CBD chemistry without taking chemistry lessons
Sometimes one can get lost in all the acronyms. Before delving into them, it is educational to look at a fully grown female hemp plant that is ready for harvest. The secretions from the fine fiber like outgrowths on the flowers seem oily to touch. Get closer to the plant and you’ll immediately notice the characteristic scent of hemp. If one were to cook with hemp they’d be struck by its strong flavor and aroma. You’d be surprised that what we wrote above just described cannabinoids, terpenes and phenols in very general terms.
A fully grown hemp plant has over 545 identified naturally occurring chemicals including cannabinoids, terpenes and phenolic compounds. We’ll focus on the cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, because they are classified as biologically active. Chemicals naturally found in hemp are classified as such because they can be potentially beneficial or harmful to living organisms. Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence on the benefits of these compounds, nobody can make any claims until formal FDA approval.
Cannabinoids are found in every part of a hemp plant excluding the root. Most of it is concentrated in the female flowers and their fine fiber like outgrowths called trichomes. As the plant matures, pathways develop within the plant that produces and carries CBGA (cannabigerolic acid), the primary cannabinoid in hemp. Plant enzymes work on the CBGA and synthesize them into THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) and CBCA (cannabichromenic acid). Now those are some acronyms!! THCA and CBDA are the most abundant cannabinoids found in hemp flowers, although some genetic varieties produce primarily CBGA.
Notice the “A” on each of the cannabinoids. Now suppose the hemp plant were taken through a process where the cannabinoids, terpenes and waxes were extracted cleanly. If one were to pass this extract through a HPLC you’d see a report that lists the chemical contents of the plants. Now what is an HPLC? HPLC (High pressure liquid chromatography) is basically a chemical detector approved by the FDA to test CBD products.
A reading from the test result would report the acid cannabinoids CBGA, CBDA, THCA and their trace active counterparts CBG, CBD and THC. We'll skip the other cannabinoids seen above for this blog. This extract is perfectly fine by itself but wouldn’t possess the beneficial properties that you have to come to associate with CBD. For that to happen the extract needs to go through a process called activation or decarboxylation.
Decarboxylation or Activation is a process where the acidic cannabinoids get converted to their biologically active counterparts namely CBG, THC, CBD and CBD. Application of heat and/or light to the extract results in the removal of the carboxylic acid portion of the molecule.
The extract that comes out of decarboxylation is a healthy looking amber colored oil that has over a 100 beneficial cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. This is essentially full spectrum CBD. Increasing number of experts believe that hemp’s real magic comes from the combination of all cannabinoids and terpenes. The beneficial effect from full spectrum CBD is called the entourage effect, which we will cover in another blog.