Just a few years ago, CBD was the only non-intoxicating cannabinoid widely available. It wasn’t long, however, before CBD was followed by cannabigerol (CBG), and in no time at all, products containing cannabinol (CBN) and cannabichromene (CBC) also started appearing. While most people know that all of these new hemp compounds are non-intoxicating, common knowledge regarding the unique properties of CBG, CBC, and CBN usually ends there. In this guide, we’ll provide detailed information on each of the non-intoxicating cannabinoids that has recently emerged on the market, and we’ll help you determine which hemp constituent is right for your purposes.
A whole new world of cannabinoids is emerging Mature Cannabis sativa flower contains hundreds of different compounds, and the majority of these substances are either flavonoids, terpenes, or analogs (copies) of a few common cannabinoids. There are around 6-8 fully chemically distinct cannabinoids, and each of these cannabinoids has unique properties. Starting with the realization that CBD might have therapeutic value in the early 2000s, it took nearly 10 years for breeders to develop high-quality hemp phenotypes high in CBD instead of THC. It’s rather remarkable, therefore, that efforts to breed hemp strains that are high in CBG, CBN, and CBC have evolved at such a rapid pace. These days, cannabinoid producers have either bred cannabinoid-specific strains or developed processes to convert more widely available cannabinoids, such as CBD or CBG, into rarer compounds like CBN and CBC. Products containing CBD, CBG, CBN, and CBC are now widely available, making it well worth our time to determine their strengths both alone and combined.
What is CBG? Let’s start our inquiry into the latest additions to the cannabinoid market with cannabigerol (CBG), which is beginning to rival CBD in popularity. CBG is the easiest cannabinoid to derive from CBGa (cannabigerolic acid), which is considered to be the “stem cell” of cannabinoids since it can also convert into CBD, CBC, or THC via enzymatic processes. Once CBGa has converted into CBG, it becomes stable and won’t undergo an additional transformation into THC or any other cannabinoid. Instead of deriving CBG from CBGa molecules that have been genetically encoded to become other cannabinoids, hemp producers have developed cultivars that naturally produce high concentrations of CBGa without converting it into anything else. Since CBG breeding is still in its infancy, CBG flower strains with concentrations above 15% are rare, but that’s still enough to gain a potent glimpse into everything CBG has to offer. Like CBD, CBG is non-intoxicating, and hemp users report that the effects of these cannabinoids feel very similar. Under the hood, CBG interacts with your body’s systems via very different mechanisms than CBD, and based on initial research, CBG appears to offer a few benefits that are entirely unique.
Potential pain and inflammation benefits A 2008 review of the available evidence covered studies indicating that CBG may act as an agonist at the CB1 and CB2 receptors without causing any intoxicating effects. This review also pointed out that CBG may additionally act as a GABA reuptake inhibitor. These results indicate that CBG might have a relationship with both neuropathic and inflammatory pain. The usefulness of CBG for neuropathic pain was further explored by a 2018 study, indicating that interest in CBG for pain remains strong within the scientific community.
Potential digestive benefits Limited preliminary research has been conducted into the potential digestive benefits of cannabigerol. For instance, scientists have investigated the impact of this cannabinoid on colitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Potential antibacterial benefits Preliminary research has been conducted into the potential antibacterial properties of CBG. Scientists believe that there are sufficient grounds to further investigate the usefulness of this cannabinoid for bacterial infections.
CBG vs. CBD CBG and CBD are very similar both structurally and in their effects, but CBG interacts with different neuroreceptors, causes unique experienced effects, and is being investigated for its own docket of therapeutic applications. For instance, the potential digestive benefits of CBG are primary targets of medical research into cannabigerol. While some of the effects of CBG overlap with those offered by CBD, these cannabinoids are different enough to merit using them together. Combining two or more cannabinoids appears to provide the entourage effect, a phenomenon that might enhance their effects to levels it’s not possible to reach alone. Instead of choosing between CBD and CBG, you might want to use both of these cannabinoids.
What is CBN? While there are now Cannabis sativa strains that contain high concentrations of CBG or CBD, the same can’t be said for CBN. Instead, CBN is derived via a chemical conversion process that transforms CBD into CBN. In the early days of cannabis research, cannabinol (CBN) was investigated nearly as much as THC or CBD. As the decades passed, however, research into this non-intoxicating cannabinoid waned until interest in CBN was rekindled by the recent CBD revolution. CBN has plenty of unique benefits that differentiate this hemp compound from CBD and make it well worth trying as you discover everything non-intoxicating cannabinoids have to offer.
