By now everyone and their grandmother (especially their grandmother, TBH) is well aware of CBD and its purported—borderline miraculous—healing properties. And while the research is slowly validating these claims, anecdotes of CBD’s power have been pouring out en masse. Your neighbor’s dog no longer has arthritis and your best friend’s insomnia and anxiety are suddenly quelled.
But in the corner comes a dark horse: CBG. That’s right, there’s another cannabis compound on the block, and it’s high time you got to know it. We know, it’s a lot to take in, so let’s break it down.
The cannabis plant, like all plants, is made up of several chemical compounds. Within cannabis specifically, these compounds are called cannabinoids. (There are also terpenes, flavonoids, and more, but for the purpose of today’s lesson, let’s focus on cannabinoids). The human body actually has an endocannabinoid system designed to receive these compounds and use them to achieve a healthy equilibrium.
Historically, most people have been familiar with the cannabinoid THC: The compound notoriously known for creating a euphoric intoxication. (Read: It gets you high.) Despite the fact that THC has profound healing powers similar to CBD, it remains stigmatized as the “bad” part of cannabis. That said, of the 120+ cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, THC is the only compound with the ability to intoxicate.
So, What Is CBG?
CBG stands for cannabigerol and is currently being studied for its potential pharmacological properties but hasn’t been in any clinical trials (yet!). The plant itself is thousands of years old, and one study dates back to the 60s—but common knowledge of it is still new.
So far, in-vitro and rat studies have shown some indications that CBG may help with colitis, neurodegeneration, and cancer.
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“We don’t know much about CBG,” says Perry Solomon, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist and medical cannabis expert. “It’s not a common cannabinoid,” he explained, noting that it’s not found in large quantities within the cannabis plant, “and you have to get enough to be able to test it and study it.” Due to nearly a century of cannabis prohibition and scarcity of this novel phytocannabinoid, many of the claims about its efficacy are yet to be proven—but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
“CBG is the precursor to CBD, CBC, and THC,” says Dr. Solomon. It’s sometimes referred to as the stem cell. What does this mean? “CBGA (the acidic, inactive form of CBG) changes, is broken down, and becomes the base molecule that other cannabinoids form from,” including THC, CBD, and CBC.
What’s the Difference Between CBD and CBG?
As mentioned, CBG helps make CBD, so while they’re both cannabinoids, they’re different compounds within the cannabis plant. Additionally, they serve different purposes and may help treat different ailments, despite some potential pharmacological overlap.
Both CBG and CBD are currently considered non-psychotropic, meaning they won’t alter your state of mind in a way that would inhibit your day-to-day function and mental clarity. They can, however, alter your mind in a way that could potentially relieve anxiety and depression. So perhaps a better description of this would be “non-intoxicating”—it won’t get you high in the way THC can.
Another important note: Like CBD, CBG may counteract the intoxicating effects of THC, says Dr. Solomon. “Studies of CBG seem to show that it activates the CB1 receptor just as CBD does, which essentially decreases psycho-activation,” he says.
This means if you consume cannabis that has a high concentration of CBD and CBG, or consume an isolate of CBG in addition to consuming (read: smoking or eating) cannabis, you could potentially counterbalance the “high” or intoxication. There is CBG naturally found in the cannabis you’re already consuming, but likely not in a large enough quantity to make any difference.
CBG may also increase your appetite. CBG made “lab animals like rats” hungrier, which is not the school of thought with CBD (as far as we know), according to Dr. Solomon. It’s also different from another phytocannabinoid, THCV, which inhibits appetite and may lead to weight loss.
What Are the (Potential) Benefits of CBG?
All of this has yet to be proven in clinical trials, but there are some early studies showing that CBG may be a promising treatment for several conditions. Keep in mind, this isn’t definitive proof, and while some studies show promise, the assertations are “unfounded as of now,” says Dr. Solomon.
May treat glaucoma and relieve intraocular pressure. This could be a huge deal because CBD on its own does not help with glaucoma, but THC does—so for patients who want to treat glaucoma using cannabis, this may be a way to do so without the intoxication effect. A 1990 study looked at the use of CBG for glaucoma and found that “cannabigerol and related cannabinoids may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of glaucoma.” However, you should continue to take doctor-prescribed glaucoma medication, and only take CBG or cannabis as an addition to your Rx meds and after consulting your doctor, says Dr. Solomon.
Have antibacterial properties, particularly for MRSA. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or “MRSA” is a type of staph infection that is resistant to methicillin (a common type of antibiotic), rendering it a particularly threatening or even fatal bacterial infection. In a 2008 study, CBG showed promise for treating MRSA as an antibacterial agent. Dr. Solomon said this is an area where CBG shows real promise. “It’s thought to help with MRSA,” he said. “CBG has potential to treat bacteria that are resistant to traditional antibiotics.”
Contributes to GABA reuptake inhibition. CBG inhibits GABA uptake, which could lead to muscle relaxation, tension relief, and sensation of calm and peace in the body and brain, according to Bonni Goldstein, M.D., a physician with a distinguished background in pediatrics and a current specialty in cannabis medicine, as she noted in a recent video. A 1975 study corroborated this. Pharmacologically, GABA uptake inhibitors are already used to treat anxiety. Dr. Solomon adds that because of this decreased “GABA uptake,” CBG could “potentially decrease anxiety.”
Could help inflammatory bowel disease and colitis. Rats were studied in 2013 for the use of CBG for colitis, and the results were positive, concluding that CBG reduced the effect of colitis. According to the study, IBD patients have been experiencing “successful management of abdominal pain, joint pain, cramping, diarrhea, poor appetite, weight loss, and nausea” with the use of cannabis, but there are not many studies just yet exploring CBG as an isolated compound.
May work for Huntington’s and neurodegenerative diseases. A 2015 study on mice found that “the use of CBG, alone or in combination with other phytocannabinoids or therapies, [could be a] treatment of neurodegenerative diseases,” such as Huntington’s disease. “CBG normalized expression of abnormal genes linked to brain degeneration, showing that it’s a neuroprotective compound,” says Dr. Goldstein to Shape.
Potentially fights cancer. “CBG is also proven in laboratory studies to inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells,” says Dr. Goldstein. A review article in 2009 showed that CBG could potentially slow tumor growth. Another study from 2016 concluded that “the preclinical data strongly support the notion that non-psychoactive plant-derived CBs [cannabinoids, including CBG] can act as direct inhibitors of tumor progression as well as enhance the activity of first-line therapies.” A 2014 study found similar results, reporting that CBG inhibited tumor growth in colon cancer, and 2006 study including cannabigerol noted it may help with breast cancer. In 2016, it was shown to be an appetite stimulant in rats, which could help patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Showing major promise for inflammation, including of the skin. A 2007 study looked at CBG’s ability to treat eczema and psoriasis, and as mentioned, it may help reduce the inflammation caused by IBD.
As mentioned, if you’re consuming cannabis in its entirety (whether that’s smoked, delivered in a tincture, or eaten), you’ll be getting a little bit of CBG in its natural form. So far, there haven’t been reports of adverse side-effects to CBG on its own, but to reiterate, there’s not nearly enough research on it yet. So (as always!) check with your doctor before adding any medication or supplement—OTC, natural, or otherwise—to your regimen. (PSA: Supplements can interfere with your Rx meds.)