If you're sick of reading about CBD, we hear you: The cannabis-derived compound has hit peak saturation, showing up in everything from foot cream to gummies to lube. It's gotten itself a (somewhat legit) rep as a cure for what ails you, be it sore muscles, anxiety or sensitive skin.
But CBD isn't the only alterna-wellness compound that cannabis has to offer — there are actually more than 100 different cannabinoids in your average cannabis plant. Referred to as "minor" or "rare" cannabinoids, they don't have nearly the same awareness or attention as CBD, due in large part to the fact that CBD is both the easiest and cheapest cannabinoid to extract and purify, says Dr. Andrew Salzman, chairman of Chillmark Labs, a rare cannabinoid manufacturing and processing company.
"CBD was not chosen as the 'face' of the cannabis campaign because it is the superior cannabinoid," he says. "It was chosen because it is the most accessible cannabinoid, and thus has overshadowed all of the others."
That's not to say CBD doesn't deserve the hype (to a point), but rather that it's only one side of the ever evolving cannabis story. Minor cannabinoids like CBN and CBG (more on these later) "have special and unique properties that are not shared by CBD. Some have shown to be more effective in certain ways," says Dr. Salzman. The good news is that thanks to new technologies and a deeper understanding of the cannabis plant as a whole, scientists, researchers and cannabis activists are beginning to raise awareness about the potential of these alternative cannabinoids.
"Breeding and specialized genetics are shifting how these plants create and produce the various cannabinoids," notes neuroscientist Austin Flohrschutz, Director of Science at TruPotency, a CBD direct-to-consumer online retailer. "It is very likely that we will start hearing more and more about the other cannabinoids as additional research is done."
Adds Dr. Jeremy Riggle, Chief Operating Scientist for Mary's Medicinals, "We are going to see a proliferation of products utilizing and highlighting these minor cannabinoids as we learn more about their specific pharmacologies."
Intrigued by the implications of those predictions, we talked to cannabis experts about what the most promising rare cannabinoids are and how they might impact the beauty and wellness categories.
But first, the requisite disclaimer: As every single one of our sources stressed (repeatedly), there is not nearly enough scientific data to make any semblance of claims around the functionality of these cannabinoids. "I don't know of many studies being done with minor cannabinoids, particularly on human populations,” cautions Dr. Riggle. "Most of these studies are in the very early stages so they are in vitro at the cellular level and/or animal model studies, which are tricky to extrapolate." The potential is there, our experts say, we just don’t have the accessibility to study it for confirmation.
With that in mind, consider this your peek into the cannabis crystal ball of what might come to be — once scientists have more freedom and resources to study the impact of cannabinoids on human health and well-being. Ahead, a look at the non-CBD, non-THC cannabinoids worth knowing.
Outside of THC and CBD, says Dr. Salzman, there are currently five cannabinoids with the most potential for additional benefits:
CBN (Cannabinol), a mildly psychoactive cannabinoid known for its powerful sedative and relaxing properties. CBN may help relieve symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and stress.
CBG (Cannabigerol), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that may aid in the hydration and healing of dry skin, psoriasis and eczema. It possesses powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal and antioxidant properties.
CBC (Cannabichromene), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that may relieve pain, fight acne, act as an antidepressant and assist with digestive and gastrointestinal disorders.
CBDV (Cannabidivarin), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that reduces nausea, inflammation and may be beneficial in the treatment of pain, mood disorders and acne.
THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin), a powerful appetite-suppressant cannabinoid shown to be very effective in treating inflammation and acne without the psychoactive effects of THC.
"Many consumers have been led to believe that CBD is a cure-all for anything that aches and pains them," says Verena Von Pfetten, co-founder of Gossamer and co-creator of Dusk sleep tincture. "For instance, while many companies claim their CBD products helps with sleep, CBD itself is not a sedative. It can help with things that might keep one awake such as inflammation or anxiety, but it's really CBN that early studies show has soporific properties."
For those choosing between two products for sleep, she recommends opting for the one with higher levels of CBN. "Similar things can be said about other cannabinoids, so understanding their unique effects will help consumers choose the right products for their specific needs."
Punit Seth, CEO and co-founder of cannabis lifestyle brand Toast, offers up this analogy: "Think about hearing a single musical instrument play a tune versus hearing an entire orchestra perform a beautiful symphony. There is a need to understand what a single compound (CBD) can do, but also a need to understand how the synergistic effect of those compounds or the full spectrum behave."
Lest you think these minor cannabinoids are going to replace CBD, that's not quite how it works. Says von Pfetten, "While most cannabinoids bind directly to the [CB1 and CB2] receptors in your endocannabinoid system, CBD stimulates them, which affects how the other cannabinoids bind to those receptors. Some cannabinoids will only reach a fraction of their potential without the presence of CBD." She brings it back to CBN as an example, noting that CBN's sedative properties only appear to work when combined with CBD and/or THC. "You're almost always going to see CBD in a formulation as the base for a product and/or because the product needs it to be effective."
In the near future, says Amy Zunzunegui, CEO and founder of CBD skin-care brand WLDKAT, advances in the hemp industry in the isolation of minor cannabinoids through selective breeding will help to increase overall potency. "As they become more widely available," she says, "you will probably start to see many different products formulated with some ratio of CBD: [insert minor cannabinoid here] to create a combination of cannabinoids that together can help deliver the benefits you're seeking."
You've probably heard the term full-spectrum before, as any cannabis expert worth his weight in bud knows you can have more potent benefits when you utilize all the plant has to offer. Explains Josh Stanley, Director of New Business Development at Charlotte's Web, "Full spectrum means that an extract includes all parts of the plant which appear to be vital — the terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids."
However, he notes, that's not how medical research usually operates. "Science and modern medicine typically only focus on one compound at a time," he explains, "but our bodies are complex. What science is realizing now is that the more we understand how our physiological systems work [as a whole], the more multi-compound and full-spectrum medicines will become readily available and, more importantly, probably much more effective."
While it's tempting to get wrapped up in the possibilities, experts advise a general sense of caution, as there will be those that use these additional cannabinoid call outs as a marketing gimmick. "We are still in the Wild West with claims," says Dr. Manisha Singal, Chief Medical Officer for Aethera Beauty. "Though there are thousands of observational studies, science is still lagging."
Adds Seth, "As an industry, we have to be very careful in making claims not only because it’s illegal, but also because misinformation can be detrimental to consumers." [Editors' note: The FDA just laid a crackdown on 15 different companies for breaking federal law by making health claims. The agency is becoming ever more vigilant as cannabis goes mainstream].
Educate yourself on how to identify the real deal from the fakers. Look to those brands who self-regulate by providing a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) of their products — a certification done by an independent accredited lab that shows all of the quantities of the major and minor cannabinoids in a product.
Considering we've only uncovered a fraction of what cannabis is capable of, the question now is not if, but when we will start to see rare cannabinoids become more prominent in the cannabis and hemp markets. All signs point to 2020 as being the year new technologies in breeding and manufacturing allow brands to create more targeted treatments featuring rare cannabinoids to replace the one-size-fits-all approach that CBD has to offer.
Written By: Megan Mcintyre