On the heels of the cannabidiol (CBD) craze come three other cannabinoids touted as potential treatments for various medical issues: cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and delta-8 THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). While companies are freely selling products featuring these compounds, especially delta-8, practitioners and industry insiders note little evidence exists regarding any of the three.
They especially question delta-8, which has captivated the market over the last year despite a dearth of research.
“Given the nature of these compounds (on their own), it’s unlikely that they’re unsafe,” Jordan Tishler, MD, president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, wrote in an email to MedPage Today. They are “great to sell but not necessarily safe or useful medically,” however, he added. “The evidence for use in humans is very thin.”
Next Batch of Medicinal Cannabinoids?
Delta-8 is similar to delta-9 THC, the component primarily responsible for the cannabis “high.” That effect is reportedly much diminished with delta-8 THC and perhaps absent entirely. Proponents say it offers the same medical benefits — such as addressing nausea and stimulating appetite — as delta-9.
Unlike naturally occurring CBG and CBN, delta-8 is a synthetic made from hemp-derived CBD. It is “normal THC with a fake mustache on,” said Trevor Yahn-Grode, a hemp industry analyst with New Frontier Data. It has attracted consumers who eschew CBD-based products for THC benefits and mild psychoactivity — but not as much as delta-9 products typically induce, said John Kagia, a New Frontier executive.
All cannabinoids originate from CBG, but the compound is present in only very small quantities (often less than 1%) of naturally-harvested cannabis. CBG could treat anxiety, pain, inflammation, and nausea, among other potential uses, proponents say.
CBN often develops in aging cannabis flowers as the THC degrades and also is only present in very small quantities of natural cannabis. CBN has especially been touted as a potential insomnia treatment, in addition to addressing inflammation and stimulating appetite.
CBN and CBG, like CBD, are not psychoactive. Their existence has been known for decades, while delta-8 has emerged only recently.
But CBG and CBN have been examined at large scale only in animals; MedPage Today found no record of any human studies.
And delta-8 THC has scarcely been researched at all. “It clearly activates CB1&2 [endocannabinoid system] receptors and gets you high, but is less efficacious than delta 9,” Samoon Ahmad, MD, co-author of Medical Marijuana: A Clinical Handbook, emailed MedPage Today. “Unique effects haven’t been studied enough yet.”
Safety also remains an open question. “Since none of them are regulated at this time, and we know from the CBD literature” about unregulated products sometimes being contaminated, Tishler wrote, “many products may be unsafe to use until proven otherwise.”
‘Minor’ Cannabinoids, Major Market Growth
These three compounds make up only a small piece of the cannabis market, Kagia and Yahn-Grode said, with sales probably less than 5% of CBD’s. But these so-called “minor cannabinoids” represent a fast-growing sector. “This is all happening in real time,” Kagia said.
Delta-8 “exploded out of nowhere,” Yahn-Grode said, with retail sales of at least $10 million last year and now dominating the minor cannabinoid market. That’s largely due to suppliers reacting to gluts of CBD, on one hand, and fears on the other that regulators could soon ban delta-8, Yahn-Grode and Kagia said.
Supplies of all three compounds have been boosted by the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp agriculture. For example: CBG- and CBN-based products are becoming more popular as harvesters have transformed what used to be costly cultivation by hand into an industrial process. Novel production methods have also yielded products with higher concentrations of CBG and CBN, at lower cost.
Unlike delta-9 THC, federal regulations are silent on these compounds, enabling anyone to legally purchase products in states that haven’t banned them either.
In addition, cannabis companies are attempting to differentiate themselves in this newly competitive marketplace, said Jonathan P. Caulkins, PhD, a public policy professor with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
“Nobody wants to sell just plain cannabis,” he said. “There is enormous…