The Molecular Breakdown of Synthesized Cannabinoids Part 1

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In the cannabis business industry, it pays to know your cannabinoids. As growers and manufacturers, you test constantly for the percentage of THC, CBD, and delicious terpenes while the other half of the industry spins out new and artificial cannabinoids that are changing the shape of the market – especially in not-yet-legal states.

You’ve heard of the Deltas, the THC-0, and CBG products, all officially derived from non-intoxicating CBD hemp. But just what is the science behind it all and, for cannabis brands in legal states, is it worth branching out into advanced cannabinoid synthesis to catch the new market demand being generated by artificial extracts?

Today, we’re taking a look not just at the trends, but the actual molecular meaning behind synthesized cannabinoids. How it works, why it works, and what the future of synthesized cannabinoids may hold.

The CBG Tree

To understand the cannabinoid molecule, we must start with CBG-A and the CBG chemical chain. This is the root from which all cannabinoids seem to come. The unique effects of cannabis and interactions with the neurotransmitter receptors stem from how this one molecule can be transformed by different chemical influences.

CBG-A: The Mother of All Cannabinoids

CBG-A is the first cannabinoid that forms in a young cannabis Sativa plant. It grows in the stalks, leaves, and flowers of the plant. CBG-A on its own is not uniquely psychoactive, but as you may be familiar with, can be decarboxylated into CBG, which has some identified effects and benefits. CBG-A has one complete carbon ring of OH and HO, with partial rings on one side and a carbon tail on the other. It has one Oxygen double-bond above the tail.

CBG-A Breaks Down Into CBD-A, THC-A, and CBG-A

As the cannabis plant matures, CBG-A breaks down into THC-A and CBD-A, the acidic pre-forms of leading cannabinoids on the market. To become CBD-A or THC-A, a second carbon ring is formed. The difference between the two is determined by the placement of specific hydrogen atoms in the formation. There are also trace amounts of CBG-A left in the plant after this process.

The A's Decarboxylize Into CBD, THC, and CBG

Decarboxylation removes CO2 from the molecule through the gentle application of heat; a heat-triggered chemical reaction. All three molecules lose their additional bonds above the carbon tail and become more capable of interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors. In a hemp plant, this will leave you with large amounts of CBD, small amounts of THC, and only trace amounts of CBG. While found naturally in the plant, CBG is another molecule often synthesized from the more abundant CBD content in each plant.

THC Analogs: The Isomer Cannabinoid Synthesis Chain

We’ve walked the natural chain of cannabinoid molecules. How do they relate to the synthesized cannabinoids now entering the market? These cannabinoids are synthesized from existing cannabinoids, usually CBD, and purposefully alter the molecule to achieve different effects possible within the cannabinoid molecular design. This is done using Isomerization, by creating Isomers of the original cannabinoid molecule. An isomer, as you may have guessed, is a molecule that is very similar with just one or two changes to the atomic bond formation. CBG, CBD, and THC are all isomers of each other, and they are isomers of their acidic roots. Most cannabinoids are isomers, which means you can turn one into another in a lab. This is where the Deltas come from.

THC is Delta-9

Let’s start with the original THC molecule. It has three complete carbon rings. On the outermost carbon ring, opposite the tail, is a double-bond in the ninth position. This is what makes the original and most prominent THC variant the “Delta 9”.

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