As CBD continues to explode in popularity, brands are beginning to take notice. Innovative companies are already beginning to offer products centered around one of the other 100+ cannabinoids found in the plant.
One of those cannabinoids is Cannabigerol, or CBG. First discovered by researchers in the 1960’s, CBG is the precursor from which all other cannabinoids are synthesized, which is why it’s often referred to as the “mother” or “stem cell” of cannabinoids. This unique property imbues CBG with enormous therapeutic promise, making it a subject of great interest for researchers and consumers alike.
The US government is also keen on learning more about CBG. In 2018 The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) announced an intent to research minor cannabinoids including CBG that could help manage pain.
So how exactly does CBG work?
“CBG works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Together, CB1 and CB2 receptors regulate neurohormones which actively affect physiological processes including mood, metabolism, pain response, and appetite,” begins Derek Du Chesne, Chief Growth Officer at EcoGen Laboratories. “When cannabinoids like CBG interact with these receptors, it activates a response and produces physiological changes.”
While the research conducted on CBG is still in its infancy, what we do know about CBG is very promising.
“We know that CBG shows promise as an antibacterial agent and an anti-inflammatory,” says John Huemoeller, CEO of AXIM Biotechnologies, Inc.
The potential health benefits of CBG are extensive. A non-intoxicating compound, it’s thought to help regulate mood thanks to its ability to boost anandamide, the body’s native “bliss” molecule, as well as act as a GABA reuptake inhibitor. CBG is also a potent neuroprotectant and is currently being evaluated for its ability to combat ailments like Huntington’s Disease. It also has cancer fighting properties and is a potent antibacterial that can even treat MRSA.
Despite the medical appeal and consumer demand there’s one big hurdle to face, though: CBG is notoriously expensive to produce, so much so it’s been dubbed the “the Rolls Royce of cannabinoids.”
“It takes thousands of pounds of biomass to create small amounts of CBG isolate,” continues Rowland. “That’s because most hemp only contains minute percentages of CBG, where as there are now hemp strains that contain 20% CBD in the crop. If the CBG content of the same crop is only 1%, that means you need to extract 20 times the amount of biomass to get the same amount of CBG out.”
CBG also comes with its own “Sophie’s Choice.”
“Either you give up your entire crop to process and produce pure CBG prior to the conversion into other cannabinoids, or you wait until it’s time to harvest the hemp plant, says Floyd Landis, founder of the retail outlet Floyd’s of Leadville. “By that time most of the CBG has been converted into other cannabinoids so there’s very little left to extract.”
This is only part one of a layered and complex problem. Part of the biomass problem is the genetics of cannabis plants. Cannabis plants have been bred to produce as much THC and/or CBD as possible thanks to consumer demand. And since plants can only produce a finite amount of cannabinoids, many cannabis plants today contain less than 2% CBG by volume.
“Nobody had been breeding cannabis strains high in CBG until recently,” notes Rowland.
It seems CBG first came onto the consumer market in 2015 when AXIM Biotechnologies announced the world’s first retail-ready CBG cannabis products. These included a variety of oral care products like toothpaste as well as cosmetic beauty creams. Quickly on its heels was Steve’s Goods, who began to produce the first consumer facing CBG tincture in 2016. Few other producers make it today, with Hemptown USA claiming that they’re one of four producers in the US. Other CBG brands include Flower Child and Plant People.
Genetics is one factor in CBG’s extortionate production cost. Another is—surprisingly enough—a surge in consumer demand.
“Demand has consistently outpaced our internal production of hemp,” says Joseph Nunez, President and COO of EcoGen Laboratories.
Nunez continues, “Accordingly, each year to-date, we have had difficulty obtaining a large enough volume of hemp biomass to meet our production demands. Every summer, prior to the new harvest, the quantity and quality of biomass available has materially decreased. We believe that the amount of hemp being grown this year across the US, however, will greatly surpass that of previous years.”
Adding on to the existing chaos is the fact that CBG requires highly specialized and often pricey equipment to produce.
“To extract CBG you need extremely expensive equipment to carry out a process known as chromatography,” says Rowland. “There are a number of other methods to extract it and they’re all much cheaper to carry out. That said, the genetics of the plant is still the primary price factor. Breed higher CBG hemp strains, and the cost to extract the CBG goes way down as you need much less material to extract it.”
