Beyond CBD and THC: The Role of Minor Cannabinoids in the Cannabis Plant and for Infused Products

Home > Cannabis Education >> Beyond CBD and THC: The Role of Minor Cannabinoids in the Cannabis Plant and for Infused Products

Written by | January 6th, 2022

Cannabis, like many other botanicals, is a complex plant. It contains a variety of chemical substances including flavonoids, phytonutrients that create a plant’s color; terpenes, the compounds that create a plant’s smell and flavor; and cannabinoids, the active chemical compounds that interact with receptors in the human body.

CBD and THC are the two cannabinoids most consumers are familiar with, but scientists and researchers have discovered and identified over 100 other minor cannabinoids in hemp and cannabis plants.

As consumers become more knowledgeable about the potential health benefits of CBD, THC, and the minor cannabinoids found in cannabis, they are also looking for products that pair CBD or THC with some of the minors. The way the major cannabinoids work with the minors can improve the efficacy of the product and the way they interact with the Endocannabinoid System, the ECS.

Major Versus Minor Cannabinoids

CBD and THC are considered major cannabinoids because of their high level of concentration in the plant’s flowers where they are produced in the trichomes. CBDA, CBG, CBN, CBC, THC-A, THCV, THCP, THC-A, and Delta-8-THC are a few of what are considered to be minor cannabinoids.


minor cannabinoids origin graph
Image Source: Science Direct

CBG – Cannabigerol

CBG, otherwise known as Cannabigerol, is often referred to as “the mother of all cannabinoids” because it is the first cannabinoid the plant produces. Its acidic form —  CBG-A – is the original compound from which the other cannabinoids are derived through different processes of synthesis as the plant grows. Think of those cannabinoids as the children of CBG. CBG is most frequently found in strains of cannabis and hemp that has a low amount of THC and a high amount of CBD.

In terms of its potential benefits, CBG may be effective in treating pain, nausea, and inflammation. Research has shown that CBG may be an effective treatment for Glaucoma because of the way it interacts with the eyes’ endocannabinoid receptors, reducing pressure in the eye. In experiments on mice, scientists have also found that CBG can also decrease inflammation in the bowel. Cancer studies have also proven that CBG may also block receptors that trigger cancer cell growth.

CBN – Cannabinol

CBN, otherwise known as Cannabinol, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that is a derivative of THC-A, one of the acids CBG-A converts to. It was the first cannabinoid to be isolated by scientists almost 100 years ago. CBN is produced when the hemp or cannabis plant is exposed to air and light over long periods of time. Oxidation breaks down the THC-A molecules and converts them into CBN. Because there is very little CBN in young cannabis plants, it is hard to extract. Regardless of that, sales of products containing CBN (mostly edibles) totaled more than $65M in California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon in the last four quarters, according to Headset, a data analytics firm in Seattle.

In terms of its potential health benefits, CBN is best known for its sedative qualities, but it has also been used as an anticonvulsant. In a study on rats, scientists found that CBN could be used to relieve muscle and joint pain, and that when paired with CBD, the product was more efficacious. A study in 2005 also found the CBN could help delay the onset of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease which affects cells in the brain and spinal cord.

CBC — Cannabichromene

CBC, also known as Cannnabichromene, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid. It is the result of the conversion of CBG-A to CBC-A; once CBC-A is exposed to heat and light, it becomes CBC. CBC is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that activates the CB2 receptors but does not bind well with the CB1 receptors in the brain.

In terms of its potential health benefits, studies have shown that CBC may be effective in fighting cancer because of its ability to inhibit growth of tumors. CBC is also purported to block pain and inflammation, particularly when paired with THC. As a result, it may be used to help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and post-operative pain. When paired with THC and CBD, CBC has also exhibited anti-depressive properties.

THCV – Tetrahydrocannabivarin

THCV, also known as Tetrahydrocannabivarin, is a psychoactive cannabinoid found mostly in Sativa strains of the cannabis plant. Unlike its cousin, THC, it does not elicit a case of the munchies because it actually suppresses the appetite instead of awakening it. Those who use THCV describe feeling alert and energized.

In terms of its potential health benefits, THCV may be able to be used to relieve stress, reduce the chance of experiencing a panic attack, and treat PTSD. Researchers are also exploring the use of THCV for treating Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and MS, as the cannabinoid is able to protect nerve cells against degeneration or damage.

Understanding the ECS (Endocannabinoid System)

The ECS is a unique communications system found in the human brain and body that affects many important functions. It appears that that the main function of ECS is to maintain bodily homeostasis — biological harmony in response to changes in the environment. It is made up of natural molecules known as endocannabinoids, and the pathways they interact with, as well as receptors and enzymes. The endocannabinoid system has been recently recognized as an important modulatory system in the function of brain, endocrine, and immune tissues. It appears to play a very important regulatory role in the secretion of hormones related to reproductive functions and response to stress. This system is very old, and all vertebrates produce endocannabinoids.

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. 

Endocannabinoids: These molecules are similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by the body. These help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each. 

Endocannabinoid Receptors: These receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action. The two main endocannabinoid receptors are: CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system; and CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.

Enzymes: Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. 

Understanding the Entourage Effect

 This term, the Entourage Effect, describes the way in which the compounds of a cannabis or hemp plant, including the cannabinoids and terpenes, interact with each other and the human body to be more effective than any one of those chemical components acting alone, which creates a synergistic effect. The Entourage Effect helps maximize the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids by improving efficacy and tolerability.

The Future of Infused Products Pairs the Majors with the Minors

While CBD and THC have a solid foothold in the infused product space, last year, more products featuring these major cannabinoids paired with minors emerged in the marketplace, and we expect this to continue as we move forward. As companies look to differentiate their products from others, one way to do so is by incorporating minor cannabinoids into their product formulas to complement the major with the goal of improving efficacy and health benefits. The key to success will be in the formulation process – utilizing the minor cannabinoids to create a synergistic effect with either CBD or THC.

As consumers become more knowledgeable about cannabis and hemp in general and learn about the many cannabinoids the plant has to offer, they will likely be more willing to try products that include minor cannabinoids. The more that cannabinoids are studied by researchers, the better consumers will be able to understand the benefits that both major and minor cannabinoids have to offer.

If you are in the process of evaluating emulsion suppliers for a product to be launched in 2022, the SōRSE R & D team would be happy to talk about your product development needs and discuss formulation possibilities with you. Book a call today!