Here comes another cannabinoid boom market. If you haven’t seen it yet, just look around: CBG (or cannabigerol) is suddenly everywhere, packaged in oils, tinctures, capsules, gum, and in whole-plant flower.
Does it live up to its promise? It depends on who you’re asking. Most conventional wisdom around marijuana is dead wrong, a knowledge problem created by prohibition but sustained—and, in many ways, encouraged—by the modern-day cannabis industry.
D.A.R.E. class told you cannabis had one active ingredient, THC. Then you find out it has several hundred. Then came wellness influencers, from Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP to the corner bodega, telling you all about the magic of CBD—and packaging that touted “healthy” cannabinoids in food and beauty products. “THC bad! CBD good!” was the very incorrect shorthand framing many confused Americans were left with, despite very little evidence of CBD’s power and THC’s demonstrated potential in pain relief, appetite stimulation, and even fighting cancer.
CBG is more untested. Unlike THC, which is banned by federal law and heavily regulated by states, and unlike CBD, which is increasingly policed by the Food and Drug Administration, there are no rules around CBG yet.
As a result, “there is growing interest in the commercial use of this unregulated phytocannabinoid,” as Kent Vrana, an eminent pharmacologist at Penn State College of Medicine and expert in cannabinoids put it in a recent article.
So what is CBG, what does it do—and how do we know any of this? More to the point: should you buy some and try some, while the researchers and medical experts try to figure all this out? And what should you make of the cannabis industry’s marketing efforts in the meantime?
Though still relatively unknown, CBG isn’t “new” to science, but the new market hype underscores the scientific ignorance.
As Vrana notes, “Cannabigerol (CBG) is currently being marketed as a dietary supplement and, as with cannabidiol (CBD) before, many claims are being made about its benefits.”
But, “[u]nlike CBD, however, little research has been performed on this unregulated molecule.”
It’s hardly abundant, with harvested cannabis plants generally made up of about 1 percent CBG content by weight, which begs questions as to how cannabis companies are harvesting enough of it or breeding plants differently to market products boasting of 20 percent CBG.
The knowledge gap and scarcity haven’t stopped entrepreneurs from “searching for the next economic market, and it appears CBG oil may prove to be that market,” Vrana wrote—and this is despite both a knowledge gap and some not insignificant risks.
“There is simply insufficient experience with this relatively rare phytocannabinoid and the potential for adverse effects is high,” Vrana wrote.
To be clear, CBG does seem to have legitimate medical potential, both based on very recent studies and scientific principles.
A recent study suggested the cannabinoid has real potential as an antibiotic. It has also been pushed as the “thin” cannabinoid, with potential in weight-loss therapies and metabolic diseases. And indeed, a recent review of CBG’s pharmacological effects touted its potential as a treatment for metabolic syndrome.
You may see CBG marketed as the “mother of all cannabinoids.” This is because the first identifiable cannabinoid the cannabis plant produces is cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), which is then converted into the biosynthetic precursors to THC and CBD. However, notably, there is little CBG in the final plant.
Cannabinoids like THC and CBD “work” by binding to specific receptors in the human nervous system. Activity at these receptors helps regulate key body functions like mood, appetite, and sleep. Importantly, though CBG appears to behave more like THC than CBD at some receptors, CBG also appears to work on different receptors than the ones activated by THC and CBD.
Most importantly, CBG seems to a very powerful agonist of the alpha-2 adrenergic receptor. From a medical standpoint, this is the most “potentially important” discovery.
Drugs or therapies targeting that receptor have been used in the treatment of a host of maladies, ranging from opiate withdrawal and cigarette cravings to hypertension, anxiety, pain, and ADHD.
But none of this is to say that CBG mixtures available on the market can mimic pharmaceutical drugs that target that receptor. In fact, like CBD, CBG might be problematic when combined with pharmaceutical drugs.
“From the potency of CBG at this adrenergic receptor, ingestion may unpredictably change blood pressure, induce sedation, and interact with other cardiovascular medications,” Vrana wrote.
And though it appears the alpha-2 activity is sign enough the cannabinoid will have significant medical potential, “there are reasons to monitor high dose CBG for untoward side effects beyond drug-drug interactions.” The opposite of hypertension is hypotension, or low blood pressure. The feeling of lightheadedness or “blacking out” called orthostatic hypotension has been documented among cannabis users—might CBG play a role here?
It might, yes. CBG may also interact with other drugs and create unanticipated complications or undesired results. And there is the additional question of what effect CBG will have on its own or when combined with other cannabinoids.
All this is to say that there is more we don’t know than we do know about CBG. How much do you need, and for what purpose? These are all questions that only more time and more research will answer. In the meantime, plenty of CBG products are available.
As Vrana writes, there is significant potential for very specific pathologies—and that’s how the cannabinoid will be marketed, regardless of concrete results.
Great potential, little actual knowledge, and immense hype: that’s the cannabis industry, and that’s the current bottom line with CBG.