Cannabinoid Biosynthesis

Since resin secretion and associated terpenoid and cannabinoid biosynthesis are at their peak just after the pistils have begun to turn brown but before the calyx stops growing, it seems obvious that floral clusters should be harvested during this time. More subtle variations in terpenoid and cannabinoid levels also take place within this period of maximum resin secretion, and these variations influence the nature of the resin’s psychoactive effect.

The cannabinoid ratios characteristic of a strain are primarily determined by genes, but it must be remembered that many environmental factors, such as light, temperature, and humidity, influence the path of a molecule along the cannabinoid biosynthetic pathway. These environmental factors can cause an atypical final cannabinoid profile (cannabinoid levels and ratios). Not all cannabinoid molecules begin their journey through the pathway at the same time, nor do all of them complete the cycle and turn into THC molecules simultaneously. There is no magical way to influence the cannabinoid biosynthesis to favor THC production, but certain factors involved in the growth and maturation of Cannabis do affect final cannabinoid levels, These factors may be controlled to some extent by proper selection of mature floral clusters for harvesting, agricul tural technique, and local environment. In addition to genetic and seasonal influences, the picture is further modified by the fact that each individual calyx goes through the cannabinoid cycle fairly independently and that during peak periods of resin secretion new flowers are produced every day and begin their own cycle. This means that at any given time the ratio of calyx-to-leaf, the average calyx condition, the condition of the resins, and resultant cannabinoid ratios indicate which stage the floral cluster has reached. Since it is difficult for the amateur cultivator to determine the cannabinoid profile of a floral cluster without chromatographic analysis, this discussion will center on the known and theoretical correlations between the external characteristics of calyx and resin and internal cannabinoid profile. A better understanding of these subtle changes in cannabinoid ratios may be gleaned by observing the cannabinoid biosynthesis. Focus on the lower left-hand corner of the chart. Next, follow the chain of reactions until you find the four isomers of THC acid (tetrahydro-cannabinolic acid), toward the right side of the page at the crest of the reaction sequence, and realize that there are several steps in a long series of reactions that precede and follow the formation of THC acids, the major psychoactive cannabinoids. Actually, THC acid and the other necessary cannabinoid acids are not psychoactive until they decarboxylate (lose an acidic carboxyl group [COOHI). It is the cannabinoid acids which move along the biosynthetic pathway, and these acids undergo the strategic reactions that determine the position of any particular cannabinoid molecule along the pathway. After the resins are secreted by the glandular trichome they begin to harden and the cannabinoid acids begin to decarboxylate. Any remaining cannabinoid acids are decarboxylated by heat within a few days after harvesting. Other THC acids with shorter side-chains also occur in certain strains of Cannabis. Several are known to be psychoactive and many more are suspected of psychoactivity. The shorter propyl (three-carb on) and methyl (one-carbon) side-chain homologs (similarly shaped molecules) are shorter acting than pen tyl (five-carbon) THCs and may account for some of the quick, flashy effects noted by some marijuana users. We will focus on the pentyl pathway but it should be noted that the propyl and methyl pathways have homologs at nearly every step along the pentyl pathway and their synthesis is basically identical.

The first step in the pentyl cannabinoid biosynthetic pathway is the combination of olivetolic acid with geranyl pyrophosphate. Both of these molecules are derived from terpenes, and it is readily apparent that the biosynthetic route of the aromatic terpenoids may be a clue to formation of the cannabinoids. The union of these two molecules forms CBG acid (cannabigerolic acid) which is the basic cannabinoid precursor molecule. CBG acid may be converted to CBGM (CBG acid monomethyl ether), or a hydroxyl group (OH) attaches to the geraniol portion of the molecule forming hydroxy-CBG acid. Through the formation of a transition-state molecule, either CBC acid (cannabichromenic acid) or CBD acid (cannabidiolic acid) is formed. CBD acid is the precursor to the THC acids, and, although CBD is only mildly psychoactive by itself, it may act with THC to modify the psychoactive effect of the THC in a sedative way. CBC is also mildly psychoactive and may interact synergistically with THC to alter the psychoactive effect (Turner et al. 1975). Indeed, CBD may suppress the effect of THC and CBC may potentiate the effect of THC, although this has not yet been proven. All of the reactions along the cannabinoid biosynthetic pathway are enzyme-controlled but are affected by environmental conditions.

