Acidic cannabinoids like cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGa) are naturally occurring phytocannabinoids found in the living cannabis sativa plant. Contrary to popular belief, the cannabis and hemp plant does not actually produce THC or CBD, but instead create their acidic precursors THCAa and CBDa. Cannabinoids are first formed as acids and decarboxylate upon drying or heating to form their neutral derivatives. In their raw, acidic form cannabinoids are non psychoactive, meaning they will not get you high, however they have demonstrated numerous therapeutic benefits that may be of particular interest to the health & wellness minded among us.
Before we can better understand what acidic cannabinoids are we must first explore cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system as well as the cannabis plant which they are named from.
Cannabis Sativa has been used as medicine by humans for thousands of years, but our understanding of the phytochemistry of the plant is relatively new. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the first cannabinoid, CBD was discovered. Later in 1955 CBDa was the fist cannabinoid to be isolated in its pure form and nearly a decade later in 1964 a team of Israeli researchers led by Dr. Raphael Muchulem isolated ∆-9 THC, the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body and brain. The most famous cannabinoids are THC and CBD, however there are over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis that may have potential therapeutic effects. Cannabinoids can be from plants like cannabis or they can be synthetic cannabinoids created in a lab. Cannabinoids are also created by our own bodies, these cannabindos are called endocannabinoids.
Cannabinoids can come from three sources:
Phytocannabinoids - Plant produced cannabinoids
Endocannabinoids - Cannabinoids created by the body
Synthetic cannabinoids - Cannabinoids created in a lab.
The discovery of phytocannabinoids produced by cannabis came well before the discovery of endocannabinoids produced by mammals and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) that regulates them. This is why our body's ECS is named after cannabis compounds.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vast network of chemical signals and cellular receptors found throughout our bodies and brains. To stimulate these receptors the body produces cannabinoids and endocannabinoids that have a similar structure to molecules in the cannabis plant. The first endocannabinoid to be discovered was named anandamide after the Sanskrit word ananda for bliss. This bliss molecule closely resembles the cannabis derived phytocannabinoid THC which is largely responsible for the euphoric feeling associated with smoking cannabis.
The ECS is composed of two primary receptors:
CB1 receptors are located primarily in the central nervous system of the brain and spine and act like traffic cops to control the level of activity of other neurotransmitters. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are primarily found in the peripheral nervous system and are believed to play a vital role in autoimmune responses and homeostasis.
Whether they come from plants, humans or created in a lab, cannabinoids represent a large family of compounds that play a vital role in human health and wellness by engaging our bodies endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The flowering buds of the living cannabis plant produce high concentrations of phytocannabinoids called acidic cannabinoids. These cannabinoid acids like CBGa, CBDa and THCa have an extra carboxyl group attached to them making them slightly larger than their neutral counterparts like delta-9 THC and CBD and are thus metabolized by the body differently and offer their own unique effects and benefits. Cannabinoids like ∆9-THC, CBD and CBN do not form in high concentrations in the cannabis and hemp plant, but rather are formed via a chemical process called decarboxylation.
Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction in which a compound loses a carboxyl group, releasing CO2 and altering the chemical structure of the molecule. Basically this is what happens when you smoke or vaporize cannabis flowers. Cannabis infused edibles, topicals and tinctures are often decarboxylated by heating the dried and ground cannabis flower in a convection oven to release the carboxyl group and convert the acidic cannabinoids into their neutral forms. This process typically involves temperatures above 220 F.
Raw, acidic cannabinoids must be cold extracted and cold filtered from end to end to preserve the living compounds of the raw cannabis plant. Fresh frozen or freshly dried and cureid cannabis or hemp flower can be used for acidic cannabinoid extraction and should not be heated to temperatures above what would normally happen outside (unless you’re in Death Valley!).
Some common raw acidic cannabinoid based products include: Live Resin, Live Rosin, THCA Diamonds, among others, however remember when these products are heated they decarboxylate. The reason they are cold processed is to preserve the true essence of the plant, namely the phytocannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. Hash connoisseurs know that raw is better, so when will the rest of you catch up!?
CBGa - Cannabigerolic acid
Cannabigerolic acid or just CBGa for short is the acidic precursor to Cannabigerol, CBG. CBGa can be viewed as the cornerstone cannabinoid because it is the building block that all other cannabinoids like CBDa, CBD, THCa and THC come from. CBGa is found in both cannabis and hemp, but tends to show up in higher amounts in hemp, especially raw (unheated) hemp. The plant produces CBGa by combining two organic compounds olivetolic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate.
Benefits of CBGa
CBGa has been gaining popularity from consumers and researchers alike due to its potential therapeutic benefits as well as what it tells us about how phytocannabinoids (plant made cannabinoids) are created. Researchers in Germany figured out how to create CBGa from olivetolic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate. Because CBGa is the building block of cannabinoids once scientists unlocked its creation they have been able to produce THCa and other cannabinoids in yeast without the need to grow the plant at all. Their findings were published in the Journal of Biotechnology 2017.
In 2019 researchers from the University of Califonria Berkely added to their work by also creating CBGa from yeast and then creating THCa. This research is significant because it allows scientists to explore the therapeutic properties of these cannabinoids without having to source outside plant derived compounds that can conflict with federal and state law.