Potential antibacterial benefits Like CBG, CBN has been researched for its potential antibacterial qualities. A 2008 study showed, for instance, that CBN eliminated certain types of MRSA bacteria, but these results have not been corroborated by further research. Since these two cannabinoids have different activity profiles, using CBG and CBN in tandem to fight bacterial infections should be a target of future research.
Potential neuroprotective benefits A 2004 study found that CBN delayed the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a type of neurodegenerative disease. Based on this research, scientists suspect that CBN may be useful as a general neuroprotective agent, which would be a reasonable assumption since every other cannabinoid is also believed to have at least some neuroprotective activity.
Potential appetite benefits THC has been used for years as an appetite stimulant, but the intoxicating qualities of this cannabinoid make it undesirable for this purpose. A 2012 pre-clinical study found that CBN increased appetite, which has led some cannabinoid experts to believe that this cannabinoid could serve as an adequate replacement for THC that doesn’t induce significant psychoactive effects.
Other potential benefits While there’s only a very limited amount of scientific evidence indicating that CBN might be useful for sleep, consumers have used this cannabinoid extensively as a sleep aid, which has provided a lot of compelling anecdotal evidence. CBN has also been investigated for its analgesic qualities.
CBN vs. CBD In terms of chemical structure, CBN is more similar to THC than it is to CBD, which is part of why the effects CBN and THC provide together have been researched so extensively. CBN almost behaves like a fusion of CBD and THC — while it may provide the appetite-stimulating effects of THC, it is less-psychoactive. Many people use CBD as a sedative, but they report mixed results. The vast majority of individuals who have used CBN for sleep, however, report impressive degrees of success, substantiating calls for further research into the sedative properties of this cannabinoid. Due to its potential antibacterial effects, CBN also bears similarity to CBG. This Cannabis sativa compound straddles the middle ground between multiple intoxicating and non-intoxicating cannabinoids, making it a fascinating target of future research for reasons beyond its potential sedative benefits.
What is CBC? Until recently, the potential usefulness of cannabichromene (CBC) has been thoroughly overshadowed by the breakaway popularity of CBD and CBG. As a result, there still aren’t any Cannabis sativa phenotypes that feature high concentrations of CBC. CBC isn’t usually extracted from hemp flower. Instead, it’s derived from CBGa, the “stem cell” compound that’s the starting point of many different cannabinoids. Like CBD, CBC is considered to be non-intoxicating, which means that it won’t make you feel high. CBC feels similar to CBD when you ingest it, but this cannabinoid has a significantly different chemical structure and exerts widely different effects. Little research into CBC has been conducted so far, but the available studies have convinced scientists it’s worth investigating this cannabinoid’s potential cancer-fighting and pain-reducing qualities in further detail. Researchers also believe that CBC might be beneficial for your overall neurological health.
Potential cancer benefits CBC was first investigated for its relationship with cancer in 2006 as part of a study designed to better understand the effects of cannabinoids other than THC on tumor size and cancer progression.
Potential neurological health benefits
A 2013 study investigated CBC’s potential to promote the formation of adult neural stem progenitor cells (NSPCs), which your brain can transform into astroglial cells. These cells handle the passage of neurotransmitters throughout your brain and nervous system, and increased concentrations of astroglial cells may reduce your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.
Potential analgesic benefits Based on initial research, CBC has much higher affinity for your nervous system’s TRPV1 receptors than CBD, which could make this cannabinoid a highly useful analgesic. Your TRPV1 receptors control the sensation of inflammatory pain in your body, and the pain caused by arthritis and many other common conditions is inflammatory in nature.
CBC vs. CBD If it’s true that CBC is effective against cancer, this attribute would differentiate CBC from CBD significantly. These two cannabinoids appear to be similar, however, in another way — both CBC and CBD have been researched extensively for their potential neuroprotective and neuroregenerative benefits. One of the most impressive differences between CBC and CBD is cannabichromene’s apparent affinity for the nervous system’s TRPV1 receptors. While CBD also appears to interact with your TRPV1 receptors, this cannabinoid shows roughly equal affinity for your 5-HT1A receptors. In the future, it may be shown that CBC is more useful for inflammatory pain while CBD or another cannabinoid is more useful for neuropathic pain.
Different cannabinoids for different purposes Now that you know what CBN, CBC, and CBG are and how they compare to CBD, let’s bring it all home with an overall comparison of these cannabinoids. First, how are they all the same? Despite their individual qualities, CBD, CBG, CBN, and CBC are all non-intoxicating. Their felt effects may vary slightly, but in every case, these cannabinoids provide mild, calming effects that do not make you feel high or intoxicated. Therefore, each of these cannabinoids has something in common along with something that differentiates them from THC.
