CBCA (Cannabichromenic Acid) Guide

Published September 17, 2020
CBCA (Cannabichromenic Acid) Guide - Secret Nature

Over the last decade, CBD has emerged as an international phenomenon of epic proportions. In its wake, other non-intoxicating cannabinoids have risen to the fore, and the days when THC was the only cannabinoid on the market are starting to fade into the distant past. CBD is hardly the only non-intoxicating cannabinoid that the world has to contend with anymore, and in this guide, we’ll uncover the mysteries of CBCA, a little-known cannabinoid with immense potential.

What is CBCA?

Cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) is the immediate chemical precursor of cannabichromene (CBC). During the maturation process of Cannabis sativa, this plant produces a wide variety of different compounds, and CBCA is one of the compounds that appears when cannabis flower is near full maturity. Both CBCA and CBC are non-intoxicating, making them similar to CBD and dissimilar to THC.

Unlike other cannabinoid acids, such as CBDA, THCA, and CBGA, CBCA is not produced in considerable quantities in any existing strains of Cannabis sativa. Efforts are underway to breed cannabis strains that are high in CBCA, but since this cannabinoid is not currently in high demand, it may be some time until CBCA-rich strains are available.

To become CBC, CBCA goes through a process called decarboxylation. CBCA is known as a “carboxylic acid” due to the fact that it contains a carboxyl group, which is a basic chemical structure consisting of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms. Carboxyl groups are unstable, and they convert into other structures when exposed to relatively low heat.

The decarboxylation temperature of CBCA is approximately 105° C, so when this cannabinoid acid is exposed to heat that meets or exceeds this temperature, it decarboxylates into CBC. A small amount of CBCA also decarboxylates into CBC when Cannabis sativa flower that contains this cannabinoid is dried and cured.

Since CBCA is not present in Cannabis sativa flower in usable quantities, it must be acquired by other means. Like CBDA, THCA, and other cannabinoid acids, CBCA originates from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), which is produced during the latter stages of cannabis flower development.

CBGA transforms into CBCA due to the release of specific enzymes, so by isolating these enzymes and applying them to extracted CBGA, it’s possible to produce CBCA. The resulting CBCA can then be converted into CBC or kept in its acid form.

History of CBCA research

Israeli scientists discovered cannabichromene in 1966. Two years later, Japanese cannabis researchers successfully isolated CBCA and identified it as the chemical precursor of CBC. In the intervening years, practically zero research has been conducted into CBCA, and the studies that have been published have largely revolved around efforts to synthesize this substance in laboratory conditions.

For instance, Japanese researchers reported in 1997 that they had identified a substance in Cannabis sativa that they believed was the enzyme responsible for transforming CBGA into CBC. The enzyme was named cannabichromenic acid synthase, and this discovery came directly on the heels of a 1996 Japanese study indicating that CBGA was likely the source substance for a variety of cannabinoid acids.

In 1998, researchers reported that they had successfully isolated cannabichromenic acid synthase, which laid the groundwork for producing CBCA in mass quantities. While CBCA isolate is now available from certain cannabinoid distributors, this cannabinoid acid has not yet reached significant levels of popularity. Considering the fact that hardly 20 years have passed since it became possible to synthesize CBCA from CBGA for the first time, however, the relatively slow market entry of CBCA is unsurprising.

What is CBCA currently used for?

At present, CBCA is not widely used. In almost every instance, cannabinoid producers decarboxylate this carboxylic acid into CBC, which has been more thoroughly researched. We still know very little about CBCA and how it differs from CBC, so a robust market for this cannabinoid acid has yet to emerge.

One interesting potential application of CBCA is in the treatment of bacterial infections. A study published in 2020 investigated the potential therapeutic value of CBCA for Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, and these initial results were highly promising. 

Even more promising than the results of this individual study, however, is the fact that CBCA is being studied at all. This cannabinoid acid is usually overshadowed by CBC, which is in turn overshadowed by more popular non-intoxicating cannabinoids like CBD and CBG.

Since most ingestion methods decarboxylate CBCA into CBC, it’s worth taking a look at the research that has been conducted into the stable form of CBCA. While CBC hasn’t been studied as thoroughly as CBD or CBG, it has certainly been studied more than CBCA, and there’s a strong chance that many of the apparent benefits of CBC may also apply to this cannabinoid’s carboxylic acid precursor.

Cannabichromene, for instance, has been noted for its effects on anandamide, one of the body’s most important endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids). Research links this impact on anandamide with CBC’s stimulating effects at the nervous system’s TRPV1 receptors, which are involved in the regulation of inflammation. While insufficient data have been collected to draw concrete conclusions, it’s possible that CBC has higher affinity for the TRPV1 receptors than CBD.

As a result, CBC is currently being targeted as a potential source of cannabinoid-based analgesic therapies. Combined with the antioxidant functions that are common among all cannabinoids, CBC’s apparent activity at the TRPV1 receptors could make this cannabinoid even more ideal than CBD for the treatment of inflammatory pain and other inflammation-related conditions.

Due to a lack of research, it is unclear whether CBCA shares the TRPV1-stimulating properties of its stable cannabinoid form. Other cannabinoid acids, however, such as CBGA, CBDA, and THCA, have many of the same properties as their endpoint cannabinoids, so it’s reasonable to infer that CBCA also has TRPV1 affinity. It’s also worth noting that CBDA, the carboxylic acid form of CBD, appears to have much greater affinity for the brain’s 5-HT1A receptors than CBD, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented for CBCA and CBC to have a similar relationship when it comes to TRPV1.

What might CBCA be used for in the future?

