There’s no argument that the cannabis market currently is dominated by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the intoxicating cannabinoid prized for its medical and recreational effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another major cannabinoid found in drug cannabis and hemp varieties that catapulted the cannabis plant into the mainstream (thanks to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s expose on Charlotte Figi, a child with intractable epilepsy who found the semblance of a normal life by using CBD).
That said, these are by no means the only valuable compounds found in the cannabis plant, nor are they the only ones that cannabis consumers are interested in purchasing.
According to a survey conducted by Brightfield Group, the vast majority of U.S. cannabis consumers would be “likely” to purchase cannabis products that heavily featured minor cannabinoids like cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN) and cannabigerol (CBG), among others. In fact, the majority of survey participants (~3,500 respondents) said they would be “very likely” to purchase products based on all of these minor cannabinoids.
Researchers are beginning to take a closer look at those and other minor cannabinoids in the hopes of finding the next great medical discovery. Here’s a glimpse into what they found in 2020.
CBN is an up-and-coming cannabinoid in terms of marketability, with a handful of companies already vying to sell CBN supplements to consumers, often marketed as sleep aids. This reputation stems in part from how CBN is formed through the degradation of THC and the belief that “old” cannabis is more sleep-inducing than fresher samples. However, little research actually has been done to confirm the molecule’s sedative effect. In fact, in an interview with Leafly, Dr. Ethan Russo, Director of Research and Development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, suggested that the higher presence of sesquiterpenoids and loss of monoterpenoids are what give older, CBN-rich cannabis its drowsy effect.
Of the research done on CBN in 2020, researchers from the University of Utah arguably logged the most important finding for consumers: ingesting large doses of CBN can cause consumers to test positive on a THC-metabolite detection test. This means that while some companies claim that CBN is legal (as long as it comes from hemp, not drug cannabis), use of the product can still cause consumers to fail a drug test and suffer the repercussions thereof. Researchers concluded that there may be “the need for confirmatory testing when results of THC metabolite testing by immunoassay are inconsistent with expectations.”
Studies on CBC generally have been limited to animal testing, but results are hopeful when it comes to pain management. Studies done in 2012 showed that CBC had anti-nociceptive (pain inhibiting) properties, as well as anti-inflammatory and hypolocomotive effects on digestive systems. Interestingly, in 2020 researchers from the University of Saskatchewan found that these effects might not have anything to do with the cannabinoid receptors that engage with THC and CBD, highlighting how the industry not only needs more research into these phytocannabinoids, but also in how they interact with human physiology.
Earlier studies have shown that CBG, dubbed the “grandfather” cannabinoid due to it being a precursor to the other cannabinoids, is effective in treating inflammation “in mouse models of Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” in addition to having anti-anxiety properties, according to the University of Saskatchewan researchers. However, just like with CBC, the researchers found that these effects might not be due to the interaction between CBG and the main cannabinoid receptors found in the human body, again making the case for further study into how the human body processes and utilizes cannabinoids.
THCV is a cannabinoid with similar properties to THC, with two major differences: it doesn’t get the consumer high, and it suppresses appetite, according to research published in the Journal of Cannabis Research. As such, it’s pharmaceutical value arguably is greater than its intoxicating counterpart, especially when it is for increasing “satiety” (i.e. feeling of fullness after a meal) and increasing a patient’s metabolism, making it a “useful remedy for weight loss and management of obesity and type-2 diabetic patients” according to the researchers behind the study.
The researchers conclude by sharing their vision where “the unique and diverse characteristics of THCV could be explored for further development into clinically useful medicines for the treatment of life-threatening diseases.”