Most of us know of at least two cannabinoids: cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). As the stigma behind cannabis use fades in the face of science and passionate advocacy, research into typically lesser-known cannabis plant parts like other cannabinoids and terpenes is growing rapidly.
This is great news for a plant like cannabis, since scientists have identified hundreds of beneficial plant parts (terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids) in the cannabis plant. Each cannabis strain has a unique combination of terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids; that’s why each strain of cannabis flower has different benefits, effects, and aromas associated with it.
Both CBD and recreational cannabis industries have contributed to the public's confusion about the real complexity of the cannabis plant. Many people incorrectly associate the whole cannabis plant with just one or two of its parts (usually THC or CBD).
Disregarding the unique combination of cannabis plant parts present in different strains is a disservice for two reasons:
- One, each cannabis terpene, flavonoid, and cannabinoid has its own therapeutic benefit.
- Two, all plant parts in a cannabis strain interact with each other, help each other out, and boost the benefits of dominant plant parts like CBD or THC.
Plant Parts Found in the Cannabis Plant
In reality, the cannabis plant can have dozens of plant parts (from a pool of hundreds of plant parts that have been found present in cannabis) in any given strain. These plant parts are the strain’s unique combination of terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids. Scientists have discovered (so far!) the presence of 200+ terpenes, 20+ flavonoids, and 113 cannabinoids in cannabis!
Terpenes and flavonoids aren’t unique to the cannabis plant. Most terpenes and flavonoids can be found everywhere in nature. The cannabis terpenes limonene, linalool, and pinene can also be found in citrus fruits, lavender, and pine cones, respectively, while cannabis flavonoids like vitexin, apigenin, and kaempferol can also be found in passionflower, chamomile, and kale, respectively.
Terpenes are aroma chemicals that determine how something smells while flavonoids are flavor chemicals that determine how something tastes. This explains why certain cannabis strains can smell or taste like, say, citrus fruits, and why terpenes and flavonoids aren’t unique to the cannabis plant but omnipresent in nature.
The Science of Plant Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids, or at least plant-derived ones, are unique to the cannabis plant (unlike terpenes or flavonoids). Cannabis has phyto (from a plant) cannabinoids and our own bodies produce endo (from the body) cannabinoids. The cannabinoids in our bodies, regardless of whether they’re ingested from cannabis or produced internally, are vital in maintaining our wellness, physical fitness, and emotional health.
Cannabinoids and The Endocannabinoid System
All of us have an endocannabinoid system (the ECS), a complex biological system responsible for maintaining balance. The ECS is involved in pretty much every function that you can think of, from memory, appetite, and arousal to pain, mood, and inflammation. Our bodies prioritize cannabinoid production based on external triggers (like stress!) that tell our ECS what functions to focus on.
Importantly, when we are stressed out, the ECS shifts its focus to making sure we survive (the stress response, after all, evolved from our body’s fight or flight instinct). In doing so, the ECS under stress diverts most of the body’s resources away from promoting balance and towards fight or flight. Knowing this makes it easy to see why stress in excess is so harmful and why ongoing stress in excess can easily develop into things like anxiety, depression, and even physical sickness.
CBG: The Mother of All (Plant) Cannabinoids
Cannibegoral (CBG) is a cannabinoid that is rapidly gaining public visibility thanks to ongoing research concerning its potent benefits for skin, hair, beauty, and wellness. The importance of CBG’s role in the cannabis plant can't be emphasized enough! Those who are calling CBG the new CBD aren't too far off.
Learning about CBG’s benefits explains why there’s a shift in both the cannabis and beauty industries to infuse products, especially those related to skincare, with CBG. There’s only one tiny problem: CBG is hard to come by and expensive to get a hold of in bulk. Why?
In raw hemp flower, CBG typically makes up less than 1% of the plant!
Before cannabis becomes CBD oil, it exists as raw flower. In raw flower, CBD, CBG, and THC don't exist yet. Not really. That comes later. When the plant is still growing, cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and CBG exist in their acid form as CBGA (cannabigerolic acid), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). To turn CBGA into CBG, CBDA into CBD, and THCA into THC, heat or ultraviolet light is needed to trigger a chemical reaction that makes cannabinoids from enzymes and acids in plants.
Here's where things get magical! CBG isn’t the only thing CBGA can become.
When CBGA doesn’t transform into CBG, it transforms into CBDA or THCA (and, after heat/UV light exposure, CBD and THC) instead. Why? CBGA is the “chemical precursor” to THCA, CBDA, and almost all other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. “Chemical precursor” is just the fancy way of saying that during flowering and growth, the cannabis plant converts most of the CBGA present into THCA, CBDA, and other chemical precursors of cannabis cannabinoids.
