Cannabinoids Profile: The Chemical Constituents of Hemp

What are Cannabinoids?

While the broader family of cannabis plants is most known for containing the psychoactive cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), industrial hemp is now cultivated to contain less than the federal legal limit set by the United States Department of Agriculture of 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis.

THC, however, is not the only cannabinoid in hemp or cannabis. The hemp plant is rich with other cannabinoids, at least 113 of which have been identified and categorized as belonging to the same class of related molecules. These substrates are grouped for their ability to interact with the cannabinoid receptors of the human body, or the endocannabinoid system.

Endocannabinoid receptors are present in a variety of tissues and cell types, inspiring researchers to examine potential applications that utilize exogenous cannabinoids to achieve a therapeutic effect.

Research on most cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system is still in its infancy, but the growing body of knowledge on cannabinoids has already yielded important insight into the value of testing hemp and hemp-derived products for their unique cannabinoid profile.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is typically the most abundant cannabinoid present in the hemp plant. Its mainstream popularity as an active ingredient in wellness products was initiated by groundbreaking discoveries of its efficacy to treat rare forms of intractable epilepsy.

Since then, a number of clinical studies have begun to amass a portfolio of indications for which CBD could potentially act as primary or adjunct therapy.

Of all the non-psychoactive cannabinoids, CBD has been studied the most. Yet, from a consumer perspective, the effects that CBD might exert on the human body can seem complicated and contradictory.

Due in part to its current regulatory status, companies are disallowed by the FDA to make claims of CBD’s therapeutic potential to market a CBD product, even if the claim is supported by established research conclusions.

This leaves the public to compare intentionally diluted (or, in the worst case, fabricated) information from disreputable CBD companies to independent searches of peer-reviewed research findings.

Beyond its anti-epileptic capabilities, scientists have proposed numerous potential applications for CBD, including inflammation, pain, neuro-protection, neuropsychiatric disorders, substance abuse disorders, and more.

Importantly, what putative pharmacodynamic properties have researchers proposed for CBD?

  • It may increase endocannabinoid availability via an increased release and decreased enzymatic breakdown of endocannabinoids.
  • It may inhibit adenosine uptake, potentially explaining its ability to reduce the feeling of anxiety.
  • It may be a positive allosteric modulator of α3 glycine receptors, potentially explaining its pain-relieving properties. 
  • It may reduce nuclear PPARγ activity, cytokine secretion, and inflammatory lipid signaling, potentially explaining its anti-inflammatory effects.

Pending clarification of regulatory oversight, precise and accurate information about CBD’s aptitude for encouraging health and wellness remains underrepresented in popular media.

Until then, laboratories and hemp research organizations are responsible to continue generating information about cannabinoid profiling and supporting clinical research.

Cannabigerol (CBG)

Cannabigerol, or CBG, is the chemical precursor to both CBD and THC. This means that to extract significant amounts of CBG, industrial hemp farmers must harvest their crops earlier than normal to ensure that the cannabinoids within the plant are at an early enough stage of development.

This process can be costly and comes with a risk of error in judgment of the cannabinoid conversion process.

Although CBG research is arguably decades behind CBD research, preliminary pharmacodynamic evidence suggests that CBG has a high affinity for both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the human body.

Whereas CBD has a low affinity for both receptors, CBG’s ability to bind to the two primary endocannabinoid receptors in the human body hints that CBG may elicit a robust physiological response in systems involving metabolism, sleep, inflammation, pain response, and mood. 

In 2019, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a series of funding opportunities for researchers to study applications for minor cannabinoids and terpenes, including CBG, to be awarded starting at the end of the year.

Understandably, the global COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the NIH’s award process for the study of minor cannabinoids in favor of pressing public health issues.

Regardless of this setback, the success in commercial CBG product formulations and co-formulations with other cannabinoids is probable. 

Cannabinol (CBN)

Upon its initial isolation, cannabinol, or CBN, was thought to be the cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive properties of cannabis.

Disproved in no time, researchers discovered that CBN is actually the “oxidation product” of its psychoactive parent cannabinoid, THC. Thus, cursory impressions of CBN have historically been dismissive of the cannabinoid’s value. Developed later in the life of the hemp plant, concentrations of CBN in hemp harvests are typically lower than CBD.

CBN has not yet benefited from the same clinical research attention as CBD, but pharmacodynamic explorations of the molecule have produced suggestions that it may interact with the endocannabinoid system with similar efficiency to THC.

Societal resistance to psychoactive compounds as medical therapy has been a factor of various governments’ delay to approve THC for use in clinical settings, but this extremely preliminary evidence suggests that CBN could achieve similar therapeutic effects as THC without psychoactive side effects.

Additionally, CBN has been a suspect of interest in research on the “entourage effect,” or the idea that cannabinoids and terpenoids (derivatives of terpenes) may modulate each other’s effects when introduced in combination as opposed to alone.

Although the existence and pervasiveness of the entourage effect has not been unequivocally proven, pharmacokinetic results have suggested that CBN may modulate the effects of THC when taken in combination.

Testing Hemp Products for Cannabinoid Profile

To date, at least 113 cannabinoids have been identified by researchers and other mysteries are bound to be unlocked.

State-of-the-art laboratory equipment with low limits of detection and limits of quantitation make it possible to detect trace levels of minor cannabinoids such as cannabidivarin (CBDV), tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCV), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabivarin (CBV), cannabicitran (CBT), and more.

Because of the diversity of the cannabis plant’s constituents, it is vitally important for hemp producers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers to understand the cannabinoid profile of each commercially available product.

Not only can quality cannabinoid profile testing protect retailers and manufacturers from existing federal regulations relating to THC content – it can also provide valuable insight into the ecosystem of cannabinoid conversion within hemp-derived material. 

Get more information on testing hemp products for their cannabinoid profile in a future blog on Santé Laboratories’ blog. 


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