Finding the perfect cannabis product can seem like a high-stakes game of Banana Grams lately. A decade ago, the only thing most people were choosing between was tried-and-true THC or its trendy cousin, CBD. But a smorgasbord of new cannabinoids have been tested since then, each boasting different effects than the others. Now, you can opt for CBN, CBG, CBL, CBDA, A,B,C,D,E,F,G… you get the picture.
And while all these new products are exciting evidence of how far cannabis research has come, we couldn’t help but wonder, “Are they really worth trying?”
So we rolled up our sleeves, did a little digging, and found out what actually distinguishes CBD from CBL, Delta-8 from Delta-9, and everything in between. And to save you some time, we put it all in one place.
Here’s what you need to know about the top “new” cannabis products on the market.
Editor’s note: The laws concerning the sale, cultivation, and use of the following products are different in every state. Check your state’s marijuana laws before purchasing.
Delta 8 THC (or, more simply, D8) is a cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp plants. You can think of it as the little sister to Delta-9 THC, the THC we’re used to finding in cannabis products, which is responsible for getting you high.
The difference between Delta-9 THC and Delta-8 THC is Delta-8 is less potent than Delta-9. While Delta-9 THC sometimes makes users paranoid, overwhelmingly fatigued, and can even spark hallucinations, Delta-8 THC is marketed as producing a lighter high with milder affects.
So, if you find yourself experiencing anxiety when you use THC, but still want to feel a buzz, Delta-8 THC products might be right for you.
CBN stands for “cannabinol,” which is one of the many chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. While it may sound a lot like cannabidiol (CBD), the two compounds are less alike than you’d expect.
The major difference is that CBD generally will not produce a psychoactive effect, but CBN sometimes will. This is because CBN is the product of the breakdown of THC – the cannabinoid responsible for producing a high. When a cannabis bud ages, the THC in it converts to CBN, meaning CBN can actually be mildly intoxicating.
You probably won’t feel a strong high from it, but the limited research we have on CBN shows it can act as a sedative, which could make it an effective sleep aid.
In every cannabis plant, there’s something called cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) that exists as the precursor to THCA and CBDA in hemp and cannabis plants. When THCA and CBDA are exposed to ultraviolet rays to heat, they will convert into the THC and CBD compounds you’re probably familiar with. But CBGA can also break down to a cannabinoid called CBG in this process. And though most cannabis plants are made up of less than 1% CBG, some believe we may be underestimating the power of this chemical compound.
There hasn’t been a lot of research done on CBG, but the potential medicinal benefits researchers have identified so far are pretty cool. CBG won’t get you high, but some studies are showing it may have neuroprotective power. It’s been shown to protect the neurons of mice with Huntington’s disease, which causes nerve cell degeneration in the brain. Another study showed it is able to slow the growth of cancer cells in mice.
Cannabichromene or CBC is the third most prevalent cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, just under THC and CBD. It has no psychoactive properties, but its ability to bind with receptors in the body related to pain has made some researchers flag it as a potential pain-reliever and muscle relaxant.
Additionally, CBC has the ability to increase levels of anandamide in the body, a natural endocannabinoid. There’s not a lot of research out there yet, but several studies have indicated this ability may make it one of the most effective cannabinoids in inhibiting tumor growth in cancer patients.
But while CBC is showing great potential in the lab, its effect on day-to-day users is very similar to CBD – it’s a non-intoxicating anti-inflammatory that some people use to help relieve pain. Further research will determine how much CBC will distinguish itself from its cannabinoid cousin in the future.
Just as THCA and CBDA convert to THC and CBD when exposed to ultraviolet rays and heat, CBL (also referred to as cannabicyclol, or CBP) is the product of the degradation of CBC, the third most prevent cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. There’s very little known about this compound but from looking at its molecular structure, researchers are pretty sure it has no cerebral effects.
CBL is one of the least researched compounds in the cannabis plant, as it was only discovered in 1964. Since it comes from CBC, which is showing promise for medicinal use, researchers are optimistic that future studies will show health benefits linked to CBL in the future. But, for now, no one can say more than that.
THCA and CBDA
Before CBD and THC molecules are exposed to ultraviolet rays or heat, they exist as “acidic cannabinoids” – i.e. THCA and CBDA. These molecules are larger than THC and CBD, which means they will not bind to the brain’s CB1 receptors, which is what causes CBD to have a calming effect on people with anxiety, and which generates the high experienced from THC intake. But the latest research on these raw plant cannabinoids shows they have a wealth of medicinal potential.
Recent studies have shown that while acidic cannabinoids have little effect on the endocannabinoid system, they do have the power to boost serotonin levels and decrease inflammation – acting similarly to everyday anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen.
For kids using cannabis to treat pain, acidic cannabinoids could be an ideal solution. A growing amount of research suggests CBD and THC’s reaction with the brain’s endocannabinoid system may impair brain development in minors. But since acidic cannabinoids don’t touch that system, some cannabis clinicians suggest THCA and CBDA could be used to mitigate pain without putting children at as much risk.
THCV and CBDV
We’ve been spending a lot of time with one side of the cannabis family. Now, it’s time to meet the varins.
Varin-type cannabinoids are a sub-family of other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. While CBD and THC have 5-carbon tails, varins have 3-carbon tails that are shorter than those of other cannabinoids.
This small difference in tail length means varin-type cannabinoids, including THCV and CBDV as well as CBGV, CBCV, etc. produce effects that are, in many ways, much different than other cannabinoids. For instance, THCV is psychoactive, but will only give you roughly 25% of the high that the same amount of THC would produce.
THCV and CBDV make up less than 1% of cannabis and hemp plants today, but many growers are trying to breed strains containing more THCV and CBDV. Their interest in varin-types likely stems from recent studies suggesting THCV, and possibly CBDV, may be excellent appetite suppressors and may promote a healthier metabolism. Because of this research, THCV has taken on the nickname “skinny pot.”
Got questions about other cannabis products? Send an email to let us know!
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.