This explains why CBG is the mother of all plant cannabinoids; without CBGA, there would be no THC or CBD! Most of the 113 cannabinoids we have so far identified in the cannabis plant have one thing in common: they all started out as CBGA.
The steep price and difficulty of CBG infusion can now be understood in the context of: (1) CBG’s rarity in the mature cannabis plant and (2) the cannabis plant’s preference during growth for converting CBGA to THCA or CBDA.
Today, those interested in getting their hands on CBG often either a, focus on cross-breeding CBG-"rich” strains in the hopes of producing a strain that prefers to convert higher levels of CBGA to CBG (hoping to achieve the same result as CBD-rich cannabis strains) or b, extracting CBG at the optimal time during the cannabis plant's growth (usually about 6 weeks into the flowering cycle).
What Science Tells Us About CBG’s Potential Benefits
Research studying the effects of CBG is even more lacking than research on CBD! The cannabis plant, in general, struggles to support its many therapeutic claims with science. It’s important to remember that up until recently, the legal status and stigma surrounding cannabis was so widespread that it ensured the scientific community’s inability to study the plant.
Today, as with CBD, the research we have on CBG is limited but promising. As stigma disappears in the face of hemp education, more and more studies about CBG and other cannabis plant parts are finally getting the funding they want (still not from the government, but one day!) and doing the research we need.
As we learn more and discover a whole new kind of plant medicine in cannabis, it’s important to remember how difficult it can be to see the whole picture when you only have a few puzzle pieces.
The Potential Medical Benefits of CBG
- EYE HEALTH and GLAUCOMA: As humans, we’ve got endocannabinoid receptors everywhere, especially in the places you’d least expect! These receptors are numerous in our eye structures. Some studies show that CBG may be an effective treatment option for glaucoma thanks to its ability to reduce intraocular pressure and act as a powerful vasodilator with neuroprotective qualities.
- INFLAMMATION and INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE: In one study, CBG showed promise for its anti-inflammatory benefits when it helped relieve the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in mice.
- NEUROPROTECTIVE and CELLULAR REPAIR: In 2015, CBG exhibited exciting neuroprotective abilities when it helped mice with Huntington’s disease.
- COLORECTAL CANCER: Could cannabis be the answer to cancer? Maybe. In one study, CBD stopped the growth of colorectal cancer cells and tumors in mice. Exciting!
- MUSCLE RELAXANT and BLADDER CONDITIONS: One study compared the effectiveness of five cannabinoids on bladder contractions. CBG won the race, putting it in the running as a potential future medicine for bladder infections and bladder dysfunction disorders.
The Potential Skincare and Beauty Benefits of CBG
- SKIN INFECTIONS: We’ve known about the benefits of cannabis-infused topicals for painful skin infections since the 1950s! Of course, back then we didn’t know CBG from CBD or the high from the wellness benefits, making it hard for scientists to pinpoint what in cannabis exactly made it so desirable for skincare.
- ANTIBACTERIAL: Modern research has found that CBG is effective as an antibacterial agent, especially against methicillin-resistant microbial strains.
- SKIN MAINTENANCE: After 20 years of research, scientists can say with some certainty that the ECS is the body’s most crucial balancing system and is responsible for keeping track of pretty much everything, even skin. We have multiple cannabinoid receptors throughout skin which explains how the ECS manages maintenance of general skin health (or homeostasis) as well as both the formation and regeneration of skin cells.
- CHRONIC SKIN CONDITIONS: Studies previously indicated that a stressed-out ECS may contribute to skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, scleroderma, acne, hair growth and pigmentation disorders, keratin diseases, various tumors, and itch. More recent studies support CBG as the cannabinoid with the most benefit for fighting serious skin issues like these!
- ECZEMA and PSORIASIS RELIEF: Science thinks that CBG’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties may be key to treating and managing dry skin syndrome, which typically includes frustrating, long-term skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Further Research for the Curious Mind
- This study for those interested in learning more about how cannabinoids and their receptors manage skin sensation, homeostasis, and inflammation
- This study for more on how the cannabinoid system present in skin may revolutionize future therapies in dermatology
- This study for how cannabinoids combat hyperplasia and inflammation
PS. Discover our curated selection of hemp-derived CBD-infused beauty products!
Disclaimer: This blog post and any recommendations made within this blog post have not been approved by the FDA. This blog post should not be regarded as making any medical claims, offering any medical advice, or as offering criteria for diagnosis. You should always consult a dermatologist before incorporating CBD use for serious skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and chronic acne. You should never replace the medication prescribed by a dermatologist without consulting them first. CBD research is ongoing and any strong statements made within this blog post should be regarded as the opinion of the writer.