If you’re new to the world of natural health and methods of relief, you might just have recently heard about what CBD is. But did you know that CBD has a precursor called CBD-A, which research suggests also has some pretty interesting effects on the body? CBD-A is a precursor to CBD, meaning it’s essentially one of the chemical building blocks that makes up CBD.
In the past it was considered to be inactive, but in the medical CBD there is a quiet buzz surrounding this much underappreciated compound.
Believe it or not, CBD is present on growing cannabis plants in only very small amounts. In growing plants, CBD exists as cannabidiolic acid (CBD-A). It isn’t until the plant is cut, dried, and heated that CBD is formed. CBD is a calming phytochemical that does not cause a psychotropic experience.
If you picked hemp straight from the plant, you’d find mostly CBD-A and very little CBD. That’s right, when you see pictures of hemp and cannabis plants growing in a field, they actually contain very little of the cannabinoids they are most known for. That’s because both CBD and THC require continued heat and/or ageing to be transformed from their acidic precursors. CBD-A is known as the acidic precursor to CBD, and when cannabis grows, it produces CBD-A and not CBD.
Science is discovering what now seems obvious. If you must heat, or smoke the plant in order to get to CBD, it makes sense to look at the CBD-A as its precursor.
Cannabinoids like THC and CBD, which have been studied over the past four decades, have long been thought of as the main therapeutic compounds in the cannabis plant. However, emerging pre-clinical evidence suggests that there may be some benefit to keeping the plant raw.
With the amount of emphasis that is placed on CBD, it may be surprising to learn that the raw hemp plant contains very little CBD. Instead, it contains an abundance of CBD-A. The ratio is about 95% CBD-A to 5% CBD at the highest.
So let’s take a look at some amazing facts about CBD-A that may make you reconsider which CBD product you buy in the future.
CBD-A is one of an estimated 113 compounds known as cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Hemp flowers go through major transformations as they dry. In fresh flowers, the active components are found as acids. When Hemp is dried and heated, these acids break down into more famous compounds like THC and CBD. THC is the primary psychoactive in the cannabis plant.
Previously, it was thought that CBD-A was the inactive “cousin” to CBD. In fact, there is enough researched evidence that this so-called “inactive” cannabinoid is anything but lazy.
It also serves to reduce anxiety, inflammation, vomiting, tumor proliferation, and more. Unfortunately, the majority of cannabis research has focused on psychoactive THC or activated CBD, not CBD-A.
What is cannabidiolic acid (CBD-A)?
Cannabidiolic acid (CBD-A) is a chemical compound found in the resin glands (trichomes) of raw cannabis plants. In a natural state, the hemp plant contains over 85 active compounds called cannabinoids. These compounds are secreted in a sticky resin through the trichomes (glands) of the cannabis plant.
In this case, raw means unheated and uncured. Basically, raw cannabis is fresh flower and leaves trimmed directly from the plant. CBD-A is the precursor to the more widely known molecule cannabidiol (CBD). In fresh cannabis, it is estimated that 95 percent of the cannabinoid exists as THCA and only 5 percent as CBD. When CBD-A is aged and heated, it breaks down from its acid form and converts into CBD.
The process of converting CBD-A to CBD is called decarboxylation, or decarbing. Baking, lighting, or heating cannabis removes the acid group from CBD-A and transforms it into CBD. With heat and time, the acid group of the molecule degrades and what is left is what many refer to as “activated” CBD.
Here, “raw cannabis” refers to fresh leaves and flowers that have not been dried, cured, or heated.
What are the benefits of CBD-A?
Unfortunately, substantial research on CBD-A is lacking. However, preliminary research in the lab suggests that CBD-A may be helpful in four distinct therapeutic areas. These include:
1. Antibacterial ~ A study completed in 2000 notes that more CBD-A in a plant will lead to greater antimicrobial potency within the CBD that results after decarboxylation.
2. Inflammation ~ CBD-A can bring inflammation down. Laboratory research performed in cell cultures has found that CBD-A has potential anti-inflammatory properties. A 2008 experiment published in Drug Metabolism and Disposition has found that CBD-A is a selective COX-2 inhibitor.
Simply explained, COX-2 is an enzyme that plays a role in the development of pro-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins. This enzyme is a target of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), like aspirin and ibuprofen.
