying cannabis and cannabinoids is rising, discovering the new niceties of cannabinoids’ influence on our organism. Nevertheless, one thing remains clear - a functional endocannabinoid system is good for our health. But how does it all work? Starting from embryonic implantation on the wall of the uterus, to nursing and growth, to responding to injuries, endocannabinoids always help us to survive in a quickly changing and increasingly hostile environment for our health. 

Based on this, scientists have begun to wonder whether an individual can enhance the cannabinoid system by taking supplemental cannabis? Beyond treating symptoms and curing disease, can cannabis help us prevent disease and promote health by stimulating the “ancient” ECS that is genetically hard-wired into all of us? The answer is yes. Numerous research has shown that comparably small doses of cannabinoids can trigger our bodies to produce more endocannabinoids and build more cannabinoid receptors. It is also the explanation why many people who use cannabis first-time don't feel an effect, but by their second or third time of cannabinoids use, their organism has built more cannabinoid receptors and is ready to respond. More cannabinoid receptors also increase the sensitivity of our body to cannabinoids. In such a case, smaller doses can cause more substantial effects, and the individual starts to feel the enhanced impact of endocannabinoid activity. Some physicians also believe that small regular doses of cannabis might act as a tonic to our health. 

The main difference between herbal cannabis and synthetic derivatives is that naturally produced cannabis may contain over one hundred various cannabinoids, including THC. All of these cannabinoids work synergistically and produce better medical effects and less side effects in comparison with THC alone. In order to get the desired effect, cannabis may be smoked. Nevertheless, even though it is safe and works well when smoked, a lot of patients prefer to avoid respiratory irritation and choose different forms of use, such as vaporisers, cannabis tinctures, edibles or topical salves. 

Cannabigerol as a new word in the cannabinoids dictionary

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To date, cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) occupy the leading positions among the most popular cannabinoids worldwide. These cannabinoids are most studied, and clinical trials and anecdotal evidence have already proven the majority of their benefits. Scientific studies, clinical trials, and research of CBD and THC are ongoing to reveal the whole potential of these cannabinoids and reassure the lack of side effects these compounds cause to our health. Despite the great attention to cannabidiol and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the new word has begun to appear in the heading of scientific articles more and more often - cannabigerol. 

CBG or cannabigerol is a compound found naturally in the cannabis plant, similarly to CBD and THC. Cannabigerol is one of more than a hundred different chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant known as cannabinoids. CBG is also known as a “minor cannabinoid” as it makes up only 1% of total cannabinoids. Cannabigerol doesn’t have psychoactive properties like THC and plays a vital role in the biochemistry of the whole cannabis plant. Its main task lies in acting as a chemical precursor to other cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. In 1975, cannabigerol was discovered as the first cannabinoid to form in the cannabis plant. Among over one hundred cannabinoids found in the cannabis Sativa, CBG plays the role of a precursor to all of them. First of all, the cannabis plant creates cannabigerol and then turns it into well-known cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC. This transformation occurs through an enzymatic process. CBGa is broken down into CBDa and THCa which is then transformed through heat into non-psychoactive CBD and psychoactive THC. One of the most complicated moments in CBG’s cycle in the cannabis plant is that it is almost immediately transformed into other useful things. According to cannabis experts, such transformation makes it hard to find this compound in any real abundance. 

Unlike cannabidiol and THC, cannabigerol hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, due to its low concentrations (less than 1%) in plants with high THC content. That’s because breeding for CBG substantially inhibits a THC production in the cannabis plant. It was also shown that cannabigerol seems to have the ability to level out the psychological aspects of THC. However, CBG is one of the most abundant compounds in the early stages of the hemp plant’s growth. A significant amount of CBG is usually found in its acidic state (CBG-A). Cannabigerol may rightfully be called “a mother” of CBD and THC, as before such compounds as cannabidiol and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol can exist, there must first be cannabigerol. As the cannabis plant matures, the acidic state of CBG often transforms into other cannabinoids like CBD-A, THC-A, and CBC-A. Because of this, in most cases, for the moment you harvest the strain’s buds, you’ll only find about 1 per cent of actual cannabigerol. All the cannabinoids existing in the cannabis plant are in non-active acidic form. Only in a case, when these compounds are heated through a process which is called decarboxylation, that they can manifest their specific physiological effects. CBG-A is also considered as a kind of “stem cell” in the cannabis field as it transforms into a wide range of different cannabinoids.

Nowadays, there’s a growing number of evidence showing that cannabigerol could be used on its own to help patients with certain conditions. Scientific research demonstrates that CBG is the precursor to some of the most cannabinoids commonly used in medicine, including the non-psychoactive CBD and the high-inducing THC. 

