6/2/2011 – The most common plant varieties of Cannabis in North America are THC-rich strains. These have have dominated the underground market for 100 years because THC is the main cause of the euphoric effect or ‘high.’ But the Cannabis plant is more than just tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); it is a treasure trove of potentially therapeutic compounds (Mechoulam 2005).
‘THC tunnel vision’ in America has prevented the identification and capitalization of the other, extremely valuable cannabinoids. Scientists are now taking on more research to look closer at the mechanics of these no-high cannabinoids.
The Cannabis plant can produce a rich mixture of active ingredients, these unique compounds are called cannabinoids. Everyone knows THC, but it is important to be aware of some other 3-letter compounds that are showing great promise for medical applications. These include: cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), to name only a few. Many of these compounds have been shown in laboratory studies to produce greater therapeutic effects than THC, without unwanted side effects (Russo-Guy 2006).
CBD varieties possess many ancient and unique genetics required to produce medically relevant cannabinoids. Plants containing a high amount of CBD have also become the second most popular choice in the supply of medical cannabis. A recent surge in demand for CBD-rich medical cannabis has also spurred an even greater interest in the identification and exploration of other cannabinoid varieties.
CBG has been shown to have pain-relieving and anti-depressant effects that are greater than THC (Evans 1991, Musty-Deyo 2006). CBG does not interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors like THC but instead interacts with different receptors, some that multi-billion dollar drugs target. These include adrenoreceptors and serotonin (5-HT1A) receptors (Cascio 2010).
Even though CBG was first isolated in 1964, the first report of a high CBG-producing plant wasn’t until the 1980’s, when it was discovered in a French hemp population. In 2005, a team of researchers identified a CBG plant in Italy.
They crossed this CBG plant with other THC and CBD plants of “good breeding value.” With the help of genetic analysis and chromatography, they were crossbred with different varieties and cultivars, until they identified a strain that produced high amounts of CBG, with little to no THC (de Meijer et al.2005).
Today, the only known high-yielding CBG variety is presently in the greenhouses of GW Pharmaceuticals, where CBG makes up a small but consistent portion of Sativex, a cannabinoid mouth spray. So while CBG and other varieties exist, they’re current exploration and usage seem to be sparse or under lock and key.
In America, there is a proliferation of cultivars (clones) of THC varieties given many different names (e.g., Skunk, Silver Haze, White Widow). Patients are given the illusion of variety where there may be none.
Fortunately, CBG, THCV and other unique strains may organically surface, either directly from the natural proliferation of CBD varieties or due to the plant’s “hypermorphic genetics” which can jump around spontaneously – Cannabis is a weed after all.
Potency testing may be able to identify cannabinoid compounds post-harvest, but only genetics and careful selection will allow the medical cannabis industry to track heritability. This will greatly enhance the generation of new and therapeutically useful strains of Cannabis, just like those that have been created over the last 20 years in Europe.
Jahan Marcu is currently investigating the pharmacology of cannabinoid receptors. He was working at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute when exciting discoveries were made showing enhanced anti-cancer effects with THC and CBD from the Cannabis plant. The findings were published in the Journal of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. In 2009 he received the Billy Martin Award from the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS). Jahan is currently the vice-chair the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board at Americans for Safe Access (ASA). Questions? Contact [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent any University, business or affiliates. While the information provided in this blog is from published scientific studies it is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.