Cannabinoids, the chemical compounds housed in the cannabis plant, along with hundreds of other complex organic molecules are responsible for the plant’s therapeutic effects. The two most abundant cannabinoids are THC and CBD. However, without cannabigerolic acid (CBGa), these cannabinoids would not exist because the cannabis plant uses CBGa as a precursor to create several cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. Although evidence suggests that CBGa may have its own therapeutic uses, its role in the formation of other cannabinoids currently dominates CBGa research. 

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What is CBGa? 

CBGa is formed when olivetolic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate, two organic compounds contained in the cannabis plant, combine. CBGa is a critical building block in the formation of cannabinoids THCa, CBDa, CBCa, and CBG. The scope of possible medical uses of these cannabinoids is largely responsible for the 180-degree attitude shift toward cannabis. A once demonized plant has now become a therapeutic answer for patients all over the world. However, producing cannabinoids is an inefficient and costly process. Scientists have been interested in harnessing CBGa’s biosynthetic role to produce natural cannabinoids through methods beyond growing and extracting cannabis plants.   A team of German researchers out of Dortmund University engineered a way to replicate the natural synthesis of cannabinoids in yeast. Once the researchers discovered how to synthesize CBGa from olivetolic acid and geranyl diphosphate, they were able to produce THCa. The findings of this study were published in the Journal of Biotechnology. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley built on this research, releasing their results in a 2019 Nature publication. The team was also able to engineer the production of cannabinoids in yeast. Again, CBGa played a crucial role in the creation of THCa. The significance of this research is that it provides a relatively sustainable mechanism by which scientists can create natural and unnatural cannabinoids for continued research and therapeutic use. 

Cannabinoid guide horizontal infographic, healthcare and medical illustration about cannabis IStock / About-time

How to Consume CBGa 

One way to consume the greatest quantity of CBGa is to ingest raw hemp. Raw hemp refers to freshly harvested Cannabis sativa containing little to no THC. The more recently harvested, the greater the likelihood of a higher quantity of CBGa. That’s because regular exposure to heat and light, oxidation, and decarboxylation synthesize the acidic forms of cannabinoids into their activated forms. The longer cannabis is exposed to those variables, the less CBGa and the more CBG (and eventually CBN) will be present.  Hemp tends to contain more CBGa than cannabis strains which contain higher levels of THC.  It is important to note that there is a lack of research on the risks, benefits, and methods of consuming CBGa. Consult your doctor before incorporating cannabis/hemp into your diet or health regimen. 

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The Benefits of CBGa

There have been some fascinating studies on how CBGa affects the various medical conditions. It should be noted that the following studies are some of the first of their kind and do not equate to a scientific consensus. They're merely interesting and provide a good basis for future research. We can't stress enough that you should consult your doctor before you attempt to treat yourself with products containing CBGa.

CBGa and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

In a 2013 study, researchers induced colitis in mice and then examined the effect of CBG on extracted intestinal cells from the affected mice. The results showed that CBG had beneficial effects on the colitis in that it reduced nitric oxide production, mitigated the severity of the colitis, and reduced the creation of oxidizing agents in the small intestine. These overall benefits led researchers to recommend CBG for clinical experimentation in human IBD patients. 

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CBGa and Diabetes

Recent evidence suggests that CBGa has the potential to be used as a treatment for diabetes. The enzyme aldose reductase (ALR2) has been identified as a major contributor to the oxidative stress that leads to diabetic complications and diabetes-induced cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in patients with diabetes. In 2018, Italian researchers reported a study where it was discovered that whole plant extracts of Cannabis containing high amounts of non-psychotropic cannabinoids could be used as potential treatments for diabetic complications. 

CBGa and Metabolic Disorders

CBGa may also have a beneficial effect on metabolic disorders. Scientists have determined that the nuclear peroxisome proliferator activated receptors (PPARs) are important regulators of metabolism. The disruption of normal PPAR functioning can lead to the progression of metabolic diseases including diabetes and dyslipidemia. In 2019 research published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-General Subjects found that CBGA activates PPARs in ways that stimulate lipid metabolism and reduce excess lipid accumulation.  

Tweezers hold cannabis bud in a laboratory iStock / boonchai-wedmakawand

CBGa and Colon Cancer Cells 

One of the most pervasive forms of cancer is colorectal cancer.  In 2018 research published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research by suggests that CBGa may have a therapeutic role in targeting colon cancer cells. The researchers discovered that CBGa-rich cannabis extracts were involved in cytotoxic activity on colon cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) of colon cancer cells. These extracts were seen to be active on these adenomatous polyps which if untreated can progress into carcinomas. Research is revealing that cannabis extracts including CBGa are potential candidates as chemopreventive agents to either prevent or suppress progression of neoplastic polyps.

CBGa is a Neuroprotectant 

Neuroinflammation has been implicated in an array of disorders including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.  Inflammation and oxidative stress are major contributors to neuroinflammation. A 2018 International Journal of Molecular Sciences study found that CBG reduced inflammation, oxidative stress, and the expression of problematic proteins implicated in neuroinflammation. The study concluded that “the neuroprotective effects of CBG […] may be a potential treatment against neuroinflammation and oxidative stress.” Another 2018 study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation supports this finding, concluding that the anti-oxidative properties of CBGa demonstrated protective effects from the neurodegeneration involved in Parkinson’s disease.