April Hatch first read about the “the mother of all cannabinoids” in a 2011 article. At the time, the hard-to-pronounce cannabigerol (CBG) appeared equally difficult to extract.
Then last year, Hatch — a registered nurse in 33 states — finally sampled CBG oil. “I put it under my tongue and within 20 minutes of taking 6 mg, I could immediately feel my shoulders loosen up,” says the Kansas City native, who’s the founder of Cannabis Care Team, a group of registered nurses advocating the medicinal benefits of cannabis to patients. “I was like OMG, wow, from all the research I read, this stuff actually does work.”
It’s a conclusion that’s poised to fundamentally reshape the cannabis industry. CBG was discovered in the 1960s but for decades has been ignored, its uses unclear and its economics difficult to support. CBG is the first — and so, parent — cannabinoid to form as the cannabis plants grow. Yet by the time the plants are normally harvested, it gives way to more familiar cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). CBG constitutes less than 1 percent by weight of most cannabis strains by that point.
But a growing body of recent research suggests that CBG can directly help improve our immunity, sleep, mood and appetite. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, improves bone health and positively affects bladder, skin and bowel health. Some studies have even suggested that it might help with cancer treatment.
This unique therapeutic potential is now spurring an increasing number of companies — like Avicenna, Creo and American Hempseed — to develop innovative new ways that allow them to produce CBG in higher quantities. The global cannabinoid-based pharma industry is expected to be worth $50 billion by 2025, and experts believe CBG could supplant CBD and THC as the dominant force in that market.
“It’s literally a treasure trove of medical potential that’s been off-limits for [the] last hundred years,” says Roy Lipski, CEO and co-founder of Creo.
The Farm Bill of 2018, which loosened restrictions on the cultivation of hemp, promised to fundamentally change the cloud of prohibition over cannabis. And Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has promised to legalize marijuana. But those legal shifts by themselves won’t help CBG as much as they will aid its offspring, CBD and THC.
Because harvested hemp strains contain only 1 percent CBG, you need 20 times as much cannabis extract to produce quantities on par with CBD. Alternatively, you could harvest cannabis plants early, during the six- to eight-week flowering cycle before CBG is converted into other cannabinoids. But then, you only get CBG and not other cannabinoids. That’s why tiny bottles of CBG cost anywhere between $50 and $200 at the moment. It’s been called the Rolls-Royce of cannabinoids. “To be able to extract it out and get it to just CBG is a pretty expensive process, so the price is pretty high. Much, much more than CBD,” says Roger Brown, the CEO and founder of ACS Laboratory, the largest cannabis-testing facility on the East Coast.
But companies are finding ways to adapt. One way is by genetically cross-breeding different cannabis varieties to yield higher amounts of CBG in mature plants. American Hempseed, for example, is offering seeds with 15 percent CBG to farmers. Other companies are developing more efficient extraction processes, some by using solvents like ethanol, carbon dioxide or butane to extract cannabinoids.
Still others are going for even more radical solutions. Creo is turning to an extraction process that uses fermentation. It’s taking the enzyme responsible for producing CBG and then using metabolic engineering and a high-tech brewery to separate and purify the cannabinoid. “If you want to take this ingredient and make consumer products, you want that consistency and purity that the fermentation process can give you,” Lipski says.
That’s what medical professionals like Hatch are looking for. For the moment, she’s not recommending CBG to patients because of the absence of FDA approval. But she has “patients who are taking CBG and are doing really good on it.”
It’s only a matter of time before CBG receives that broader acceptance, says Brown of ACS Laboratory. “There are a lot of people who are naysayers and don’t believe in it, but I believe in it,” he says. “I think it actually works.”