While you may be familiar with the two most famous cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), there are actually over a hundred cannabinoids naturally produced in hemp and marijuana plants.
A few of the more notable minor cannabinoids include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and delta-8 THC—an isomer of the notorious delta-9 THC molecule.
If you're on the pulse of cannabis industry news then you know that cannabis brands are leveraging the emerging scientific research on the benefits of minor cannabinoids and offering specialized CBG and CBN products to appeal to mass curiosity, and hemp-derived delta-8 THC as a legal loophole to achieve similar psychoactive effects as marijuana.
In this article, we'll get into the differences between delta-8, CBG, CBN, and CBD, how they may provide benefits to your overall health.
First Off, What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a class of therapeutic phytochemicals that contribute to the unique health properties of cannabis. Cannabinoids exert physiological effects by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
While researchers were investigating the pharmacological pathway of cannabis' intoxicating effects, they discovered that mammals produce their own cannabinoid-like compounds called endocannabinoids (endo = inner).
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that relay messages throughout the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS).
The ECS is made up of endocannabinoids, CB1 and CB2 receptors, and enzymes. Together, they maintain homeostasis (balance) for optimal bodily function.
Supplementing phytocannabinoids (phyto=plant-derived) helps to increase the levels of our endocannabinoids to facilitate these message pathways to support a balanced lifestyle.
The most abundant cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are delta-9 THC and CBD. Minor cannabinoids such as CBN, CBG, and CBC make up the remaining bulk of the plant's cannabinoid profile.
What Are The Differences Between The Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are like a key and the receptor sites are locks. Cannabinoids have unique molecular shapes that make them fit into receptors to elicit a certain action. For example, the molecular shape of THC fits the CB1 receptor in the brain to produce intoxicating effects [ 1].
Where Can You Find Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids and terpenes develop in the fine, hair-like resin glands (trichomes) speckled over the flower and leaves of a cannabis plant.
In their natural form, cannabinoids aren't biologically active, which means you need a bit of preparation to get the most effects from the plant. Many cannabinoids require decarboxylation—a fancy chemical term that means to break off a carbon chain with heat—in order to transform the molecule into its biologically active compound.
For example, THC-A and CBD-A are the raw cannabinoids of THC and CBD. You can either cook the raw cannabis plant, smoke it, or if you're buying CBD products, the manufacturer's extraction process uses heat to activate the compound for better absorption right out of the package.
Cannabis Strains: The Cannabinoid Profile
The term "strain" doesn't have an official botanical meaning.
You may be familiar with the fact that hemp and marijuana are the same cannabis plant. The main difference between the two lies in the THC content, denoting its psychoactive properties.
In the United States, any cannabis plant with more than 0.3% THC content by weight is considered a marijuana plant, and it's a federally restricted substance, although certain states have legalized it for recreational use.
When we get into "strains," "cultivar," or "variety," people are generally referring to strains of cannabis plants that have a distinct look, scent, and effect profile largely due to their cannabinoid and terpene makeup—Similar to how a chihuahua and a husky are wildly different but belong to the same species of domesticated dogs or Canis lupus familiaris.
If this sounds straightforward so far, let's dive into the differences between THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN.
What Is CBD?
CBD is a primary cannabinoid abundant in the hemp plant, and it's the most researched cannabinoid.
You can thank this humble cannabinoid for bringing the cannabis plant, with a troubled history, into the mainstream after finding evidence to support its many natural therapeutic qualities.
Unlike its notorious counterpart, THC, CBD is non-intoxicating and is considered a safe compound even at high doses . Cannabidiol has become a staple supplement for many natural health seekers for promoting their psychical and mental health.
One of the ways through which CBD works is by inhibiting the enzymes that break down endocannabinoids. Supplementing CBD into our system helps to keep our body's endocannabinoid levels raised to support homeostasis — but there are other ways through which CBD interacts with the body too.
This includes interactions with our immune system to support normal inflammatory function, mediating receptors involved with the perception of soreness, and elevating neurotransmitter levels in the brain that regulate mood [ 3].
CBD on its own (CBD isolate) may support these health benefits. However, cannabis experts agree that CBD is much more effective alongside other cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, CBC, and THC in a full spectrum or broad spectrum extract. extract.
What Is THC?
When it comes to the most famous active compound in the cannabis plant, THC is at the top of the list.
It's the most abundant cannabinoid in mature marijuana plants, and it's the primary psychotropic compound that's responsible for the intoxicating effects. While there's a growing amount of research on the benefits of THC and some states have even legalized its use for medicinal treatment programs and recreational use, THC remains federally illegal.
Other than that, it's known recreational use, THC is an appetite stimulant, used to support muscle and joint discomfort, as a sleep aid, and a tool for introspection and personal-growth.
THC has a very similar molecular shape as the body's primary endocannabinoid, anandamide (aka the bliss molecule).
Anandamide and THC bind to CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system. Activation of the presynaptic CB1 receptors is believed to cause most of the feelings of euphoria, changes in perception, and neural excitability.
Differences Between Delta-8 Vs. Delta-9 THC
Delta-9 THC is the THC we're familiar with— delta-8 THC is an isomer, the same molecular formula but with a different arrangement of atoms. In delta-9, the double carbon bond is located on the ninth carbon chain, and in delta-8, it's on the eighth.
Delta-8 is a minor cannabinoid, which means it doesn't exist naturally in large quantities in hemp or marijuana plants. It's a degradation of delta-9 THC as the plant ages. Some experts believe the compound is much more shelf-stable because of this.