If consumer demand is at an all time high, and CBG’s medical promise equally viable, what are brands doing to lower production costs?
One of the ways to combat production costs is to funnel money into developing plants with a high CBG genetic yield.
“By developing better CBG genetics whereby the CBG is the dominant cannabinoid expressed within the plant, we can apply more traditional and less costly purification processes,” says Nunez.
Hemptown USA, for instance, is currently developing a fully mature plant that has upwards of 10% CBG at full maturity.
“While Hemptown's cultivation costs do not increase substantially with the use of the CBG genetics, as posed to growing CBD genetics, the genetics themselves are expensive to develop and are very rare,” says Hemptown USA CEO John Cummings. “Development of stable CBG dominant genetics can take as long as 3 years to develop, further increasing costs and barriers to entry.”
Another brand endeavoring to modify CBG’s genetic profile is EcoGen Laboratories. They’ve been working on a particular CBG cultivar since 2017, with a certificate of analysis that currently shows a CBG content of 22% weight by volume. Steve’s, too, are hot on the trail as they currently work to develop strains with higher levels of CBG.
“There are only a few places in the country we know about that are breeding and growing hemp strains to specifically yield higher levels of CBG and we’ve already partnered with one of those farms,” says Rowland.
Brands that opt to harvest early can potentially access a larger amount of CBG, though it’s still with its issues.
“If you harvested the plant younger where there is a higher % of CBG available, you're still only talking around 5% which means you need 2 to 3 times the plant mass to equal the same % of CBD,” notes Kevin Quirk, President and CEO of Harvest Connect. “Having said that, we are working on a strain that could maximize CBG but would be without CBD and THC.”
Another issue is quality control. Producers have to take special care to note they use extraction processes that do not employ any solvents as “there is always residual remanence left behind that finds its way into the final product,” says Quirk. “We always test our products through a 3rd party to ensure our consumers get the absolute best product with the best ingredients available.” As such this can boost the prices of CBG even higher for a select few who don’t have local access to their hemp supply. Some, like Steve’s, reduce this consumer cost through carefully cultivated relationships with farms.
“We source 100% of our hemp from local Colorado farms and maintain tight knit relations that allow us to track the product from seed to sale,” says Rowland. “As of this year, we’re now harvesting hemp on our own farm less than an hour away from our headquarters. This ensures we’re delivering the most pure adulterated hemp products available on the market.”
The final hurdle in reducing CBG’s production cost is equipment. As enterprising businesses race to see who can streamline the CBG production first, many are choosing to focus on optimizing their production equipment.
“The equipment is expensive to begin with and the IP for the exact methodology to select out individual components is closely held by each extractor,” says Tim McCarthy, VP of Sales of United Natural Hemp Extracts, LLC.
“A few companies are looking to refine and perfect chromatography to speed up the process of refining plant genetics as the process can be lengthy,” adds Gabe Kennedy, CEO of Plant People. “As the industry is able to scale up chromatography equipment to extract CBG from full-spectrum oils, it should allow larger batches to be produced and reduce costs.”
EcoGen, too, is poised to strike. “EcoGen has developed specialty isolation and purification equipment as well as the related processes to materially lower the cost of CBG production,” says Nunez.
All things considered, it’s a steep and rocky road for CBG to climb until consumer education improves a little.
“It seems to us that CBG still isn’t on most people’s radar yet,” notes Landis. “The general public is still digesting terms like cannabinoid and cannabidiol so when you throw another acronym in the mix, the reaction can be “CB-what?” Most people are still trying to wrap their heads around cannabinoids so once you move past THC and CBD people get confused very quickly.”
Quirk echoes the sentiment, adding that, “We are currently working with Georgia regulators and universities on the effects of different cannabinoids, and other natural compounds in the plant on different ailments and medical conditions...We are trying to bring CBG more heavily into the discussion.”
It seems as though consumer knowledge and demand are the final pieces of the puzzle.
As the availability of CBG increases in the marketplace and the price decreases, we fully “anticipate the momentum to continue - very similar to how CBD isolate used to be $20,000/KG and now we sell it for $2,000/KG,” says Du Chesne.
“The cannabinoid specific markets are going to wildly fluctuate for another few years until the demand evens out,” says Rowland. “I do think it will remain considerably more expensive than CBD for a long time, but if CBD prices drop you’ll see CBG prices drop too.”