Medically reviewed by Eloise Theisen, NP
CBD might be the most well-known non-intoxicating cannabinoid, but it’s far from the only useful component of the plant. Cannabigerol (CBG) is called the “mother of all cannabinoids,” a key component in the production of THC, CBD and CBC, some of the most well-known chemicals in the plant. Unsurprisingly, many people have taken an interest in CBG for its potential medical uses, and the potential for it to become the “next CBD.”
But what exactly is CBG? Does it really have the medical benefits that advocates claim? Are there any risks? Here’s a run-down of the most important facts about CBG.
What Is CBG?
Like THC, CBD and many others, cannabigerol (CBG) is one of the phytocannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa L. plant.
CBG has the chemical formula C21H32O2, although in the plant itself it’s found in the form of a carboxylic acid (the standard form but with a COOH group) (de Meijer and Hammond, 2005), cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). This acid is the direct precursor of (the acid forms of) THC, CBD and CBC, as well as CBG itself. In ordinary cannabis plants, there is little CBG when the plant reaches maturity because enzyme action has converted most of it to other cannabinoids (Nachnani, Raup-Konsavage and Vrana, 2021), but some strains retain high CBG.
Its role as the precursor to so many compounds led to it being called the “mother of all cannabinoids,” but this is only true when it’s inside the plant with all of the necessary enzymes.
The Discovery of CBG
CBG was first discovered in 1964 by three Israeli scientists who were studying hashish (Gaoni and Mechoulam, 1964) at the Weizmann Institute in Revohot.
The researchers called CBG “missing link in the plant synthesis of cannabinoid constituents,” and others went on to test its pharmacological activity five years later (Russo et. al., 2021), before the original discoverers synthesized it in 1971. However, with increasing interest in other cannabinoids, it fell out of the spotlight until researchers began investigating it again in the 21st century.
What Are the Effects of CBG?
CBG is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, but it does activate the same cannabinoid receptors as THC and CBD, just more weakly, and it may even blunt the effects of THC. Users report that CBG gives them a feeling of relaxed focus.
Technically, CBG is a weak partial agonist of the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors (Russo et. al., 2021), with some indication that it’s a competitive agonist at the CB1 receptor. This means that while it activates the same receptors as other cannabinoids like THC, it does so less than full agonists (between 5 and 27 times less, according to research) (Nachnani, Raup-Konsavage and Vrana, 2021). If it is a competitive agonist, it may actually “block” other cannabinoids from binding.
However, don’t let this mislead you: CBG is non-intoxicating. In fact the “blocking” effect means it could actually help bring you down to some extent.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a cannabis researcher working at CReDO Science who authored one of the most important papers on CBG, which found – among many other things – that 29% of people using CBG-dominant products also had THC in the mix too. Some people also said they used it for purely recreational purposes or for both recreational and medical purposes. We asked him why this was the case, if CBG is truly not psychoactive:
“It is inaccurate to say that CBG is not psychoactive. It certainly is, but is not intoxicating. CBG can enhance a cannabis experience by blunting anxiety and other THC-related adverse events.”
In other words, while not intoxicating in itself, these effects at the cannabinoid receptors do have a subjective effect, and may “take the edge off” some of the less pleasant effects of THC. This, along with many other similarities, has invited comparison with CBD, but researchers (Nachnani, Raup-Konsavage and Vrana, 2021) point out that it is pharmacologically distinct. They write, “CBG seems to reside, pharmacologically, in between D9-THC and CBD.”
User reports are a little clearer about the subjective effects, with one reddit user writing that “For me it’s like caffeine if caffeine was weed.” Broadly, the comments on such threads describe CBG as providing a relaxed focus, with some users finding it more energizing and others finding it more sedating.
What Medical Conditions Could It Help?
According to Dr. Russo’s research, people most often use CBG for anxiety, chronic pain, depression and insomnia (Russo et. al., 2021), with smaller numbers endorsing the cannabinoid for many other conditions. However, the human research on the cannabinoid is extremely limited at the moment so it’s hard to make firm recommendations.
Eloise Theisen, expert faculty member at Pacific College’s Medical cannabis program and ex-president of the American Cannabis Nurses Association, commented that:
“It is challenging for providers to make recommendations for CBG because we lack robust human clinical trials. That doesn’t mean we need to ignore or dismiss the information we collect from consumers who are using it. And because CBG has such a great safety profile, it is often well tolerated.”