If research into the potential immunological benefits of CBCA continues to deliver promising results, this cannabinoid may one day be recognized as a mainline treatment for MRSA infections—and perhaps other forms of microbial infections as well. Additionally, as long as cannabinoid producers continue to demand CBCA as a precursor to CBC, this carboxylic acid will remain useful for this purpose.

We actively call for research into the TRPV1-stimulating properties of CBCA. It appears that CBDA has incredible affinity for the nervous system’s 5-HT1A receptors, and together, 5-HT1A and TRPV1 modulate the vast majority of pain inducing stimuli. If research ends up supporting the utility of CBCA as a TRPV1 agonist, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect analgesic products containing a combination of CBDA and CBCA to become the norm within a few years.

In the interim, we’ll need to wait for more research to be conducted into the properties of CBC and CBCA. Cannabichromene has garnered some interest as a potential treatment for cancer, but at this point, there isn’t enough research to corroborate the utility of CBC for this purpose. Perhaps researchers delving into this subject will choose to test CBCA against carcinogenic tumors as well, and we would eagerly await the results of such studies.

What are the best ways to use CBCA?

Since this substance cannot yet be directly derived from Cannabis sativa flower, the methods of CBCA consumption currently available are highly limited. It is impossible, for instance, to enjoy CBCA by juicing raw cannabis flower, which is currently one of the default methods of ingesting other cannabinoid acids like CBDA and CBGA.

Instead, you’ll need to consume a cryogenic CBCA extract in a way that does not involve heat. Cryogenic extraction is a cannabis extraction process that uses cold instead of heat, and this method is therefore able to capture raw CBGA molecules. Then, by applying cannabichromenic acid synthase, it’s possible to transform this extracted CBGA into CBCA, resulting in a cryogenic CBCA extract.

If you vape your CBCA extract or cook it into food, the cannabichromenic acid it contains will transform into cannabichromene. Therefore, it’s best to include CBCA extracts in tinctures, capsules, or other ingestion methods that do not involve heat.

While CBCA extract is still relatively rare, there are a few cannabinoid suppliers that produce this substance in bulk. At present, there do not appear to be any consumer products that contain cannabichromenic acid, so it is therefore necessary to purchase this extract in bulk and use it to make your own DIY CBCA products.

The mysteries of CBCA will be unveiled

It’s only a matter of time until our knowledge of CBCA deepens. As is evidenced by the 2020 study we referenced that sought to better understand this cannabinoid acid’s antimicrobial functions, interest in CBCA appears to be picking up now that cannabinoids are becoming mainstream topics of conversation.

What we await most of all is further research into the relationship between CBCA and the nervous system’s TRPV1 receptors. More than any other attribute, this potential function of CBCA should excite anyone who believes in the power of cannabinoid therapy. Learn more about cannabinoids at the Shared Secrets blog, and give us a shout if you have any questions.

Can you buy CBCA online?

Yes, it’s often possible to buy CBCA online from chemical manufacturers. This type of CBCA, however, is for research purposes only and is not fit for consumption.

At present, there isn’t sufficient demand for CBCA to justify selectively breeding cannabis to express this carboxylic acid. Even CBCA’s decarboxylated form, CBC, is still relatively unknown among cannabis users. Expect more CBC — and eventually, CBCA — products to appear on the market over the coming years.

Can you get CBCA from hemp?

No, you cannot currently derive CBCA from hemp, and it must be synthesized instead. It is theoretically possible to breed hemp to yield concentrations of CBCA just as high as the concentrations of CBDA or THCA currently present in top-shelf cannabis and hemp. Nobody has yet taken the laborious steps, however, of crossing and recrossing hemp strains to achieve this result, a process which can take years or even decades.

What is the chemical structure of CBCA?

Cannabichromenic acid is generally considered a chromenol, and it consists of a chromene base with methyl, hydroxy, carboxy, and pentyl groups replacing the default structure. Due to its chemical structure alone, CBCA is generally recognized as having at least some utility as an antibacterial substance.

What is the difference between CBCA and CBC?

Chemically, CBCA and CBC are separated only by a single carboxyl group, which disappears when CBCA is exposed to temperatures exceeding its decarboxylation point of 105° C. In terms of effects, scientists still aren’t sure which factors separate CBCA from CBC. It’s possible that, like certain other cannabinoid precursors, CBCA might end up showing increased affinity for specific neuroreceptor sites compared to CBC.

What is the difference between CBCA and CBGA?

We don’t know enough about CBCA to determine how it compares to cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) in terms of effects. What we do know, however, is that CBCA starts its life in cannabis flower as CBGA before being transformed into the precursor of cannabichromene by enzymes. As a result, CBCA is closely related to CBGA — as are most of the cannabinoids found in cannabis.

What is the difference between CBG and CBGA?

CBG is the decarboxylated form of CBGA, and scientists are currently looking intently at the potential benefits of both compounds. CBGA was included in a 2022 study, for instance, into the usefulness of cannabinoids for COVID, which shows that this precursor compound is finally being treated as its own substance. Most ways of using CBGA cause it to transform into CBG before it reaches your bloodstream, and researchers still don’t know how the effects of these two forms of CBG might differ. 

What is the pKa of THCA?

Whether it’s CBCA, CBGA, or even THC’s carboxylic acid precursor, THCA, every acid has a pKa value, which reflects its degree of acidity. Research into this subject remains limited, but one study indicates that THCA has a pKa value of 3.2, which makes it a relatively weak acid. To our knowledge, no one has assessed the pKa values of other cannabinoids at this point.

What is THCA’s molecular weight?

The molecular weight of THCA is 358.5 g/mol, making it significantly higher than the 314.45 g/mol of THC. This only makes sense, though, considering how THCA sheds its carboxyl group when it turns into THC. For contrast, the molecular weight of CBCA is also estimated to be 358.5.

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