CBGA - The Precursor To All Cannabinoids

By: Saif Khan

CBG-A, or Cannabigerolic Acid is the primordial phyto-cannabinoid. It is the compound in cannabis from which all the plant’s other naturally occurring cannabinoids are formed : without CBGA, the cannabis plant cannot produce its most useful compounds.

Despite this obvious importance, it still remains one of the most under-studied cannabinoids, with the majority of current research focusing on the healing properties of THC, CBD and CBN.

Here we aim to elucidate some of the important features of this ‘building block’ cannabinoid to demonstrate why exactly it deserves more attention in the medical cannabis community.

CBGA & Beyond

As mentioned in the introduction, all cannabinoids begin life as CBGA. There is then a biosynthesis within the plant’s cells involving certain enzymes that dictate whether that compound goes on to become Cannabidiolic Acid  (CBDA), Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA) or less commonly, remain as Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGA) or become Cannabichromene Acid (CBCA).

All these compounds are still in their raw, acidic form, hence the ‘A’ which denotes the molecule having an acid component. The molecule in this raw state carries a carbon ring in its outer layer that dictates its appearance as an acid.

The traditional course of action to prepare cannabinoids for consumption is to heat and thus ‘decarboxylate’ (remove the outer carbon ring from the molecule by subjecting it to heat) the molecules. This process converts THCA into THC, CBDA into CBD and CBCA into CBC.

The reason this process is usually performed is that cannabinoids in raw, acidic forms do not create the psychoactive effects in the human body that heated or ‘decarboxylated’ cannabinoids do.

However, this can benefit medical patients : as there is no physical or psychological effect when consumed, much greater quantities can be consumed in a single dose.

Raw cannabinoid therapy is in its infancy, but shows potential to be an effective way of getting large quantities of cannabinoids into the body without the psychoactive effects that can be unpleasant for some. More details and particulars are discussed in this interview with a pioneer of raw cannabis medicine, Dr. William Courtney.

Aside from the pathways CBGA can take in its biosynthesis journey to become CBDA,THCA or CBCA, there are further permutations caused by environmental factors that create other, different cannabinoids.

First, CBGA can also undergo the same decarboxylation or heating to become CBG.

Though it is usually only found in negligible quantities when testing harvested cannabis flowers - possibly due to much of CBGA being converted into other cannabinoids by the plant’s own mechanisms - it’s properties are not to be underestimated. CBG has been shown to help reduce inflammation, intraocular pressure, anxiety and depression; along with demonstrating synergistic effects alongside other cannabinoids to improve overall efficacy.

These findings alone should be enough to make the case for further study of its potential medical value, yet it continues to receive less attention than its more famous cousins, THC, CBD and CBN.

Environmental Factors

CBN or Cannabinol is the compound in cannabis that is currently heralded for its ability to aid insomnia, relieve pain and reduce inflammation. The path for CBGA to become CBN involves more permutations than most known cannabinoids : CBGA must first undergo the biosynthesis that brings about THCA, then THCA must be exposed to air and as time elapses, oxidation turns THCA into CBNA. Finally, upon interaction with heat and UV light, CBNA becomes CBN.

The infographic displayed here shows the paths cannabinoid permutation can take, and the environmental factors dictating those paths.

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CBGA Gaining Prominence

CBGA is starting to pique the interest of more cannabis breeders with each passing month : much like the Stanley Brothers became seen as pioneers of CBD-rich cultivars, companies like TGA Seeds (started by renowned breeder ‘Subcool’) are experimenting with trying to develop CBG-rich cultivars. This has been made possible by selecting cannabis plants that already demonstrated greater-than-average CBGA production and pollinating them with certain industrial hemp plants.

The industrial hemp plants selected for these breeding experiments naturally demonstrate a higher CBGA profile, resulting in offspring that retain higher CBGA levels in the cannabis flower.

So as the precursor to all other cannabinoids, a molecule shown to have positive synergy with said cannabinoids and a valuable compound in its own right; CBGA has an excellent case to be the next major phyto-cannabinoid to receive attention from researchers.

NB : Though there is research around CBGA, it currently focuses on trying to decipher what processes are taking place within the trichomes of the cannabis plant - to be able to better explain how CBGA becomes THCA, CBDA and others - rather than on its medicinal potential.

With more breeders selecting cultivars for increased CBGA production, it’s promising percentages in industrial hemp plants, and information becoming more readily available on the potential of this cannabinoid, we should begin to see more data supporting CBGA’s possible role as a primary cannabinoid in treating a variety of diseases.