Is CBG the Next CBD?
CBD has gone incredibly mainstream, but experts have been observing that "CBG" is hot on its heels. What is CBG—and why might it actually be safer than CBD?
Move over CBD, there’s a new cannabinoid in town.
It’s called CBG (short for cannabigerol), and experts are predicting it could be the next “it” supplement. You may already be aware that CBD is one of the main compounds called “cannabinoids” found in cannabis plants. They’re both from hemp, a cannabis plant like marijuana. In the past couple years, CBD (cannabidiol) has exploded in popularity as a functional aid to promote mental calm and often sleep. You can find CBD in a variety of products, including supplements, drinks, cosmetics, and lotions. But CBG has mostly flown under the radar—at least until recently.
So what is CBG and how is it different from CBD oil and its cousin THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects?
While we’re learning a lot about CBD and THC, there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding CBG and what it is capable of, says Kent Vrana, PhD, chair of the department of pharmacology, Penn State College of Medicine.
CBG: What we know now
Cannabis plants contain 100-plus cannabinoids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “CBG has been touted by entrepreneurs as the ‘mother of all cannabinoids’ because it is the plant precursor to THC and CBD,” explains Vrana. “Two different plant enzymes convert CBG to THC or CBD.”
CBG shares some structural similarities with THC and CBD. “However, as a drug, it behaves someplace in between CBD and THC, although it does not get you high,” Vrana says.
This is likely due to the way it affects your brain, says Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the global senior director, clinical science for the Canopy Growth Corporation, a group that aims to produce and sell legal marijuana in the Canadian medical market. Canopy Growth Corporation does not produce CBG or CBG-infused products.
“While the mechanism of CBG’s action is still not fully understood, it is unlikely that it produces its effects through the cannabinoid receptors” in the brain, Bonn-Miller says. While THC locks into these cannabinoid receptors directly, CBD doesn’t depend on that interaction for its effect; CBG likely doesn’t either, which may be why it doesn’t produce a high like marijuana.
How is CBG produced?
Hemp has a lot of CBD, but just a touch of CBG, which makes it tougher to produce than CBD or THC. “The plant generally doesn’t store it or accumulate CBG because it all gets converted to THC, CBD, and another compound,” Vrana adds. “But plant biologists are now creating strains to increase the amount of CBG.”
This is why CBG is very expensive to make, says Peter Grinspoon, MD, instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also a board member at Doctors for Cannabis, a physician group promoting the broad legalization of marijuana so that it can be studied for potential medical use.
How CBG is produced is important, especially when it comes to taking drug tests. Even though CBD doesn’t produce a high, the traces of THC found in CBD may cause a failed drug test. This is likely not a risk for CBG, Dr. Grinspoon explains. “It depends on how it is made,” he says. “If it is engineered in a lab, there is no risk of flunking a drug test, but if it is from a plant, there may be.”
CBG research and potential
There’s a lot of hype, some hope, but very little research in humans about the potential benefits of CBG right now. CBG researchers still don’t even know what they don’t know about the new “it” cannabinoid.
“With CBD, the enthusiasm outpaces the science, and I am hoping that doesn’t happen with CBG,” says Dr. Grinspoon. “I get the feeling that we’ll be seeing it in cosmetics, lattes, and supplements soon and I am a little concerned that just like CBD, we are going to get a gap between the science and the reality with CBG.”
The main potential uses of CBG are anti-inflammatory, Dr. Grinspoon says. It could play a role in helping to treat inflammatory bowel syndromes such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and possibly even irritable bowel syndrome, he says. “We need human studies, but they are very promising in animal studies,” he says
Another potential use of CBG is to treat the potentially blinding eye disease, glaucoma, which causes damage when fluid builds up inside the eye and increases pressure. “Cannabis has always been thought of as a treatment for glaucoma, and this molecule may be why,” he says.
CBG may also have some antibacterial properties. “In the lab, it kills MRSA [a dangerous bacteria], and we are slowly running out of antibiotics that treat it due to decades of overuse of antibiotics,” Dr. Grinspoon says.
It may also help reduce inflammation and protect brain cells in individuals with Huntington’s disease, a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. This would be a game-changer for the approximately 30,000 Americans that have the disease and those at risk of inheriting the condition. But the research is in its infancy, Dr. Grinspoon notes.
CBG may also help counteract the intoxicating effects of THC, he says. “If marijuana makes you feel paranoid, CGB may help, and this will allow you to continue using marijuana for medical reasons.”
CBG safety issues
The good news is that, so far, CBG seems safe and non-toxic. “It has been reported that it binds to a non-cannabinoid receptor in the brain that could reduce blood pressure,” Vrana says. But, he cautions, this could be dangerous if someone already on blood-pressure-lowering meds were to take it on top of the prescription drug. Because CBD can interact with several common medications—antibiotics, cholesterol drugs, immunosuppressants, pain medications, and more—and CBG is so similar, check with your doctor before trying CBG.
CBG may increase appetite, which can be beneficial if you are being treated for cancer or another disease and need nourishment, but not so helpful if you are trying to lose weight.
The FDA is currently weighing the best ways to monitor CBD and CBG products. THC is still covered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), but CBD was removed thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. Now it is up to the FDA to decide how to regulate the sale of CBG and other non-THC products. Until the FDA gets involved with the regulation of CBG, says Dr. Grinspoon, “there is no guarantee that the product contains what is listed on the label. Look for products that have independent lab testing and offers a Certificate of Analysis. This is the best way to assure you are getting what you are paying for.
- Kent Vrana, PhD, chair, department of pharmacology, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: "What is marijuana?"
- Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, adjunct assistant professor, psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Global Senior Director, Clinical Science, Canopy Growth Corporation
- Peter Grinspoon, MD, instructor of medicine, Harvard Medical School
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: "What Is Glaucoma?"
- Huntington's Disease Society of America: "Overview of Huntington's Disease"
- FDA: "Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill"