More than 100 cannabinoid molecules have been identified in cannabis. Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids and these interact with cannabinoid receptors in every organ system in our bodies. Many plants—most notably Cannabis sativa—also contain cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD.
The pharmacology of the two most prevalent cannabinoids, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), has been well researched and most of the scientific and popular interest is focused on them. There are many other cannabinoids that are produced in trace amounts and, as a result, these have not received thorough investigation.
In addition to the pre-release testing we perform on all products—for THC and CBD concentrations, the absence of bacteria and fungi, and for pesticides—we perform additional tests, not required by Health Canada under the Cannabis Act. This provides healthcare professionals and their patients with extra information that can help them choose the products that are right for them.
We analyze 12 minor cannabinoids and 21 terpenes that, while not required for standard lot release, are important for product profiling and investigating possible entourage effects. Here, we’ll discuss the minor cannabinoids.
Activation of cannabinoids
THC and CBD exist in the raw plant mostly as their precursors, Δ9‑tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). Inactive THCA and CBDA must be converted to the active forms (THC and CBD) that interact with the endocannabinoid system. Decarboxylation occurs naturally over time through light exposure and aging, but the simplest and fastest way to achieve this is by heating dried plant material, either by vapourizing or smoking. Thermal decarboxylation of the dried cannabis flowers is part of the production process of cannabis oils and softgels to ensure the cannabinoids in the finished product are activated and ready for oral consumption.
Medical cannabis contains a number of secondary cannabinoids for which there is currently limited evidence about effects. Many are building blocks or breakdown products of the primary active components, THC and CBD. These have drawn the attention of researchers due to their interaction with the endocannabinoid system:
- Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
- Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)
- Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabichromenic acid (CBCA)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabicyclol (CBL)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid (THCVA)
- Cannabidivarinic acid (CBDVA)
- Cannabidivarin (CBDV)