Dr. Russo’s survey depended on self-reporting, so it’s important to remember that this can’t really “prove” anything about the efficacy of CBG, but it does show that users subjectively find it helpful. As Eloise points out, though, this doesn’t mean we should ignore or dismiss information from them. In fact, they said that CBG was more effective than conventional medication for all of the conditions covered, but in particular:
- 78.3% reported that CBG was more effective than conventional medication for anxiety
- 73.9% said CBG was better than conventional pain medication
- 80% preferred CBG to conventional depression medication
- 73% said CBG was better than conventional medication for insomnia or sleeping difficulties
However, as mentioned before, most of the direct research on CBG to date has been conducted on animals or cell cultures. These results won’t necessarily carry over to humans, but they do suggest many specific areas for future research. Researchers have identified (Nachnani, Raup-Konsavage and Vrana, 2021) several areas of interest:
- Neuroprotection and neuromodulation: In vitro (i.e. cell culture studies) and animal model studies have shown that CBG has neuroprotective effects that could help conditions such as Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
- Gastrointestinal disease: Mouse models have shown that CBG has potential to help with colorectal cancer and colitis. There is also some suggestion it could be used to improve appetite during chemotherapy, but CBG doesn’t have the same antiemetic effect (i.e. preventing vomiting and nausea) that THC and CBD do.
- Metabolic syndrome: This is a combination of high blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity and problematic cholesterol levels which affects millions of Americans. The receptor activity of CBG (acting as an α-2 agonist) suggests it could improve blood pressure, and other studies show that it could improve insulin sensitivity and adipogenesis.
- Anti-bacterial agent: CBG has been shown to be one of the most potent cannabinoids against antibiotic resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus. This and similar applications could be a perhaps-unexpected use of the cannabinoid.
With all of this potential but few human studies at present, there are many promising avenues for future treatment. We asked Ethan Russo what the biggest priority for CBG research was right now, and he responded “Treatment of anxiety. It will also be utilized to treat cancer, especially prostate and as a component of antibiotic treatments for resistant infections.”
Are There Any Risks to CBG?
As with most cannabinoids, the risks of CBG are minor and in many cases side effects are probably related to other cannabinoids. The most common side effects in the consumer survey (Russo et. al., 2021) were dry mouth, sleepiness and increased appetite.
Ethan Russo commented about the side effects reported in his research: “The few side effects reported (dry mouth, red eyes) and the like were clearly related to products containing THC. We do not see these complaints with CBG-only products.”
As Dr. Russo points out, the issue in identifying fixed side effects of CBG products is that in many cases, CBG is not the only component of the products. In short, while side effects from CBG are certainly possible, most of those identified so far are more likely to be from the THC also present.
CBG vs. CBD
While CBG and CBD are both hemp-derived cannabinoids that are used medically for similar reasons, the cannabinoids interact with different receptors and the effects vary as a result.
The big difference between CBG and CBD, in terms of how they interact with the body, is that CBG activates both the CB1 and CB2 receptors (Navarro et. al., 2018), whereas CBD interacts with the CB2 receptor (Shahbazi et. al., 2020). CBG also interacts with other receptors like the α-2 adrenoreceptor, which again creates important differences between it and CBD.
We asked Dr. Russo about the differences in effectiveness for CBD and CBG for anxiety, pain management and depression, and he commented that:
“CBD is infrequently effective in pain treatment on its own. Treatment of anxiety generally requires high doses, even 200-400 mg at a time in formal experiments. CBG is clearly more potent, with benefits reported at much lower dosages.”
Adding that the “combination of CBG with other cannabinoids and terpenoids can provide entourage effect synergy.”
Jennifer Carlile of the Rare Cannabinoid Company also described the entourage effect from other cannabinoids, “They act like a multivitamin, making sure that everything is in balance.”
She also discussed how CBD and CBG specifically can work well for some conditions, “For people who are experiencing occasional pain and inflammation or need extra joint support, it can be very helpful to take CBG on top of or in combination with their favorite full spectrum CBD oil.”
In short, while CBG and CBD do have different effects and uses, they can work together in concert to great effect.
RELATED: Learn More About CBG versus CBD
Is CBG Legal?
CBG is legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, which made all cannabinoids in hemp legal, provided the plant meets the federal definition of hemp.
For consumers, this means that just like CBD, CBG products can be freely sold nationwide. The key part of the Farm Bill’s definition of hemp is that it must contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC by dry weight. If this is the case, then all of its cannabinoids and derivatives can be sold as hemp products, but that doesn’t mean synthetic cannabinoids like THC-O are included.
RELATED: CBG Is Legal For Now, But The FDA Is Watching
However, it’s less clear whether the FDA will try to apply the “drug exclusion” rule to CBG in the way it has for CBD. In short, if something is classed as a “drug” (in the medical sense) then it cannot be added to foods. Despite a decision to re-evaluate their approach to CBD, the FDA still stresses that “it is not apparent how CBD products could meet safety standards for dietary supplements or food additives.”
However, CBG’s case might be different. While Epidiolex is a CBD-based medication and the cannabinoid was investigated for this purpose before CBD was widespread in food products, CBG has not been investigated in this way. Theoretically, this means that adding CBG to food shouldn’t be an issue, but this may still be challenged by the agency.
How Much CBG Should You Take Per Day?
There isn’t much evidence on CBG use in humans that would enable a scientifically-sound recommendation for dosage. However, Jennifer Carlile, co-founder of the Rare Cannabinoid Company commented to us that, “Our customers report taking one to two CBG gummies per day (30-60 milligrams of CBG) or roughly the equivalent if they are using the pure CBG oil or CBG:CBD blend.”
If you’ve used CBD before, you’ll know how vague information about recommended dosages can be, and unfortunately CBG is in a similar position except with even less data to work with. Ethan Russo’s survey of CBG users, for instance, didn’t find out exact daily dosages but did find that 51.9% of participants used CBG every day (Russo et. al., 2021). When we spoke to him, he said that while that study didn’t include precise dosage information, “we have additional experience. In general, effective doses of CBG for anxiety range from 5-20 mg at a time.”
The best advice, as always, is to start with a dose on the lower end (e.g. around 10 to 20 mg) and increase gradually if needed. Jennifer Carlile stressed the importance of knowing how much you’re taking, so you can adjust your dosage from there:
“It’s very important that people know how many milligrams of CBG and/or CBD they are taking and should never measure it in the number of gummies or drops of oil. This way they can adjust up or down with precise knowledge according to their needs and know what is or is not working for them.”
Eloise Theisen summarized the difficulties of dosing:
“While dosing remains one of the bigger challenges in cannabinoid medicine, we can hope that we will see more concrete numbers as cannabinoid research evolves. Until then, continue the approach of low and slow and keep track of what you take, how much you take and any notable effects – good or bad.”
What Should You Look for When Buying CBG?
The most important thing to look for when buying CBG is a lab report showing that the product genuinely has enough CBG for a real dose, at least 5 or 10 mg per gummy, for instance. However, when you find one, it will be more expensive than a CBD tincture.
Although the Farm Bill legalized the whole spectrum of cannabinoids (provided they come from hemp), it didn’t set out product standards or other requirements for companies, so you really have to know what you’re doing when you make a purchase.
Jennifer Carlile commented that, “If you’re looking to buy CBG, or another rare cannabinoid (CBDV, THCV, CBN etc.), always check the product label and lab report carefully to make sure you’re really getting CBG and not just a full spectrum CBD oil.”
She also re-emphasized the importance of looking for a specific milligram amount so you know exactly what you’re buying. The most important point she made, though, is about the lab report. We’ve seen from our own lab studies that hemp products often don’t provide what the advertising claims to, and checking lab reports is one of the only ways to get some assurance.
Jennifer stresses, “Don’t just check that there is a lab report – read it! We’ve found other companies showing lab reports for ingredients, not finished products – so who knows if that ingredient is in the product or not? We have also seen Delta-8-THC on products marked as THCV and many products claiming to contain rare cannabinoids that are just full spectrum oils with trace amounts of said cannabinoids.”
This last point is really important for CBG products. There isn’t much CBG in an ordinary hemp plant, but companies looking to cash in on the trend can just say they have some CBG without explaining that it’s actually almost nothing. Unfortunately, the only way to find this out is to read the lab report and look at the numbers.
If you find something with a substantial amount of CBG, you’ll probably notice that it’s a bit more expensive than a standard CBD oil. Jennifer Carlile points to the basic economics of hemp processing as an explanation:
“CBG oil generally costs more than CBD oil because CBG occurs in far smaller quantities in hemp plants. CBD is far more prevalent in hemp. Like all things that are ‘rare’ or ‘scarce,’ CBG is more precious and costs more than the cannabinoid that is found in abundance, CBD.”
So expect to pay a little bit more than you might expect for a product that actually packs a serious amount of CBG. Getting a tincture or a product that combines it with CBD is a good option, though, because this gives you the benefits of the entourage effect.
Research into CBG might be comparatively early-stage and unclear, but it has the potential to be as widely-known a cannabinoid as CBD or even THC. With benefits somewhere between those of the two more well-known cannabinoids and widespread availability thanks to the Farm Bill, CBG is definitely a cannabinoid to try.
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