Conversion of CBD acid to THC acid is the single most important reaction with respect to psychoactivity in the entire pathway and the one about which we know the most. Personal communication with Raphael Mechoulam has centered around the role of ultraviolet light in the bio-synthesis of THC acids and minor cannabinoids. In the laboratory, Mechoulam has converted CBD acid to THC acids by exposing a solution of CBD acid in n-hexane to ultraviolet light of 235-285 nm. for up to 48 hours. This reaction uses atmospheric oxygen molecules (02) and is irreversible; however, the yield of the conversion is only about 15% THC acid, and some of the products formed in the laboratory experiment do not occur in living specimens. Four types of isomers or slight variations of THC acids (THCA) exist. Both Delta1-THCA and Delta6-THCA are naturally occurring isomers of THCA resulting from the positions of the double bond on carbon 1 or carbon 6 of the geraniol portion of the molecule They have approximately the same psychoactive effect; however, Delta1-THC acid is about four times more prevalent than Delta6-THC acid in most strains. Also Alpha and Beta forms of Delta1-THC acid and Delta6-THC acid exist as a result of the juxtaposition of the hydrogen (H) and the carboxyl (COOH) groups on the olivetolic acid portion of the molecule It is suspected that the psychoactivity of the a and ~ forms of the THC acid molecules probably does not vary, but this has not been proven. Subtle differences in psychoactivity not detected in animals by laboratory instruments, but often discussed by marijuana aficionados, could be attributed to additional synergistic effects of the four isomers of THC acid. Total psycho-activity is attributed to the ratios of the primary cannabinoids of CBC, CBD, THC and CBN; the ratios of methyl, propyl, and pentyl homologs of these cannabinoids; and the isomeric variations of each of these cannabinoids. Myriad subtle combinations are sure to exist. Also, terpenoid and other aromatic compounds might suppress or potentiate the effects of THCs.

Environmental conditions influence cannabinoid biosynthesis by modifying enzymatic systems and the resultant potency of Cannabis. High altitude environments are often more arid and exposed to more intense sunlight than lower environments. Recent studies by Mobarak et al. (1978) of Cannabis grown in Afghanistan at 1,300 meters (4,350 feet) elevation show that significantly more propyl cannabinoids are formed than the respective pentyl homo-logs. Other strains from this area of Asia have also exhibited the presence of propyl cannabinoids, but it cannot be discounted that altitude might influence which path of cannabinoid biosynthesis is favored. Aridity favors resin production and total cannabinoid production; however, it is unknown whether arid conditions promote THC production specifically. It is suspected that increased ultraviolet radiation might affect cannabinoid production directly. Ultra-violet light participates in the biosynthesis of THC acids from CBD acids, the conversion of CBC acids to CCY acids, and the conversion of CBD acids to CBS acids. However, it is unknown whether increased ultraviolet light might shift cannabinoid synthesis from pentyl to propyl pathways or influence the production of THC acid or CBC acid instead of CBD acid.

The ratio of THC to CBD has been used in chemotype determination by Small and others. The genetically determined inability of certain strains to convert CBD acid to THC acid makes them a member of a fiber chemotype, but if a strain has the genetically determined ability to convert CBD acid to THC acid then it is considered a drug strain. It is also interesting to note that Turner and Hadley (1973) discovered an African strain with a very high THC level and no CBD although there are fair amounts of CBC acid present in the strain. Turner* states that he has seen several strains totally devoid of CBD, but he has never seen a strain totally devoid of THC. Also, many early authors confused CBC with CBD in analyzed samples because of the proximity of their peaks on gas liquid chromatograph (GLC) results. If the biosynthetic pathway needs alteration to include an enzymatically controlled system involving the direct conversion of hydroxy-CBG acid to THC acid through allylic rearrangement of hydroxy-CBG acid and cyclization of the rearranged intermediate to THC acid, as Turner and Hadley (1973) suggest, then CBD acid would be bypassed in the cycle and its absence explained. Another possibility is that, since CBC acid is formed from the same symmetric intermediate that is allylically rearranged before forming CBD acid, CBC acid may be the accumulated intermediate, the reaction may be reversed, and through the symmetric intermediate and the usual allylic rearrangement CBD acid would be formed but directly converted to THC acid by a similar enzyme system to that which reversed the formation of CBC acid. If this happened fast enough no CBD acid would be detected. It is more likely, however, that CBDA in drug strains is converted directly to THCA as soon as it is formed and no CBD builds up. Also Turner, Hemphill, and Mahlberg (1978) found that CBC acid was contained in the tissues of Cannabis but not in the resin secreted by the glandular trichomes. In any event, these possible deviations from the accepted biosynthetic pathway provide food for thought when trying to decipher the mysteries of Cannabis strains and varieties of psychoactive effect.

