The problem with the most exciting, most awesomest cure-it-all cannabis product to come along in maybe forever is that it's not exactly ... How can we put this? ... all that.
CBG, as it's widely known, has some possibilities, sure. Like other cannabis-derived wonders (CBD and THC being the biggies), CBG may yet prove the perfect balm to soothe our ailments and ease our troubles.
But right now, in early 2021: Are there any actual therapeutic uses for CBG? At all?
"There are none that have been proven. Zero," says Kent Vrana, a professor and chair of the department of pharmacology at the Penn State College of Medicine. He also co-wrote the 2020 paper, "The Pharmacological Case for Cannabigerol (CBG)", that was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
"However, based on its pharmacological profile ... there is a potential for managing high blood pressure, and managing substance abuse in general, and potentially — and I'm stretching a little bit here — as an anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication. Those are its potentials based on what we know it does. But there's so much that we don't know because it's never been in the marketplace, it's never been in the scientific landscape until now.
"I think it's just incredibly dangerous to use until we get this figured out."
What the Heck Is CBG?
The letters CBG stand for cannabigerol, which is one of the 100-plus cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. It's the decarboxylated form of cannabigerolic acid, the parent molecule from which all other cannabinoids are created. Before we get too much further, though, some definitions are in order:
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa).
Cannabis sativa is the name of a well-known and widely cultivated flowering plant, originally from Central Asia, which has been used in folk medicine and as a source of textile fiber since the dawn of times. Marijuana and hemp are both Cannabis sativa plants. The difference between the two is in the content of THC in the plants. Hemp, by definition, does not contain any more than 0.3 percent of THC. Marijuana can have more than that.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is one of the cannabinoids in cannabis, maybe the most famous. It's a psychoactive compound; that is, it's responsible for the "high" that you get from smoking marijuana, or the buzz that you get from ingesting THC-laced edibles that are now legally available in many U.S. states, Canada and several countries in the EU and South America.
CBD (cannabidiol) is another of those cannabinoids, the current extract that is so "hot" on the cannabis block. It's used for a number of purposes and is now marketed widely. It's also in a medicine (Epidiolex) approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to treat seizures in certain rare forms of epilepsy. It's the first use of a cannabis plant in an FDA-approved drug and it doesn't get you high.
The cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa — THC, CBD, CBG and many others — interact with the endocannabinoid system, a network involved in, among other bodily functions, the central nervous system. CBG (known in many places as the "mother of all cannabinoids" because it's a building block to other cannabinoids like CBD and THC) may have a kind of "regulating" effect on the endocannabinoid system.
CBG undoubtedly has promise. From Vrana's paper:
That sounds great, of course. It covers a lot of ground, and perhaps explains the wild amount of early marketing going on all over the internet. Any quick Google search will unearth all sorts of claims about CBG.
"CBG has been demonstrated to be an antioxidant, protecting against oxidative stress ... It has been shown in lab trials to have neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-nausea and pro-appetite effects," a cannabis-seller tells CannabisNow. The same article mentions possible treatments for diabetes and fibromyalgia, and even cancer pain.
From another pro-cannabis site: "CBG ... acts as a buffer to the psychoactivity of THC by working to alleviate the paranoia sometimes caused by higher levels of THC. CBG works to fight inflammation, pain, nausea and works to slow the proliferation of cancer cells. Research has shown it also significantly reduces intraocular eye pressure caused by glaucoma. Strains high in CBG will be beneficial treating conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease and cancer."
Caution: Curves Ahead
But again, as Vrana is quick to warn: CBG has not been studied nearly enough. What some state as fact, or softly as almost-fact, others clearly dispute.
On CBG's effects on glaucoma, for example, from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (which, it should be pointed out, is not trying to sell anyone cannabis):
And not to throw a wet blanket on the cannabis craze, but the NCCIH also points out several concerns about the use of cannabis and cannabinoids, including:
- A link to an increase in car wrecks
- Lower birth weight for kids born to moms who smoke cannabis
- An increased risk of injury among older adults
- A higher risk of developing severe mental illness in people who frequently use cannabis and are predisposed to those illnesses
Cannabinoids like CBD generally are not regulated by the FDA, which presents different problems. A 2017 analysis of CBD products sold online found that 26 percent contained substantially less CBD than the label indicated; 43 percent contained substantially more.
Separating Promise From Proof
So, CBG as the next big thing? It's a long path between promise, potential and all-out proof.
"From a marketing standpoint, it is the next big thing," Vrana says. "Is it the next big therapeutic? Again, the jury's still out on that."
Vrana has put in more than 30 years of research in molecular neuropharmacology. He's seen the hype surrounding things like CBG before. He knows the damage it can do.
"We all succumb to this. We can't help ourselves. We've got this unmet medical need. We want to have a cure," he says. "And CBG is not gonna be the cure."
Much of the allure of cannabis and cannabis products comes from the fact that they're considered organic. They're natural. What could go wrong?
"Just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe," Vrana warns. "Strychnine comes from a natural plant. And it's poison."
Cannabis and cannabis products sometimes carry other baggage, some of it left over from the 1930s-era "reefer madness" kind of thinking. Many people, perhaps because of the "stoner" stigma associated with the use of cannabis — or simply because many cannabis products don't need a prescription or a physician's OK — don't tell their doctors that they're smoking marijuana or using CBD oil. That can be a problem.
"The active ingredients in marijuana and hemp, THC and CBD, will interfere with other drugs that you might be taking," Vrana says. "A classic example is warfarin or Coumadin [the generic name and a brand name for a popular anticoagulant]. Marijuana and CBD oils will interfere with that. Just tell your doctor what you're doing. Disclose if you're using recreational marijuana, or if you got some CBD oil at the gas station. It may interfere with what your doctor is trying to do."
The unknowns of CBG, much-less-studied than THC or CBD, make it all that much more potentially dangerous.
"We have no experience with people taking high concentrations of CBG," Vrana says. "What we know is that CBG is going to have its own activities. That's what we're studying. We know it drops blood pressure. But imagine if you have a blood pressure regulation problem and somebody tells you, 'Oh, you gotta try this CBG.'
"So don't believe everything you read on the interwebs."
Someday — Vrana suggests perhaps within the next five years — we'll know a lot more about CBG; what it can and can't do, what is safe and what's not. It may yet prove its worth as a therapeutic. But that day is not here yet.