Every cannabinoid we’ve listed has been investigated for its relationship with pain.
There are many different types of pain, but upon thorough consideration of all the different cannabinoids it expresses, Cannabis sativa almost appears to be nature’s answer to pain and inflammation.
Despite its intoxicating qualities, even THC appears to be useful for pain, which makes it clear that future research into cannabis will make this plant’s effects on human pain and suffering a major issue.
With these similarities accounted for, the profound differences between CBG, CBN, CBC, and CBD become more clear. While all of the cannabinoids we’ve investigated in this guide are similar, they also each have unique attributes that make them desirable for different purposes.
The potential antibacterial qualities of CBN and CBG are pronounced, for instance, but those of CBD and CBC are not.
While CBG may help with digestive inflammation and CBN might induce appetite, neither CBD nor CBC appear to be particularly focused on your digestive system.
Next to CBD, CBC has received the most attention for its potential anti-cancer benefits, and CBN appears to be the cannabinoid that shows the most promise for sleep.
One big cannabinoid family
Do any of the cannabinoids we’ve listed appear to conflict with each other in any way? No.
It’s common within the science of pharmacology to come across compounds that significantly conflict with or “contraindicate” each other. The popular antidepressant fluoxetine, for instance, interacts negatively with amlodipine, a calcium channel blocker. Even CBD has been discovered to negatively interact with a variety of drugs that are dependent on your liver’s CYP3A4 enzyme for metabolism. The common theme among drugs and supplements that interact negatively with each other is that they come from different sources. Almost every prescription drug on the market is synthetic, so it only makes sense that dangerous interactions between these substances are common.
Despite their differences, cannabinoids all come from a single source — Cannabis sativa. They don’t cause any problems when they are used together, and on the contrary, it appears that cannabinoids only become more effective when they are ingested in tandem. Instead of thinking about which cannabinoids you should use while excluding all others, think about how CBD, CBC, CBG, and CBN might work together. All cannabinoids were originally extracted or otherwise derived from cannabis or hemp, so they’re like individual pieces of a complex, natural puzzle that fit together in harmony. Using cannabinoids together allows each compound to provide benefits that outweigh the sum of its parts.
Which cannabinoid is right for you? If you’re trying to get certain results, you might want to focus on one particular cannabinoid. Many people, for instance, use hemp products containing high concentrations of CBN when they want better sleep, and people who experience inflammatory pain often choose CBC. Just because you’re interested in the effects of one particular cannabinoid, however, doesn’t mean you have to entirely exclude all others.
Doing so would allow you to focus extensively on one cannabinoid without excluding the unique benefits other compounds have to offer. You also won’t miss out on the synergy that might be provided by the entourage effect.
Cannabinoid comparison FAQ Still curious about CBD, CBG, CBC, and CBN compare? Find the answers to common cannabinoid comparison questions below:
1. Is CBD or CBG better? That remains to be seen. Interest in CBG is rising, leading to close comparisons between this cannabinoid and CBD. In a paper published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in February 2021, researchers make the case that CBG has just as much therapeutic potential as CBD even though “little research has been performed on this unregulated molecule.” In the end, it’s likely that CBD and CBG work better in cooperation than in competition.
2. Is CBC legal? The 2018 Farm Bill changed United States federal law to make Cannabis sativa containing less than 0.3% THC no longer a drug. While this legislation was mainly designed to facilitate the mainstreaming of the CBD market, it inadvertently also opened the way for other non-THC cannabinoids to take the stage. As long as they contain less than 0.3% ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabinoid products are usually lumped into the same mostly unregulated basket as CBD. Rather than debating the legality of CBG, CBN, and CBC, it’s time to start talking about how to responsibly regulate each of the novel cannabinoids that has recently made its way into the consumer market.
3. Is CBN stronger than CBD? CBN is somewhat more psychoactive than CBD but much less psychoactive than THC. Zoe Sigman of the non-profit research foundation Project CBD claims that CBN is about 1/6 to 1/10 as strong as THC. Unlike CBD, which does not have any CB1 affinity, CBN activates this receptor to some degree, but not enough to cause intoxication. Since CBD doesn’t have any CB1 affinity at all, the effects of CBN might feel stronger. CBD is plenty strong too — it just operates via different neurochemical pathways in the brain.
WRITTEN BY BRIANA MALLEN