Cannabigerol, what can you brag about? Another step toward the ideal cannabinoid

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Despite the promising results of the studies and clinical trials, the search for the ideal cannabinoid is still continuing. The health benefits demonstrated by CBD and THC have already changed a lot of people’s lives and gave hope for patients who already put up with their diagnosis. Nevertheless, even with such successful results, the influence of these cannabinoids on our organism is still not reliably studied. The official approval of the lack of side effects and addiction caused by CBD-based medications is needed. Along with ongoing trials and studies focused on cannabidiol and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, scientists all over the world are searching for the “ideal” cannabinoid. Currently, cannabigerol is the main object of interest in many scientific laboratories as it is the new candidate for the position of new cannabinoid that could be used for medical purposes. 

According to some early studies, CBG may be a promising treatment for several conditions. Nevertheless, all of this has yet to be proven in research and clinical trials, and despite some studies show promising results, all the assertions we have for today are considered as "unfounded as of now". Let’s take a look at the potential benefits of cannabigerol for our health.

  • CBG has antibacterial properties. Studies have demonstrated the antibacterial properties of CBG, especially for MRSA. MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a type of staph infection that is resistant to the most common type of antibiotic - methicillin. Such a feature relates MRSA to particularly threatening or even fatal infection. According to the results of the study held in 2008, cannabigerol showed promise as an antibacterial agent for MRSA treatment. According to cannabis experts, CBG has the potential to treat bacteria that have been resistant to traditional antibiotics before. Since the 1950s, various topical formulations of cannabis have been effectively used for skin infections, but researchers at the time were unaware of the chemical composition of the cannabis plant.
  • CBG contributes to GABA reuptake inhibition. Pharmacologically, GABA uptake inhibitors are already used to treat patients with anxiety. The CBG’s ability to inhibit GABA uptake could lead to tension relief, muscle relaxation, as well as to sensation of peace and calm both physically and mentally. Thus, decreasing GABA uptake, cannabigerol could potentially reduce anxiety. 
  • Could potentially fight cancer. Another cannabigerol benefit that has raised so much attention from scientists and physicians from all over the world is its potential ability to treat cancer. A range of laboratory studies has shown that CBG was able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Specifically, cannabigerol was shown to block receptors that cause cancer cell growth. 

According to the article published in 2009, cannabigerol could potentially slow tumour growth. Another study held in 2016 stated that the preclinical data strongly support the notion that non-psychoactive plant-derived cannabinoids, including CBG, can act as direct inhibitors of tumour progression. It was also shown in the study that these cannabinoids may enhance the activity of first-line therapies. Similar results have been obtained in a 2014 study. It was reported in the study results that cannabigerol inhibited tumour growth in the case of colon cancer. CBG inhibited tumours and chemically-induced colon carcinogenesis, therefore demonstrating a very exciting possibility for a cure for colorectal cancer. Also, one of the earlier studies held in 2006 showed that cannabigerol might similarly help with breast cancer. 

In addition to successful results of the lab studies showing that CBG could potentially slow tumour growth in the 2016 study, it was also shown that this cannabinoid might serve as a potent appetite stimulant in rats. It means that in the case of successful results obtained after clinical trials, CBG can potentially help cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. 

  • May help in the treatment of Huntington’s and neurodegenerative diseases. According to the results of the 2015 study on mice, the use of cannabigerol either alone or in combination with other therapies of phytocannabinoids could be a potential treatment of neurodegenerative diseases including Huntington’s disease which is characterised by nerve cell degeneration in the brain. CBG can normalise the expression of abnormal genes that are linked to brain degeneration, thereby acting as a neuroprotective compound. 
  • Could help inflammatory bowel disease and colitis. Successful results of the 2013 study on rats demonstrated the possibility of CBG’s use for colitis. It was shown that cannabigerol reduced the effect of colitis. According to the study, patients have been experiencing successful management of abdominal and joint pain, cramping, diarrhoea, weight loss, nausea, and poor appetite with the use of cannabis. However, there are not enough studies just yet exploring cannabigerol as an isolated compound. Another study investigated the effects of five different cannabinoids on bladder contractions. CBG tested best at inhibiting muscle contractions, confirming the theory that it may become a future tool in preventing various bladder dysfunction disorders.
  • May treat glaucoma and reduce intraocular pressure. This benefit of cannabigerol may become a huge deal as CBD on its own can’t be effective in glaucoma treatment. Although THC can cope with this disease, most probably patients who decided to treat glaucoma using cannabis will choose to do so without the intoxication effect. As endocannabinoid receptors are prevalent in eye structures, CBG is believed to be particularly effective in treating glaucoma because it can reduce intraocular pressure. It acts as a potent vasodilator and has neuroprotective effects. According to the study held in 1990, when the potential use of cannabigerol for glaucoma treatment was considered, CBG and related cannabinoids may have therapeutic potential for glaucoma treatment. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended to continue taking prescribed glaucoma medications, and only take CBG or cannabis as an addition to your Rx meds. 
  • May be effective for inflammation, including inflammations of the skin. The results of the 2007 study showed the ability of cannabigerol to treat psoriasis and eczema. In addition to this, as it was previously mentioned, CBG may help reduce the IBD-induced inflammation. 