Returning to the more orthodox version of the cannabinoid biosynthesis, the role of ultraviolet light should be reemphasized. It seems apparent that ultraviolet light, normally supplied in abundance by sunlight, takes part in the conversion of CBD acid to THC acids. Therefore, the lack *Carlton Thrner 1979: personal communication. of ultraviolet light in indoor growing situations could account for the limited psychoactivity of Cannabis grown under artificial lights. Light energy has been collected and utilized by the plant in a long series of reactions resulting in the formation of THC acids. Farther along the pathway begins the formation of degradation products not metabolically produced by the living plant. These cannabinoid acids are formed through the progressive degradation of THC acids to CBN acid (cannabinolic acid) and other cannabinoid acids. The degradation is accomplished primarily by heat and light and is not enzymatically controlled by the plant. CBN is also suspected of synergistic modification of the psychoactivity of the primary cannabinoids, THCs. The cannabinoid balance between CBC, CBD, THC, and CBN is determined by genetics and maturation. THC production is an ongoing process as long as the glandular trichome remains active. Variations in the level of THC in the same trichome as it matures are the result of THC acid being broken down to CBN acid while CBD acid is being converted to THC acid. If the rate of THC biosynthesis exceeds the rate of THC breakdown, the THC level in the trichome rises; if the breakdown rate is faster than the rate of biosynthesis, the THC level drops. Clear or slightly amber transparent resin is a sign that the glandular trichome is still active. As soon as resin secretion begins to slow, the resins will usually polymerize and harden. During the late floral stages the resin tends to darken to a transparent amber color. If it begins to deteriorate, it first turns translucent and then opaque brown or white. Near-freezing temperatures during maturation will often result in opaque white resins. During active secretion, THC acids are constantly being formed from CBD acid and breaking down into CBN acid. Source: Marijuana Botany

High CBD strains with low psychoactive properties


Minerva Announces Testing of Cannabis Strains by Independent Third Party Reseach Firm. Cannabinoid Profiles Will Help NM Medica Cannabis Patients Choose Appropropriate Strains.

We are pleased to announce that Minerva has begun testing its medical cannabis strains. The tests, conducted by an independent third party research firm, is comprised of two data sets; 1), mold, fungus and other contaminants, and 2), the primary chemical properties, or cannabioid profile, of each strain.

October 10, 2011

Because THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis, some people think that cannabinoid profiling is conducted to find the highest possible THC content in individual cannabis strains. In reality, cannabinoid profiling isn’t just about finding THC content in plant material and other forms of medicinal cannabis because THC is not necessarily what a patient is looking for, or needs. It's now known that more than sixty distinct cannabinoids may impact the effects a patient experiences following administration of medicinal cannabis. In fact, even if a compound is not psychoactive like THC, it is likely to still have tremendous effects throughout the body and mind. Cannabinoids are known to have numerous synergistic interactions with one another within the body, and although scientists do not fully understand these interactions, it's clear that many do not take place with the sole administration of THC.

Cannabinoids are groups of chemical compounds present in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids affect body and mind through their interaction with special receptors within our bodies. These cannabinoid receptors are found extensively throughout the immune, digestive, reproductive, central, and peripheral nervous systems of humans (and animals), and their activation is what leads to the medicinal effects of cannabis.

Now, patients can find a ratio of the cannabinoids that works best for them and find medicinal cannabis based on that ratio. Through our testing, patients and caregivers are able to find the most appropriate types of cannabis for their specific symptoms, regardless of strain name. By recording cannabinoid profiles in ourPatient Strain Journal, patients can track the chemical properties of each strain and the effect each had on their condition. More

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