CBD vs. CBG & the Endocannabinoid System

Trying to keep up with the latest wellness trends and news can be quite a challenge, especially when it comes to the cannabis world. There's THC, CBD, CBG, ABC (just kidding) — it seems like there's always something new. And just when you thought you knew about cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) comes along and steals the show. So, CBD vs. CBG? What are they? What's the difference? We'll explore all the details of both below.

What Are Cannabinoids?

Before we can talk about the differences between CBD vs. CBG, we need to know a little more about cannabinoids themselves. Cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis plant that interact with the cells in your body and produce mental and/or physiological effects. Some of the most well-known cannabinoids include:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol — THC; the psychoactive part of cannabis (what gets you high)

  • Cannabidiol — CBD; the second most prevalent cannabinoid

  • Cannabigerol — CBG; sometimes called the "mother" cannabinoid, all other cannabinoids come from here, except CBN

  • Cannabinol — CBN; the only cannabinoid that doesn't come from CBG, it is formed as TCH degrades

  • Cannabichromene — CBC; can be one of the most abundant non-intoxicating cannabinoids present

What Is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

The endocannabinoid system that runs throughout your body is how cannabinoids have an effect on you. If you didn't have an ECS, no part of the cannabis plant would make you feel any differently. But, your ECS isn't only receptive to the cannabinoids found in cannabis — the human body also produces its own endocannabinoids that interact with the ECS.

There are two types of ECS receptors. Cannabinoid receptor type 1, or CB1 receptors, are found primarily in the brain and central nervous system. CB2 receptors exist primarily in the immune system and are most present in the spleen. There are over 100 cannabinoids present in cannabis, and all of them interact with the ECS in some way — however many lack the scientific study to have a solid knowledge about just how they affect the body.

The good news: Dr. Atakan, a leading psychiatrist studying cannabis uses, says "there has been a dramatic increase in research exploring this system during the last decade and it is considered to be one of the fastest-growing fields in psychopharmacology."

"The endogenous cannabinoid system — named for the plant that led to its discovery — is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease." -B. Alger, Ph.D.

What Is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent cannabinoid present in cannabis and one of the first to be discovered back in the 1930s. Presenting at up to 40% of the plant's chemical makeup, CBD is non-psychoactive — so it won't get you high. Arguably the most medically significant cannabinoid, CBD has been extensively researched and found to treat a variety of conditions such as chronic pain, insomnia, inflammation, muscle spasms, and seizure disorders. Further, many studies have shown that CBD, in combination with THC, is an effective treatment for nausea, pain, and cancer.

CBD is taken in many forms — from gummies to oils, to tinctures, to vape pens, to lotions — and beyond. CBD is also present in the only cannabis-based FDA-approved drug, Epidiolex; this helps children who have a very rare and very severe condition causing them frequent seizures — this drug has been very effective for these conditions.

CBD chemical structure

What Is CBG?

CBG, or cannabigerol, is a very interesting cannabinoid, indeed. CBG is present at less than 1% in mature cannabis plants, but that's because it has an... odd journey. Basically, immature cannabis plants produce cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). As the plant grows, CBGA breaks down into cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). These two compounds are then converted into CBD and THC. Any leftover CBGA is converted into CBG, which is why it is found in such low quantities in fully mature plants.

Research on CBG is limited, but currently gaining momentum; researchers are interested in when and why CBGA begins to change, and what factors affect the percentages changed into either CBD or THC. This type of research could lead to knowledge about growing cannabis with specific THC or CBD levels in mind.

As far as the benefits of CBG on the body go, the research is still in the preliminary stages. However, the studies being done hold a lot of promise that CBG "may exert beneficial actions with therapeutic potential." Meaning, CBG could prove to be as useful as CBD has, or even more, and its possible interactions with other cannabinoids are yet to be known.

CBD chemical structure

CBD vs. CBG: What's the Difference?

Well, pretty much everything. Although they are both cannabinoids, they have entirely different molecular makeups. This means that these structures attach to ECS receptors differently and therefore produce different effects. For example, a study in rats with CBG found it to be an appetite stimulant, while CBD has been found to be an appetite suppressant. Even when acting on the same receptors, CBD and CBG have different effects; in another study with rats, CBD was found to work well for anti-nausea, but CBG blocked the CBD's effects entirely. These cannabinoids clearly have unique and distinct benefits and behaviors.

CBD vs. CBG — A Final Word

There has been much study on CBD, its effects, and how it functions in the body. Interestingly, even though CBD comes from CBG, there has been little attention from the scientific community on it until recently. Fortunately, the pre-clinical studies and research being done position CBG to be a useful and therapeutic treatment for many possible conditions.