Demystifying CBD, CBG, & THC

CBD, CBG, THC, THCA, CBDA, CBN, etc… All these initialisms are more than alphabet soup. They’re compounds that are present in the cannabis sativa plant. They’re called cannabinoids.

Here’s where things get sticky, pun intended. 

CBD and THC are the “major” cannabinoids in cannabis. That means there’s more of them than any other cannabinoids in a given plant as it matures. 

The Medical Cannabis industry uses varietals of the plant that are bred for the highest THC content, the Industrial Hemp industry uses varietals of the plant that are bred for the highest CBD content. 

THC is the cannabinoid that has psychoactive properties and has been clinically proven to help patients with glaucoma, cancer, and many other health concerns to lessen or ameliorate symptoms. 

CBD is said to be beneficial in many of the same ways at THC, but without the psychoactive properties.

CBG is also thought to support a lot of the same issues as THC, but to do so more efficiently than CBD by interacting with the same cannabinoid receptors in the human brain. CBG is also not psychoactive. 

A cannabis plant’s maturation, though, impacts cannabinoid levels. Farmers and growers can actually manipulate the presence (or absence) of specific cannabinoids based on when they harvest and which genetics they choose to plant. 

For example, cannabinoids start to decrease just before and during pollination. As seeds develop and plants fully mature, cannabinoid levels all but disappear. 

With CBD- and THC-rich genetics, farmers and growers take enormous pains to prevent pollenation by, for example, purchasing feminized seed which will only yield female plants, and monitoring plants closely and removing any male plants that appear.

Testing by a licensed lab is also a terrific way to measure a plant’s composition, but there’s a time lag between sampling and testing that may make it an impractical option for most growers and farmers for whom precise harvest timing is beneficial.

For fiber and grain genetics, this is not a concern because pollination is a desired outcome, and THC and CBD are not supposed to be present in the yields.

Medical cannabis varietals that are bred for higher THC, require harvesting at the optimal point in a plant’s maturation in order to contain the highest possible level of THC. Same goes for CBD and CBG varietals.

There are lots of ways to figure out when this happens--growers watch for shimmering “crystals” or resin that develops on the leaves of the flowers (these are also sometimes called buds), the color of the “hairs”, and density of the flower to determine a plant’s readiness for harvest.

Industrial hemp varietals, when grown for CBD, are varietals that are bred for high CBD content.

While research is presently limited as these plants are relatively newly decriminalized, isolating cannabinoids may not be the most optimal way to derive therapeutic benefits from either medical or industrial hemp owing to a thing that has been called the entourage effect. The conventional wisdom holds that cannabinoids work best in cooperation with each other rather than in isolation from each other.

Some devotees of CBD oil have reported that THC-free oil or “Broad Spectrum” CBD oil  is less effective for them than full-spectrum CBD oil (which contains all of the cannabinoids). 

As studies and research continue to emerge about medical and industrial cannabis plants, it will be interesting to see what benefits are linked to which cannabinoids, and whether, if, and how they work together to support ideal health.

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