Archaeological evidence of the use of cannabis for its therapeutic gifts dates back over 10,000 years. Across the plants 40 thousand plus cultivars, you can find hundreds of remedial molecules throughout three variants: terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids. In recent years, scientists have discovered that every species of mammal has a unique bond with the cannabis plant, after discovering the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The particular range of molecules that are responsible for this relationship is the cannabinoids.
Although the cannabis species presents us with an array of cannabinoids, there are only two at the beginning of the plant’s life cycle. Starting as acidic precursors, the molecular characteristics transform into either a neutral, or oxidative state, or remain acidic.
In this guide, we will usher you through the multiple avenues that the researched cannabinoids can mutate, as well as give a brief overview of scientific pronouncement. Let’s start at the beginning.
The Acidic Cannabinoids
As with any genome, the science is complex. Not only are there well over 100 cannabinoids in discovery, but further revelations are also expected. Regardless of the cannabinoid in discourse, they all derive from the same precursors: either CBGA (Cannabigerolic Acid) or CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic Acid), which are described as “The Mother of All Cannabinoids”.
After plantation, the precursors evolve into the following acidic cannabinoids:
- Tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid (THCVA)
- Cannabidivarinic acid (CBDVA)
- Cannabichromevarinic acid (CBCVA)
- Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
- Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)
- Cannabielsoinic acid (CBEA)
- Cannabichromenic acid (CBCA)
Further cannabinoids are created after a process known as decarboxylation; in other words, applying heat to the substance. During this process, the cannabinoids principally transform from an acidic to a neutral state.
The Metamorphosis of Acidic Cannabinoids
A short handful of cannabinoids neutralise directly from the precursors, such as CBGV (Cannabigerivarin), CBTV (Cannabitriolvarin), CBT (Cannabicitran), and CBG (Cannabigerol). Whereas the remaining neutral cannabinoids evolve directly from their acidic equivalent:
- THCVA – Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
- *Cannabielsovarinic acid B (CBEVA-B) – Cannabielsoin (CBE)
- CBDVA – Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
- CBCVA – Cannabichromevarin (CBCV)
- *Cannabicyclolvarinic acid (CBLVA) – Cannabicyclolvarin (CBLV)
- THCA – Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9 THC)
- CBDA – Cannabidiol (CBD)
- CBEA – Cannabielsoin (CBE)
- CBCA – Cannabichromene (CBC)
- *Cannabicyclolic acid (CBLA) – Cannabicyclol (CBL)
*These cannabinoids take an anomalous transformation. Below is an explanation for their late introduction to the evolution of cannabinoids.
Not every cannabinoid follows the trending pattern; for example, CBNA (Cannabinolic Acid) bypasses the neutral phase and converts into CBN (Cannabinol), which is an oxidant. The complexity of cannabinoid evolution continues, as owing to a specific amount of oxygen exposure, a few acidic cannabinoids convert into another acidic alternative:
- CBDVA – CBEVA-B
- CBCVA – CBLVA
- THCA – CBNA
- CBDA – CBEA
- CBCA – CBLA
In most cases, the life cycle ends in a neutral state. Although, a select few degrade over time as a result of oxidation.
Raw cannabis flower predominantly contains the acidic equivalent of the most distinguished cannabinoids: THC and CBD (the latter being more prominent in the species, hemp). The process in which a cannabinoid converts from an acidic state to neutral is straight forward.
Regardless of the cannabinoid, the process is identical. To keep matters simple, let’s focus on the two most popular forms of cannabis consumption:
Recreational cannabis in its natural form is a THCA dominant flower. Once ignited, the temperature transforms a bulk of the THCA into THC. As THCA is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, we can quash the myth that eating raw cannabis induces a “high”. Any genuine claim of the contrary is a result of oxidation; if you have ever consumed dry cannabis and experienced “couch-lock”, it’s because the THC has degraded into its sedative and mildly psychotropic off-spring, CBN.
Whole-plant hemp-extracted CBD oils often contain a selection of cannabinoids, with cannabidiol being the most commanding. Once again, pre-decarboxylation, it’s the acidic precursor that appears as the most dominant molecule; in this instance, CBDA. The extraction process produces enough heat to neutralise the cannabinoid, thus converting the vast majority of CBDA into CBD.
The same applies to cannabis edibles: the applied temperatures throughout the cooking process fully decarboxylate the acidic cannabinoids.
The Oxidative Cannabinoids
Given time, further transformations occur with several cannabinoids. As a result of another alteration in molecular structure, a select few neutral cannabinoids enter the final stages of their life cycle and transform into an oxidative state.
- THCV – Cannabivarin (CBV)
- CBDV – Cannabielsovarin (CBEV)
- CBDV – CBNDV
- Δ9 THC – Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8 THC)
- CBNA & Δ9 THC – CBN
- CBN – Cannabinodiol (CBND)
The “Big Six Cannabinoids”
Although there are over 100 cannabinoids discovered to date, scientific research is in its infancy. For this reason, only the most common cannabinoids have been examined in great detail; these are known as the “Bix Six Cannabinoids”.