Inflammation is a natural and important response to stress, injury, and illness. However, chronic inflammation is painful and can be detrimental to health. Arthritis is one example of a chronic inflammatory condition.
The 2008 research discovered that naturally occurring CBD-A selectively blocked the COX-2 enzyme, reducing its ability to synthesize pro-inflammatory compounds. The researchers found that CBD-A was more successful than its counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).
3. Nausea & vomiting ~ This is one case where CBD-A may be more powerful than CBD.
A 2012 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology has found that CBD-A treatment reduces nausea behaviors in rodents. The study also found that the cannabinoid reduced vomiting in shrews. When compared to activated CBD, the researchers found that CBD-A was actually more powerful in quieting an upset stomach.
While CBD-A is not believed to activate the endocannabinoid system in the same way as CBD, preliminary research in academic journals suggests CBD-A may have anti-inflammatory effects, could reduce nausea, and may have other benefits too.
4. Anti-cancer ~ Research from 2012 has found that CBD-A effectively halted migration in breast cancer cells cultured outside of the body. While experiments conducted in petri dishes are no comparison to clinical human trials, the cannabinoid did show some positive effects against a highly invasive form of breast cancer.
Specifically, the CBD-A treatment seemed to prevent the migration of breast cancer cells. In theory, a therapy that stops cancer cell migration would prevent the disease from spreading to other parts of the body.
Cell culture research from 2014 had similar findings, suggesting that treatment with raw CBD-A altered the expression of genes associated with invasive breast cancer metastasis. The cannabinoid also down-regulated the enzyme COX-2, which can amplify breast cancer migration.
5. Psychosis ~ Could CBD-A help people with psychiatric challenges?
As with almost all cannabis research, high-quality studies on CBD-A for anxiety are sorely needed. However, one biopharmaceutical company already has a patent on CBD-A for the potential treatment of psychotic disorders.
Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals included CBD-A into a patent on the use of cannabinoids in conjunction with antipsychotic medications. The patent also included the cannabinoids CBD, THCV, THCVA, CBC, CBCA, CBG, and CBGA.
Bioavailability / Potency
It is fair to ask what is the advantage of CBD-A having better potency vs. CBD? Many people misunderstand the pharmacological term potency. Having higher potency does not mean that it necessarily works better, but rather that it exerts its effect at a lower dose. So why would it matter that you could give CBD-A at a lower dose if it is doing the same thing as CBD?
CBD-A and CBD Work Well Together
As more research is carried out into CBD-A, it is becoming apparent that less of the cannabinoid is needed to get a therapeutic effect compared to its decarboxylated cousin. The suggestion being that by combining the two compounds, patients can take a smaller dose and may also benefit from a more rapid onset of effects.
Clinical studies have shown that CBD has an acute anti-anxiety effect (i.e. after a single dose), but the dose needs to be relatively high – around 300 mg. If results from animals translate to humans, we could potentially be using low milligram (or even sub-milligram) doses of CBD-A. Obviously the appropriate dose would need to be confirmed in clinical trials, but let’s assume that CBD-A works at 1 mg.
· This would potentially be much less expensive (300 mg doses of CBD are cost prohibitive for most people)
· Oral absorption would potentially be more rapid and consistent (CBD quickly reaches solubility limitations in gastric fluid that can slow absorption)
· Lower doses make it more amenable to alternative routes of administration (e.g. sublingual). This may be especially important for nausea/vomiting.
Right now, the market is flooded with CBD-only preparations. Not surprising, considering it is the subject of far greater research. But my firm staunchly believes that the future actually lies in extractions that combine CBD and CBD-A together.
Cultures and economies have been farming industrial hemp for thousands of years. As a multi-purpose crop, it has been valued for its fiber. But, it is also the “original” cannabis, so to speak. What we know as “industrial” hemp is a branch of the cannabis sativa family differentiated by its heavy concentration of CBD. And, because of that lack of THC, industrial hemp and its derivatives are legal in all states and most countries……
CBD and CBD-A cannot promise to cure ailments. But science and history support the perceived relief from dozens of medical problems as the result of using CBD. With the best information at hand, you can choose or combine your therapies using CBD and CBD-A. And, to the extent possible, you can advocate for new and relevant research.
Like so many aspects of hemp, we expect to see more CBD-A research in the future. As more research is conducted on CBD-A, we predict to see a greater emphasis on this cannabinoid.