Whilst increasing attention is being paid to the potential medical benefits of hemp and cannabis-derived products, these conversations tend to focus on the compounds of CBD and THC. Experts have now started to look at another cannabinoid called CBG for its possible advantages, which also means considering its availability, economic viability and any regulation around its supply.
People have been using the cannabis plant for medicinal and recreational purposes for millennia. It was only in the 20th Century that laws were passed to strictly regulate if not outright criminalise its use, and in the last few years many of those laws have been relaxed. More and more research is being conducted on the possible benefits, with many jurisdictions beginning to allow it in at least some medical circumstances.
CBD and THC
Much of the discussion around cannabis and its relative benefits and dangers revolves around two compounds, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There are actually more than 100 compounds, known as cannabinoids, in the cannabis plant, but these are the two that receive the most attention.
CBD is the general focus of most modern cannabis and hemp-derived products. It is used for treating a variety of conditions, including some rare forms of epilepsy, the stiffness, pain and spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and the side effects of chemotherapy. These are the only situations in which it will be recommended on the NHS, but people have purchased it as a supplement from health shops or online for many other reasons including its anecdotal pain-relieving effects, or to alleviate anxiety.
One reason that CBD has proven so popular is that it generally does not have the same side effects as the other well-known cannabinoid, THC. This is the psychoactive component of cannabis, the one that creates the "high" associated with recreational use of the drug. It is generally the THC level that is used to calculate legality or illegality.
What is CBG?
Then there is cannabigerol, or CBG. It is another cannabinoid, and one present in quite low levels in the cannabis plant. In fact, it is often converted into THC or CBD as the plant grows and has been nicknamed the "stem cell" of CBD. Researchers have recently begun investigating whether it shares any of the same benefits. This includes potential use as pain relief, as an anti-inflammatory or because of its antimicrobial attributes, although more studies will need to be done before any of these can be confirmed.
Like other forms of cannabinoid, CBG may be available in a variety of forms, including oils and edibles. You may also find it in broad and full spectrum cannabinoid products that include most or all of the compounds found in cannabis, including CBD and THC as well. Pure CBG, or CBG isolate, does not have any of THC's psychoactive properties and is considered both safe and legal.
Pros and Cons of CBG
Early research into the effects of CBG is relatively positive. According to pharmacologist Kent Vrana, an expert based at Penn State College of Medicine, "Research into cannabigerol is in its infancy but has shown promise for addressing a diverse array of therapeutic needs." Of particular interest is its potential use in treating neurological conditions.
Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease can all have a devastating effect on sufferers, but many of the medications used to alleviate symptoms come with their own debilitating side effects. It is hoped CBG may be able to offer an alternative that can improve overall quality of life.
CBG is also being investigated as a potential treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases and some forms of cancer. A study into its ability to "stimulate the appetite" suggests it could also be useful in the management of eating disorders. There is research into its impact on skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It could even be a powerful weapon against the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. All of these early indicators are encouraging further investment and research.
Currently, one of the major drawbacks in attempting to expand the CBG market is the cost of production. As the CBG levels of a cannabis or hemp plant tend to be much lower than the CBD levels, a lot more time and expense is necessary to extract a useable amount. According to James Rowland, CEO of Steve's Goods, which produces CBG in Colorado, "It takes thousands of pounds of biomass to create small amounts of CBG isolate." That is about 20 times more biomass than used in CBD extraction.
CBG in the UK
Use of medical cannabis may be limited on the NHS, but CBD supplements have exploded in popularity across the UK. Many suppliers are now looking to explore the untapped CBG market to expand further. This means finding more efficient ways to extract it from hemp plants and finding the best way to distribute it to consumers.
Among suppliers of cannabinoid products, steps have been taken to incorporate CBG in everything from food to skincare products. This includes seeking regulatory approval (the European Union approved CBG in cosmetics in May 2021). There are also attempts underway to develop effective biosynthetic production processes that allow it to be manufactured on a commercial scale without the current time and cost restraints.
Whilst research into CBG is still in its early days, results to date suggest it may have a range of medical benefits, as well as being free of the intoxicating effects of THC.
Considering the increasing popularity of CBD, it seems likely that CBG will continue to attract attention as cannabinoid suppliers in the UK continue to expand their brands and the market continues to grow. This means it is not inconceivable that a range of different CBG products will soon be available around the country.