Physicians and scientists all over the globe are excited about these promising CBG results and are promoting future research with cannabigerol alone or CBG in combination with other cannabinoids and therapies for the treatment of multiple diseases. As it doesn’t have any psychotic effects, CBG has a wide perspective range of potential applications not only for the problems mentioned above but also as an analgesic and antidepressant. 

For each medication, including cannabinoids, proper dosage is a guarantee of a successful result. Cannabigerol is not an exception, so the right dosage is one of the most vital moments to discuss with your doctor before including this cannabinoid into your treatment program. CBG dosage is purely individual and depends on the variety of different factors, including your body weight, age, the disease or condition you want to treat, and any current concomitant medications you may be taking. Usually, companies recommend sticking to the dosage of 5-10mg of a cannabigerol tincture once or twice a day and not increasing it further. For the best effect, you can drop the cannabigerol liquid under your tongue and hold for about a minute before swallowing. This way of taking is known as “sublingual ingestion” and helps your body fully absorb the cannabinoid before it goes through the digestive tract. 

As with any new medication, it is recommended to start slowly and watch how your organism reacts to cannabigerol. In case you don’t notice any side effects, you can gradually increase the CBG dosage by a few milligrams per day until you achieve the desired results. Cannabigerol doesn’t refer to the psychoactive cannabinoids, so it is considered safe and can be used at any time of the day. For the moment, there is little data on side effects related to cannabigerol. However, as with cannabidiol, which is also a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, you can’t overdose, and the only adverse effect you may feel is drowsiness. Nevertheless, you must talk with your physician before you consider using CBD or CBG oil, especially if you’re already taking prescription medications. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it’s possible that cannabigerol could adversely interact with specific components of prescribed drugs.

CBD, THC, and CBG – different names, one meaning? How not to get lost in the cannabinoids world?

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CBD, CBG, and THC are all cannabinoids, although they serve different purposes and may help treat different diseases and conditions even despite some pharmacological overlap. 

The main difference between CBG and CBD from THC is that they both refer to non-psychotropic compounds, meaning they will not alter your state of mind and would not inhibit your day-to-day function and mental clarity. Nevertheless, these cannabinoids can alter your mind in a way that could potentially relieve anxiety and depression. So perhaps a "non-intoxicating" description suits better, meaning CBG and CBD won't get you “high” in the way THC can. Another important note regarding CBG is that this compound may counteract the intoxicating effects of THC. Cannabigerol studies showed that it activates the CB1 receptor similarly to CBD, which substantially decreases psycho-activation. What does it mean for an average user? It means if you consume cannabis that has a high concentration of cannabidiol and cannabigerol or consume an isolate cannabigerol in addition to consuming cannabis, you could potentially counterbalance the feeling of "high" or intoxication. 

Chemically, cannabigerol is the “big brother” or “mother” of CBD and THC. Regardless of what different sources call it, the point is that cannabis plants produce CBG but usually doesn’t stop there. Cannabigerol is like a “transhipment point” on the way to the production of other cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. It is good news for growers who want to make products that have a high demand among people looking to get “high” with THC or those who want to take a maximum from the CBD wellness hype. It is one of the main reasons why to date there is very little research into the CBG effects on humans, though interest is growing as it is thought that different non-psychoactive cannabinoids may have many distinct clinical uses. 

Bottom line

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For the moment, cannabigerol is in the same boat as cannabidiol, but with much less research out on its efficacy and less availability. Nevertheless, scientists and researchers believe the compound has all the chances to become a viable alternative treatment option for people with anxiety and chronic pain — perhaps even more than CBD or THC. A range of benefits differentiates CBG from hyped THC and CBD. For example, THC can make anxiety worse, while CBG seems to mitigate that effect. A number of studies have highlighted the strong anti-anxiety effects of cannabigerol, without being sedative and without the potential for addiction. Moreover, as CBG binds to the cannabinoid receptors with an affinity that is much lower than THC, a person can take a large amount of the substance without being intoxicated. Thus, cannabigerol appears to have very few negative side effects, except increasing appetite, that is also a great advantage of this cannabinoid in comparison with others. 

By looking at the impressively rapid growth of CBD industry, we may conclude that CBG has a green light on its way and in case of successful results of clinical trials and studies may even overtake CBD by some parameters. Cannabidiol has become extremely popular over the past few years. The industry is predicted to reach the point of $1.8 billion by 2022, according to Statista. Will cannabigerol be able to jump higher and be first in its race or be satisfied with second places? We will see. Cannabigerol research is still at a very early stage and mainly focused on laboratory tests and animal models, which means experts don’t fully know if CBG really works well for treating medical conditions in humans. Though successful results of the studies indicate promising CBG benefits, more research and clinical trials are needed to occur before drawing any major conclusions. 

Verified by a Healthcare Professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.