CBGa has numerous potential therapeutic uses, including:
CBGa is one of many cannabinoids found in the cannabis and hemp plant that may offer numerous therapeutic uses as well as ground breaking ability to generate other cannabinoids from yeast due to its capacity as a Cornerstone Cannabinoid, that is CBGa is the original cannabinoid created by the plant that other cannabinoids like THCa, CBDa, CBC, THC and CBD come from.
More research is needed, but we are excited to have this lesser known cannabinoid finally getting the attention it deserves.
Keep an eye out for products with CBGa, like our Awakened X Kush Queen 1:1 CBDa/CBGa Oil and experience what full spectrum hemp can do for you.
CBDa - Cannabidiolic acid
CBDa is the acidic precursor to CBD found in raw (unheated) cannabis and hemp flowers. CBDa converts to CBD with heat, oxidation or prolonged uv light exposure. CBDa has been found to be vastly more potent and effective than CBD. A few studies have shown CBDa to be:
- 10 X more potent than CBD for seizures
- 100 X more potent than CBD for inflammatory pain
- 10,000 X more potent than CBD for nausea
- 50,000 X more potent than CBD for anxiety
In a recent study conducted in Italy, researchers found CBDA to be more than 18x more bioavailable than CBD. The way that the study measured this was by first preparing two different means of cannabinoid administration—a decoction (alcohol) and an infusion (olive oil). They then measured the levels of the CBDA and CBD in each preparation before administering them to the participants (on separate occasions). Interestingly, the level of cannabinoids were highly variable in the alcohol preparation, but stable and predictable in the olive oil infusion. After they gave the participants the sample(s), they then drew their blood over various time intervals, recording the concentration of cannabinoids and their metabolites at each interval. The results were remarkable: in every case, the level of CBD in the participants’ blood never even came close to that of CBDA. And this was true even when the cannabinoids were administered in equal amounts.
What all of this means for the cannabis consumer is that not only do the raw cannabinoids have superior bioavailability compared to their “activated” counterparts, but also that you would need far less of them to attain the same therapeutic benefits. This is especially important for those who practice “milligram counting”, or measuring a product’s effectiveness by the sheer amount of CBD it has. Really, those molecules comprise only a very small part of what makes a hemp product “work”. When evaluating what is best for you, it’s crucial to consider where the cannabinoids come from (e.g. isolate, distillate, infusion, etc.), and what that means for the overall formula (e.g. terpenes, flavonoids, and nutrients—or lack thereof).
Benefits of CBDa
Studies have begun to show the many benefits of CBDA, including: CBDA for sleep, CBDA for pain, CBDA for anxiety as well as powerful anti-nausea, stress-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-fighting properties. An OSU study published this year found that CBDa along with other acidic cannabinoids helped treat and prevent SARS-COV-2 infections offering potential antiviral and powerful immunity boosting capabilities.
Much like CBD, CBDA interacts with the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A, and it is via this pathway that CBDA suppresses nausea and reduces stress responses in mice models. In another study looking at breast cancer cells, CBDA was shown to down regulate the COX-2 enzyme, which is implicated in inflammation and metastases. By inhibiting this enzyme, CBDA is posited to suppress genes associated with cancer spread.
CBDa is a cox 2 inhibitor and a highly selective 5-HT1A antagonist (serotonin receptor). CBDA primarily interacts with our body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) by inhibiting the Cox 2 enzyme which can have a direct effect on inflammation and pain associated with inflammation. Furthermore, CBDa’s role as a 5-HT1A antagonist (serotonin receptor) by mimicking serotonine CBDA may play a vital role in future mental health treatments and as an antidepressant and general anti anxiety medication.
THCA-A - Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A
THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the acidic precursor to THC found in unheated, RAW CANNABIS. THCA is the most prevalent non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis and has demonstrated numerous therapeutic benefits, including: (i) immunomodulatory, (ii) anti-inflammatory, (iii) neuroprotective, and (iv) anti-neoplastic effects. THCA converts to THC when heated via a process called decarboxylation.
Benefits of THCa
Research shows that like CBDA. THCA also exhibits anti-nausea effects, though it seems to do so not through serotonin receptors, but via selective activation of the CB1 receptor. Additionally, THCA inhibits COX activity, reducing inflammation in much the same way as NSAIDs like ibuprofen. In another study, THCA was shown to exhibit neuroprotectant properties, shielding brain cells from chemically-induced cell death.
The three primary acidic cannabinoids produced by the cannabis and hemp plant are THCa, CBDa and CBGa. However there are other acidic cannabinoids we may be hearing more about in the near future, so keep an eye out for the following:
THCA-B - Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid B
THCVa - Δ9 -Tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid
CBCa - Cannabichromenic acid
CBGVa - Cannabigerovarinic acid
CBCVa - Cannabichromevarinic acid
CBDVa - Cannabidivarinic acid
CBNa - Cannabinolic acid
The majority of acidic cannabinoids decarboxylate quickly when smoked or vaped and the majority of products on the market including oils, topicals and edibles have been decarboxylated before consumption. However new research is pointing to the power of these plant based phytocannabinoids as a source for non intoxicating health and wellness and a plant revival may be awakening right before our very eyes.
Acidic cannabinoids are naturally occurring phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant that offer a wide variety of benefits. Acidic cannabinoids like CBDa and CBGa will not get you high, but what they lack in psychoactivity they make up for in therapeutic value. As more research is conducted on cannabinoids and a better understanding of our bodies own endocannabinoid system is revealed the truth about cannabinoids may be more raw than we previously thought.