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Cannabichromene: The Overlooked Cannabinoid

Published: Nov 22, 2021   

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Cannabichromene: The Overlooked Cannabinoid

Alexander Beadle
Science Writer

With such high levels of support for cannabis legalization and the huge number of CBD products available on the shelves of health and wellness stores worldwide, it is likely that the average person is already quite aware of what CBD and THC are. In contrast, CBC is a term that is much less well-known. 

Despite its relatively low profile in the public consciousness, cannabichromene (CBC) is considered one of the “big six” cannabinoids in terms of cannabis research, with studies suggesting that the cannabinoid could be used to address cancerous tumors, inflammation, and even neurological disease. 


What is CBC?

Like many of the other “big six” cannabinoids, CBC is derived from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) – also known as the “mother of all cannabinoids”. As the cannabis or hemp plant matures, natural plant enzymes that are unique to each strain convert this CBGA into three other major cannabinoid acids, namely tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and cannabichromenenic acid (CBCA). Over time or when exposed to heat the CBCA will decarboxylate to form the neutral cannabinoid CBC; this process is the same respectively for CBDA forming CBD and THCA forming THC. 


While CBC may not be as well-known as THC or CBD, it can rival these compounds in terms of its natural abundance in the cannabis plant. In the past, CBC was often the second-most abundant cannabinoid found in average cannabis strains. However, modern targeted breeding programs that aim to boost THC or CBD content have generally seen a decline in the amount of CBC produced by many of today’s most popular strains.


How does CBC work?

CBC does not interact strongly at either the CB1 or CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the body, so it does not elicit the same psychoactive ‘high’ that THC s famous for. Instead, CBC makes its effects felt through other receptors, such as the vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and the transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1) which are normally involved in modulating the pain response. 

When CBC activates these receptors it prompts the body to raise its endocannabinoid levels. Endocannabinoids bear a striking resemblance to the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, but they are neurotransmitters which affect the internal endocannabinoid system. The human endocannabinoid system is hugely complex, but critically important for our survival. It is largely responsible for maintaining homeostasis and can play a significant part in supporting healthy brain function and a normal immune response. 

CBC is also thought to exert some effects by working synergistically other other cannabinoids in a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect”. While the existence of this entourage effect is still debated within the cannabis industry, there is a study that has shown a possible dose-dependent relationship between CBC and higher levels of THC in the brain. 


The medical potential of CBC

As a cannabinoid that is not psychoactive and that is present in high levels in some cannabis strains, CBC attracted a fair amount of initial interest from cannabis science researchers after it was first identified in 1966. Since then, studies have identified potential therapeutic applications for CBC in a wide number of different fields. 


Inflammation and acne

Animal studies have determined that CBC can dose-dependently affect the behavior of neurons in the brains of rats and cause analgesia by activating the TRPA1 and adenosine A1 receptors and elevating endocannabinoid levels in the body. This is important as traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) generally work by blocking the production of enzymes that cause the inflammatory response at the site of injury or pain. With CBC having a different mechanism of action but still being effective against pain, CBC formulations may one day come to be an alternative painkiller. 

CBC’s anti-inflammatory properties have also suggested potential use in treating acne, with studies confirming that CBC can suppress excessive lipid production and inflammation in the skin’s sebaceous glands.


Cancer

As well as activating the TRPA1 receptor, CBC is also known for its ability to inhibit endocannabinoid inactivation – meaning that it will allow endocannabinoids to remain in the bloodstream for longer than usual. This is particularly notable for cancer research as the endocannabinoid ananamide (AEA) has been shown to fight the growth of breast cancer tumors both in vivo and in vitro.

Early screening tests have also detected CBC’s anti-tumor properties, with the cannabinoid appearing to effectively accelerate necrosis in gastrointestinal cancer cells


Brain function

Animal studies have shown that CBC has a beneficial effect on the viability of neural stem progenitor cells (NSPCs) during differentiation. This is important as these NSPCs differentiate into astroglial cells, which are largely responsible for maintaining homeostasis and defending the central nervous system (CNS). Healthy astroglia counteract a large number of risks to the CNS and neurological health; by effectively regulating oxadative stress they avoid problems such as inflammation, hypoxic brain injury, or Alzheimer’s disease.


Antibacterial activity

CBC may also have applications as an antibacterial agent. Early studies have indicated that CBC, as well as other common cannabinoids including THC and CBD, may be able to prevent the growth of gram-positive Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and inhibit MRSA biofilm formation. 

Studies with other prominent pathogens, such as gram-negative E. coli, have also indicated that CBC can powerfully inhibit bacterial growth by acting synergistically with small amounts of the topical antibiotic Polymixin B.


Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds an MChem in materials chemistry from the University of St Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie Scholarship and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.

 

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