Editorial Team   |   January 08, 2020

What are Acidic Cannabinoids?

As precursors to the cannabinoids we know, what exactly are acidic cannabinoids, what are the benefits, and how can the industry capitalize on the lesser-known compounds?
Our CannabisTech writers come from a wide variety of backgrounds with a passion for cannabis and technology, matched only by their desire to educate the world about the cannabis industry.

All cannabinoids start in their acidic versions. Producers and consumers must first apply appropriate heat to change the compound into the non-acidic versions that we are most familiar with. However, many of these cannabinoids may come with benefits in both their acidic and non-acidic forms.

CBGa – The Mother of All Cannabinoids

From Germany to California, researchers have been able to create cannabinoids derived from yeast. In both of these studies, the researchers started with Cannabigerolic acid or CBGa. Once they were able to develop this cannabinoid, they were then able to create THC. CBGa is the precursor to all known cannabinoids. 

To find a strain rich in CBGa, one would simply need to find a strain that was harvested early. This is because fresh crops are the richest in CBGa content that they will ever be. As the plant ages, CBGa either decays or becomes other cannabinoids, namely CBD. Producers of cannabinoids simply need to decarboxylate CBGa to turn it into CBD. 

Also, hemp has a higher quantity of CBGa than medical cannabis does. This is thought to be due to a recessive gene that appears in hemp more commonly than any other cannabis strain. It could easily be the result of selective breeding practices.

What We Know About CBGa

As a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid found within cannabis CBGa has several promising studies that have learned it may be able to treat things as grave as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and cancer. Despite this rich potential, studies on CBGa are limited, and so there is not enough consensus on the data to suggest it as a treatment option.

Seemingly acting as a low-low-affinity antagonist to CB1 receptors, CBGa contributes to the Entourage Effect by making the body more receptive to other cannabinoids. Interesting that consuming the root of all cannabinoids assists the body in processing them. Separately from how it interacts in full-spectrum products, CBGa has been found to potentially treat: 

  • Neuroinflammation - People who have autism, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and several other disorders all suffer from neuroinflammation. This is made worse by the presence of inflammation generally, along with oxidative stress. In 2018 CBG was found to provide anti-oxidative effects that were protective against the neurodegeneration typically associated with Parkinson’s. This is of great promise because neuroprotective medicines would benefit countless people. 
  • IBD - Throughout the developed world, millions of people suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, which is incurable. In 2013 research found that CBG could be considered for clinical experimentation with those who suffer from IBD. 
  • Cancer - Cancer is a worldwide concern and a leading cause of death. In 2018 CBGa was found to promote apoptosis in cancer cells. This means that CBGa encouraged the program cell death of cancer cells, thus helping the limit the spread of the disease. 
  • Metabolic Disorders - 2019 research has found that CBGa stimulates lipid metabolism and reduces excess lipid accumulation. This helps to regulate the metabolism, which could be used by people struggling with such health issues. 
  • Diabetes - Millions of Americans across states and economic status suffer from diabetes. Aldose Reductase, an enzyme that leads to many diabetic complications, also can cause diabetes-induced cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death among diabetic patients. 2018 Italian research found “extracts of Cannabis with a high content of non-psychotropic cannabinoids CBD/CBDA or CBG/CBGA significantly inhibit aldose reductase activity.” 

THCa – The Precursor to Our Most Beloved Cannabinoid

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), is an acidic cannabinoid called Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A (THCa). This early-phase cannabinoid exists mainly in fresh and dried cannabis flower and degrades quickly into Δ9-THC after exposure to heat, oxygen, and UV light.

Molecularly, Δ9-TH and THCa compounds are similar, but THCa owns an additional carboxyl group which decomposes through decarboxylation.

Unfortunately, the research around THCa is still quite hazy, which is only made worse through the inconsistent use of the terminology.

As per a review on THCa, published in the Journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, "The term "tetrahydrocannabinolic acid" or "THCA" has been hazily used in the literature to refer to several acidic derivatives of Δ9-THC, making it confusing to individuate their physiological and pharmacological profile."

Depending on the resource, readers may see Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A shortened to THCa (THCA) or THCA-A.

What We Know About THCa

Although THCa is less studied than Δ9-THC, like all cannabinoids, the therapeutic potential is significant. The medicinal value of THCa is particularly notable because it is non-intoxicating.

However, as a similar but non-intoxicating compound, THCa represents a unique opportunity. Unlike other minor cannabinoids, THCa is one of the few which naturally occurs at extremely high levels in fresh plant material. It may represent up to 90 percent of the available Δ9-THC in fresh cannabis flowers.

At a molecular level, researchers have determined THCa "displayed small but measurable binding" to both CB1 and CB2 receptor sites. A newer study confirmed it has a slightly higher affinity towards CB1 (similar to Δ9-THC).

The therapeutic potential of a CB1 agonist cannabinoid, but with none of the psychoactive effects is extraordinary. The research into the therapeutic value of THCa is still exclusively within preliminary stages of study, and include the following:

  • Anti-Inflammatory Qualities: THCa inhibits cyclooxygenase enzymes, which in turn reduces the production of prostaglandins, an enzyme responsible for pain and inflammation.
  • Neuroprotective: In an in-vitro model of Parkinson's Disease, treatment of THCa produced neuroprotective benefits.
  • Antineoplastic effects: Early research suggests that THCa has similar chemotherapy effects to Δ9-THC. But, it seems to work through different biological pathways.

CBDa – An Under-Researched Cannabinoid

Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) is the precursor to cannabidiol (CBD), much like Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A (THCa) is the precursor of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC). Exposure to UV rays, oxygen, and high temperatures transforms this parent cannabinoid, CBDa, into its decarboxylated form - CBD.

While CBDa occurs naturally in many chemovars, it is predominant in fiber-type (hemp) varietals. At the consumer level, if the strain is advertised as CBD-rich, at the cultivation level, it is CBDa-rich.

What We Know About CBDa

Structurally, CBDa is molecularly similar to CBD. Before the process of decarboxylation, CBDa also includes a carboxyl group (COOH), placing it firmly in the acid camp of cannabinoids.

Scientists know little about the possible therapeutic qualities of CBDa, but like many secondary cannabinoids, interest is growing. As a cannabinoid widely available in specific medicinal and industrial strains, it is widely available with the proper handling.

The limited preliminary research done on CBDa suggests:

  • Antiemetics qualities: In an animal model of nausea and vomiting, CBDa proved substantially more effective as an antiemetic, when compared to CBD.
  • Antitumor characteristics: In-vitro, CBDa strongly inhibits the migration of human breast cancer cells.

Throughout the industry, many manufacturers are capitalizing on the various cannabinoids. As research continues and extraction methods improve, we can expect to see many more applications for these individual cannabinoids.

 

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