What Are Rare Cannabinoids and How Do We Make Them?
Thanks to the interest shown lately in CBD by the scientific community, we have started unravelling the mysteries of CBD. And thanks to decades of research, we also know quite a bit about THC. But we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to the rest of the cannabinoids found in hemp—the so-called rare cannabinoids.
Few people realise it, but cannabis and hemp are brimming with cannabinoids. The most abundant and well-researched are CBD and THC. However, as we dig deeper and try to understand how hemp can help us, we keep discovering other cannabinoids as well.
There are more than 110 cannabinoids in hemp, such as CBC, CBG, CBN, CBDA, THCV, CBDV, and HHC. Studies suggest that each of these has its own health potential and may enhance the effectiveness of CBD in different ways.
The problem is that these other cannabinoids are found in minute quantities in hemp, so it’s practically impossible to extract them in substantial quantities from hemp leaves and flowers. That limitation is why they have been called rare cannabinoids.
Science, in partnership with nature, is looking into ways to deliver these cannabinoids in generous quantities while simultaneously exploring their potential.
What is hemp made of?
So far, we have identified over 110 cannabinoids, of which CBD and THC are the most common. CBD content in hemp is usually 12 to 18% while THC content in marijuana—which is still illegal in the UK—can easily reach 20 to 25%. All the rest of cannabis is comprised of other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, minerals, and vitamins.
Terpenes give hemp its characteristic aromas. There are more than 10 identified terpenes in hemp such as myrcene, limonene, pinene, linalool, beta-caryophyllene, and terpinolene. Each hemp strain carries its own combination of terpenes, which is why each strain tastes and smells differently.
You may also have heard of flavonoids. These are antioxidants that help our cells fight off free radicals—unstable molecules that age the human body and can lead to chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
What are rare cannabinoids?
Rare cannabinoids are the cannabinoids that are present in hemp but not in extractable quantities. Each cannabinoid displays its own therapeutic potential. However, a major problem of the cannabis industry is that it is impossible to obtain rare cannabinoids in satisfactory quantities using traditional extraction methods.
Here are some of the better-explored rare cannabinoids and what we know so far about them.
CBG is the precursor of many cannabinoids.
Natural heat and enzymes turn CBG into CBD and THC. CBG seems to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities. CBG also appears to have anti-microbial properties. People with chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, asthma, or Crohn’s may someday benefit from CBG, as well as those with chronic pain. CBG also seems to lower intraocular pressure, which is associated with glaucoma.
CBN has been called the sleepy cannabinoid because it was theorised it may help people with sleep problems.
Research so far has failed to prove this claim, at least when CBN is used on its own. There is, however, increasing interest in how CBN works with other cannabinoids to produce a feeling of relaxation and sedation. Perhaps CBN is more effective in conjunction with other cannabinoids and terpenes. After all, we already know about the entourage effect, whereby cannabinoids work better when they work together. More research is necessary to further explore CBN’s potential.
CBC seems to have anti-inflammatory properties. There is evidence that CBC can also assist our brain cells to regenerate themselves. CBC enhances neurotransmitter work and reduces oxidative brain stress. Many neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are caused by neural brain degeneration. Perhaps CBC could someday help stop such neural cell decline and prevent the development of such diseases.
CBDA is the precursor of CBD.
When the hemp flowers are exposed to heat and sunlight, CBDA turns into CBD. To harvest CBDA, hemp growers must cut the plants when they are still immature. Even then, though, the quantities of CBDA are insignificant.
CBDA has been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties by stopping the COX-2 enzyme from producing inflammation. This could prove to be helpful for chronic inflammatory diseases that require steroids or NSAIDs.
CBGA is the precursor of CBG.
When CBGA is heated, it turns into CBG, so we only have traces of CBGA. Like its cannabinoid siblings, CBGA appears to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Using yeast to make rare cannabinoids
Since we can’t harvest rare cannabinoids from hemp, scientists’ focus has turned to exploring novel ways of producing them. Growing hemp on large tracts of land just to harvest a few grams of rare cannabinoids is not cost-effective. Also, many of these cannabinoids get destroyed with heat or processing.
One interesting research on how to produce rare cannabinoids involves yeast. First, those cannabis genes that help cannabis create cannabinoids are introduced into yeast. Growers then feed yeast with sugar to help it multiply and ultimately grow cannabinoids.
Yeast is a quick and efficient way to produce cannabinoids. It requires little time to grow, especially compared to hemp. It also needs little space and doesn’t require the land, water, and fertilizers used for hemp. Yeast growing is also energy-efficient.
Growing cannabinoids through yeast can help us grow rare cannabinoids in a quick and cost-effective way. It could be interesting to experiment with different types of yeast and various cannabis genes to produce specific cannabinoids in the required quantities.
There are already three American companies researching the combination of yeast and cannabinoid growth, namely Demetrix and Biomedican located in the United States, and Canadian firm Hyasynth.
Rare cannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids
The world of hemp is filled with complicated buzzwords. Adding to the confusion is the distinction between rare cannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids.
The confusion rises because rare cannabinoids produced from yeast could be called synthetic cannabinoids. However, they have nothing in common with the actual synthetic cannabinoids illegally available on the market.
Synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 or Spice are synthetically produced. These so-called cannabinoids imitate the effects of cannabis but have nothing in common with it. They have been developed in illegal labs, where dubious hallucinogenic chemicals are sprayed on hemp flowers. People take them thinking that they have the potential of hemp only to discover they are experiencing illusory, psychedelic effects from the chemicals.
These effects can be dangerous to health, and users have mentioned altered behaviour, hallucinations, paranoia, extreme anxiety, and altered perception of reality. Many became aggressive. There have also been mentions of heart and kidney problems and increased blood pressure.
Synthetic cannabinoids remain a Class B substance in the UK, unlike rare cannabinoids that are derived from natural sources.
People are more aware of rare cannabinoids
Companies are investing in novel ways to produce rare cannabinoids because consumers are demanding it.
Consumers have learnt a lot in the past years about CBD. They slowly understand the full depth of hemp and what it can offer. They have learnt about the entourage effect and how full-spectrum CBD can be more efficient than CBD isolate.
Wanting to further explore the potential benefits of minor cannabinoids, many consumers are looking for ways to include them in their wellness routines. As a response to this increasing demand, companies are seeking ways to cover it.
An undeveloped market
This growing trend opens up new opportunities but also comes with new risks. The CBD market is mature compared to the minor cannabinoid one. And yet, there are plenty of CBD products misleadingly labelled or poorly tested. Some CBD manufacturers are even making unsubstantiated health claims.
The market for minor cannabinoids is still undeveloped. Companies investing in new ways to develop cannabinoids have to check the effects of their products before making them available to the public.
The need for new legislation
Inevitably, discussions will eventually involve THC. Many minor cannabinoids are precursors of THC while labs can produce hallucinogenic compounds similar to THC, such as Delta-8 THC and Delta-10 THC.
Marijuana remains illegal in the UK but minor cannabinoids often mimic the effects of THC. Does that make them illegal? Where do we draw the line?
One new challenge for the legal system will be to determine what qualifies as THC. Such discussions inevitably turn to cannabis itself and the legalization of marijuana.
Our British legal system needs to keep up with the world at large. Research and clinical trials may soon show how rare cannabinoids perform when produced in labs in ways that don’t involve hemp at all. We’ll then need a new legal framework in pace with scientific findings.
In the meantime, it is hoped that rare cannabinoids will soon become part of people’s wellness routine. Perhaps someday they may even have medicinal value and be used to treat various ailments and conditions.