From all of the compounds that are present within the cannabis species, THC is by far the most well-known. Not only is tetrahydrocannabinol the most common molecule present among the cannabis family, but it’s also the substance that is responsible for cannabis’s high inducing effects. There are a shot number of psychotropic cannabinoids, however, THC the most powerful intoxicant and also the most abundant; thus responsible for the plant’s once infamous reputation.
The destigmatisation of cannabis began in 1996 when California medically legalised the plant to offer relief to victims of several illnesses that include aids, cancer, and glaucoma.
Until recent years, CBD was only known by the minority; notably, cannabis industry professionals – such as cultivators and researchers. As of late, over one million regular CBD users have been confirmed in the UK alone; with a potential of up to six million individuals having tried CBD oil.
Although the hype surrounding CBD as a wellness supplement has outpaced scientific research; the majority of consumer feedback has been tremendous.
CBD will undoubtedly go down in history because it is the first FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved cannabis-derived medication. On the 25th June 2018, Epidiolex achieved FDA approval for its ability to treat seizures caused by two forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. The drug’s ingredients consist of cannabidiol at a concentration of 100 mg/mL. Inactive ingredients include dehydrated alcohol, sesame seed oil, strawberry flavor, and sucralose.
Cannabigerol was once a minor cannabinoid. In the early stages of cannabis cultivation, its direct predecessor, CBGA, is the most dominant. With this in mind, logic would have you think that CBG would have the most commanding presence. However, as has been previously noted as to how the molecular structure of cannabinoids naturally mutate; when it comes to harvesting, the most dominant cannabinoid will branch out to either THC or CBD variants, which is determined by the species of cannabis.
Nevertheless, CBG is becoming a cannabis cultivator favourite as early scientific research suggests that CBG may be the most dynamic cannabinoid as it enhances the proficiency of other cannabinoids; CBD in particular. And at the time of publishing this article, breeders have created CBG dominant strains – with some flower showcasing more than 12% active CBGA.
From the few psychoactive cannabinoids in existence – CBN is one of them. The sensation may differ from THC as its effects are milder and more sedative. Cannabinol generally comes in trace amounts, however, its presence grows over time as it’s effectively, aged THC.
Because CBN is a powerful and natural sleep-aid, it has become one of the highest researched cannabinoids. However, at this moment in time, CBN is illegal throughout the European Union and a list of other cannabis illegal territories, as its molecular framework is similar to that of THC.
In similar fashion to CBG, early studies suggest that it too may augment the efficacies of other cannabinoids. Although CBC is one of the “major cannabinoids”, it only exists in small quantities.
Scientific studies surrounding CBC are in the early stages. However, research has intensified as it mimics many attributes of THC and CBD. Cannabichromene’s most noteworthy trait is its compelling anti-inflammatory properties.
Another major cannabinoid, another delectable prospect for medical cannabis researchers. THCV is one of the last cannabinoids to be mentioned that offers an intoxicating reaction, albeit, the psychoactive bite is less than its “non-varin” sibling, THC.
When THC was first legalised for its plethora of benefits, medical cannabis research flourished. As THCV is in short supply, research is lacking in comparison to THC and CBD. However, the auspicious results in the conducted research have encouraged the same enthusiasm that once engulfed THC.
What Other Cannabinoids Are Being Researched?
CBGM (Cannabigerol Monomethyl Ether), is a rare cannabinoid that is more common in Japanese and South African hemp strains and is a member of the cannabigerol range of molecules. Researchers from Kyushu University in Japan discovered CBGM in 1968 after they successfully isolated the molecule from the hemp strain, Minamioshihara No. 1.
Once again, South Africa puts itself on the cannabis map as a few of their strains produce the unexplored cannabinoid, CBR (Cannabiripsol). This scarce molecule can also be found within a variety of Indian hemp strains.
What Are All of the Discovered Cannabinoids?
The cannabis plant has produced a profusion of cannabinoids; so many in fact, confirming and naming them all is a task that is beyond most, if not all cannabis-industry professionals. You may often read that there are either 113 or 118 confirmed discovered cannabinoids to date. However, as cannabinoid research has bloomed over recent years, additional discoveries is becoming a frequent event.
You can find an extensive list of every isolated cannabinoid in “Cannabis Sativa L. – Botany and Biotechnology”. The book may now be outdated compared with recent findings, however, it has the most comprehensive list of cannabinoids to date and includes a description on the currently known, nine cannabinoid variants:
- 23 types of Δ9 THC
- 5 types of Δ8 THC
- 16 types of CBG
- 9 types of CBC
- 7 types of CBND
- 5 types of CBE
- 3 types of CBL
- 11 types of CBN
- 9 types of CBT
- 30 Miscellaneous
It’s clear to see that the human race has had an extraordinary bond with the cannabis plant throughout history. The plant species possess a slew of therapeutic molecules, and with the cannabinoid range contributing to a large portion of that, the pending research and potential of further revelations is a mouth-watering prospect.