The cannabinoid acids are part of a group of well over 100 cannabinoids that are naturally occurring compounds in both the plant and animal kingdom. Our interest in cannabinoids stems from our interest in both the medicinal and recreational use of the cannabis plant and we have found that they can affect us in wide variety of ways.
So, lets start with the cannabis plant, by which we mean “cannabis sativa” and includes both hemp and cannabis (the distinction between hemp and cannabis is a legal one, not biological). To keep things as clear as possible we are also going to avoid the term marijuana as it will only serve to complicate things, so we are going to stick with cannabis.
The cannabis plant makes cannabinoids, along with a suite of terpenes, flavonoids, and other organic compounds. These compounds have a purpose, and with a bit of imagination and not necessarily a lot of chemistry, we can see that protection and communication are two key functions that these compounds can provide. In the case of the terpenes, we are very familiar with these compounds because they are volatile and strong smelling, and they function to communicate in a range of manners including attracting beneficial insects and animals and repelling harmful insects and animals. All of this being achieved before animal or insect arrives at the plant. In the case of the cannabinoids, it is reasonable to speculate that their primary purpose is also to protect the plant, but more targeted towards bacteria and or viruses; pests that come in direct contact with the plant. What better way to protect yourself than to cover yourself with compounds that are toxic to your enemies!
That leads us to the next obvious question; which cannabinoids are these ones that the plant makes? Well, that is where this article is going to deviate a bit from what you might have read elsewhere. What the plant makes are the cannabinoid acids, CBG-a, CBD-a, CBC-a, and THC-a. The plant does not make the decarboxylated version of these cannabinoids, CBG, CBD, CBC, and THC; these are formed when we either process or consume the cannabis. So, for the cannabis plant at least, the cannabinoid acids are the cannabinoids of choice. That would suggest that they have a range of pharmacological properties that should be very interesting. Unfortunately, today we know comparatively little about these compounds, in part because of a debilitating regulatory environment that has seen decades go by with little or no research into these extraordinary natural compounds, and secondly, our consumption of cannabis has led to greater focus on the decarboxylates, THC and CBD, leaving the acids overlooked. That; however, is going to change.
Recent scientific research has started to highlight some of the pharmacological properties of the cannabinoid acids and there is considerable promise for them as they may well prove more interesting than their decarboxylated analogues. This is because, when we look at compounds in terms of their biological functionality, we are talking about their ability to bind, like a ligand, to other molecules or molecular structures. When a ligand binds to another molecule or molecular structure it either inhibits that molecule or structure from doing what it is supposed to and/or it alters what the molecule or structure does. This behaviour is found everywhere in nature and the science behind it is at the core of how biological systems work.
In January 2022 researchers announced that they found cannabinoid acids (CBD-a and CBG-a) prevent infection of human epithelial cells by binding to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-II virus. In October of 2021 researchers found that cannabidiol (CBD) has the potential to inhibit cyto-toxicity and inflammation induced by the SARS-CoV-II spike protein. These are simply 2 examples of the types of promising results we are starting to see and will continue to see.
So, what do we know about the cannabinoid acids and why should we be interested in them?
- The cannabinoid acids are non-intoxicating.
- The cannabinoid acids come straight from the plant.
- The cannabinoid acids are neuroprotective making them potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis (M.S.).
- The cannabinoid acids have shown promise in treating chronic pain.
- CBD-a and THC-a act as anti-inflammatories by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme, a primary inflammatory mechanism.
- CBD-a and THC-a show promise in relieving nausea due to their serotonin-boosting abilities.
- The cannabinoid acids are thermally unstable and on heating are form the decarboxylated cannabinoid analogue.
- The total amount of cannabinoid acids in cannabis (on a dry weight basis) can range from a few percentages in hemp strains to over 25% in some highly cultivated strains.
- The two main cannabinoid acids are THC-a and CBD-a, which are the precursors to THC and CBD.
CBG-a is the ‘mother’ cannabinoid (being made enzymatically by the plant from olivetol and geranyl diphosphate) and the plant then makes CBD-a (Cannabidiolic acid), CBC-a (Cannabichromenic acid) and THC-a (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) from CBG-a, using synthase enzymes with the relative amounts of these cannabinoids being very strain dependant. Through selective breeding, we now have strains with THC-a contents up to 30% wt/wt and other strains with up to 20% wt/wt CBD-a.
CBD-a, Cannabidiolic acid, is the predominant cannabinoid in the ‘hemp’ stains of cannabis. It is the precursor to CBD which is the cannabinoid that has received the most attention in terms of its therapeutic benefits.
THC-a, Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the predominant cannabinoid in most strains of cannabis. In terms of the recreational use of cannabis, it is the THC-a that is converted to THC via decarboxylation, the produces the psychoactive effects. THC-a has become very popular in the recreational market over the past year or so, and it is affectionately called ‘diamonds’, because it can be isolated from a cannabis extract as a crystalline solid. While THC-a is at the core of this psycho-activity, the terpenes that are present are equally important and they are responsible for the range of affects different strains of cannabis have when consumed recreationally.
CBC-a, Cannabichromenic acid, is considerably less prevalent that the other 3 cannabinoid acids above; however, it is included here because it is specifically produced by the cannabis plant and has its own ‘enzyme’ to achieve this.
Recent research has shown that Cannabichromenic acid demonstrates potent anti-bacterial properties and successfully inhibits the growth of MRSA. is effective in More importantly, Furthermore, it is also a cannabinoid that research