Many people are turning to delta-8 THC products, derived from hemp crops or synthesized by processing CBD, as a legal way to experience a marijuana high. Since the delta-8 comes from Farm Bill compliant hemp crops, it exists in a legal grey area.
As you can expect, there are a lot of similarities in the effect profiles of delta-8 and delta-9 THC.
Many people call it a cross between CBD and THC. It is psychotropic but offers a milder and much more clear-headed high, making it a preferable option for first-time cannabis users and those who are prone to feelings of anxiousness when they consume marijuana.
What Is CBN?
CBN stands for cannabinol.
Fun fact: CBN was the first cannabinoid to be isolated from cannabis in the research of the intoxicating effects of marijuana. However, researchers found that it wasn't the primary psychoactive compound, but a byproduct of THC .
CBN is considered a minor cannabinoid found in more mature cannabis plants as THC starts to degrade from oxygen exposure. It has the potential to be mildly psychoactive in extremely high doses, but overall experts deem it a non-intoxicating compound as it's not used in high doses for its psychoactive properties.
On its own, CBN isn't as versatile in the endocannabinoid system as other cannabinoids.
CBN has been studied for its benefits towards healthy post-workout recovery, maintaining healthy brain function, and sleep support.
Because CBN is a metabolite of THC, research suggests that it increases the effects of THC, producing more pronounced intoxicating effects and drowsiness when taken together nick-naming it the "sleepy cannabinoid" [ 5].
There's an emerging trend in the cannabis industry of marketing minor cannabinoids as specialized isolate products. However, there's no supporting evidence to suggest that CBN or any cannabinoid as an isolate could produce increased benefits over full spectrum or broad spectrum hemp extracts.
Overall, CBN has a promising role as a supporting cannabinoid. Rather than seeking out CBN isolate products, you may want to opt for full spectrum CBN products to leverage its effects for brain function, relaxation, and exercise recovery.
What Is CBG?
CBG (cannabigerol) is the parent molecule to THC and CBD. It's most abundant in young hemp plants, but as the cannabinoid matures, it transforms into the more biologically active cannabinoids. It's only gained more popularity in recent years, but these studies give insights into CBG's potential as a starring cannabinoid.
CBG and CBN show potential for supporting brain health, possibly leading to a greater capacity for focus and attention. Many people are reaching for cannabigerol (CBG) oil and gummies as their new favorite productivity tool to help with focus and sustained energy levels through grueling or mentally straining tasks.
Similar to CBD, CBG helps slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Higher levels of GABA may have potent calming effects that help to regulate stress and mood .
CBG as an isolate is difficult to source, as it requires harvesting hemp plants before maturity to yield higher concentrations of it, but it results in excluding many beneficial compounds. Like the other cannabinoids, CBG is better in a group than a solo act.
What Is The Entourage Effect?
The overall theme of this article is that while these cannabinoids show potential for supporting a healthy lifestyle, they're much more powerful when combined.
The entourage effect comes from a phenomenon in herbal medicine called synergy, where naturally occurring botanical compounds work together to yield stronger effects and balance out potential side effects.
When one active compound is isolated, it becomes weaker.
The entourage effect refers to the synergy of cannabinoids from the hemp plant in compounding its effects in the endocannabinoid system. This is why you may have noticed that you may require higher doses of your CBD isolate to achieve the same level of effects as a full spectrum or broad spectrum extract.
CBD is the leader of the synergistic effect as it's the most abundant cannabinoid harvested from hemp. CBN, CBG, and THC may help to increase the absorption of CBD and heighten its effects for supporting a sense of calm, post-workout recovery, and mental alertness.
The effect profile of a given extract will depend on the potency and the cannabinoid and terpene profile.
Full Spectrum Vs Broad Spectrum Extracts
All Neurogan products are formulated with the philosophy that CBD is much more effective for supporting one's health when it's taken as closely as nature designed it, alongside other therapeutic phytochemicals.
Our full spectrum and broad spectrum extracts are harvested from hemp plants using supercritical CO2 extraction to preserve its natural effect profile. The only difference between the two extracts is that our broad spectrum products undergo additional processing steps to remove THC.
While all our full spectrum products contain up to the legal threshold of 0.3% THC and are non-intoxicating, there are certain scenarios where our customers may want to avoid THC altogether. For example, if their employment requires frequent drug testing.
Both Neurogan full spectrum and THC-free broad spectrum products will deliver the benefits of CBD, CBG, and CBN for the entourage effect.
The Takeaway:CBD, CBN, CBG, Delta-8 THC
If you're looking to enjoy the benefits that the hemp plant has to offer, look for full spectrum or THC- or broad spectrum extracts that take advantage of the natural plant synergy of delta-8, CBD, CBG, and CBN.
With more research emerging about the benefits of minor cannabinoids, you may encounter CBD brands offering CBN or CBG isolates as the "best new cannabinoid." However, there's no evidence to support that any cannabinoid, CBD included, is best consumed on its own.
As a best consumer practice, always refer to a company's third-party lab testing report to read the hemp extract profile. This should provide information on the cannabinoids and terpenes present and their respective quantities, along with a contaminant report (pesticides, mycotoxins, solvent, and mold).
You can check out our blog to learn more about the benefits and the limitations of cannabis-based products or you can sign up to our newsletter to receive the Inside Scoop on all evidence-based findings related to CBD.
Please reach out to us if you have any further questions and we'll be happy to speak with you.
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