What Is CBC (Cannabichromene)?

A detailed guide to CBC: How it's produced, CBC effects, and what research says about its medical benefits.
Last Modified: February 07, 2019

Out of the dozens of active ingredients in marijuana, CBC isn’t one that’s garnered lots of attention from the general public. However, it still plays a major role in marijuana’s chemical makeup. While recreational users may not notice the effects of CBC, researchers are looking into the possible benefits of this integral ingredient in cannabis.


What Is CBC?

Also known as cannabichromene, CBC is one of the cannabinoids found in marijuana. While it’s considered a minor cannabinoid because it’s not typically found in concentrations of over 1%, CBC is one of the “big six” cannabinoids that generate the most research. First discovered in 1966, the non-psychoactive compound is responsible for a slew of useful functions – both when used alone and when combined with other cannabinoids.

How Does CBC Work?

CBC differentiates itself from cannabinoids like THC because it’s not intoxicating. THC binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, many of which are responsible for creating relaxation and euphoria.

The CBC in marijuana doesn’t bind well to these receptors, so it’s not effective at getting people high. Instead, it acts on the TRPV1 and TRPA 1 receptors, interfering with their ability to break down endocannabinoids (chemicals such as anandamide and 2-AG that the body creates naturally). When this happens, those feel-good chemicals become more abundant in the body.

The Entourage Effect

By preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids, CBC helps boost their effects. Anandamide, for instance, can help lift depression and control pain. As CBC increases the amount of these chemicals in the body, they work in concert with marijuana’s cannabinoids that plug into certain receptors to create deepened effects of happiness, pain relief, and more.

This cannabinoid “buddy system” is known as “the entourage effect.” The theory behind the effect is that cannabinoids often function much better as a group than they do when isolated and used individually. The phrase was coined by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the cannabis pioneer who first discovered THC and CBD.


How is CBC Produced?

Why is cannabichromene present in such low concentrations in marijuana compared to THC or CBD? To understand this, it helps to know how these cannabinoids are produced.

Three of the most-researched cannabinoids in marijuana – THC, CBD, and CBC – start off looking very different than they do in their final forms. In fact, these three compounds begin their lives as CBGA, or cannabigerolic acid.

Enzymes in a cannabis plant’s trichomes interact with the CBGA to kick off a transformation. Once this happens, the compound can become THCA, CBDA, or CBCA, the acid-based forms of THC, CBD, and CBC. If the “A’s” are exposed to heat, they decarboxylate and turn into regular THC, CBD, and CBC. Any leftover CBGA will also decarboxylate and turn into CBG.

This process works using inverse proportions, meaning that a larger final amount of any one cannabinoid will result in lower amounts of the rest. If a large percentage of the CBGA turns into THCA, that plant will have lower percentages of CBDA, CBCA, and CBGA. Many of today’s cannabis plants have been selectively bred to have high levels of THC or CBD, making them naturally low in the other minor compounds.

A 1975 study by Holley, Hadley, and Turner analyzed plants in which CBC made up as much as 64% of their cannabinoid profile, meaning that THC was only a complimentary cannabinoid in the plants. Scientists today note that the original study doesn’t indicate if the samples came from mature plants, but nonetheless, the idea of CBC-dominant strains is a fascinating one.


Medical Benefits of CBC

Since the CBC in marijuana exists in such low concentrations, what is CBD used for? Because the effects of non-psychoactive CBC are similar to CBD, this has many people researching “CBC vs CBD” to see if the lesser-known cannabinoid holds the same health benefits as CBD.

While CBC does many of the same things as CBD, today’s marijuana strains are so low in cannabichromene that the individual effects won’t be noticeable. In whole-plant marijuana, CBC’s value is as a player in the entourage effect phenomenon, helping maximize the effects of the other cannabinoids and the brain’s natural chemicals.

When CBC is isolated and studied in a lab, however, its individual effects become apparent. From fighting inflammation to killing cancer cells, cannabichromene shows promise as an effective treatment for many illnesses and ailments.

Acne Fighter

Although the headlines tend to focus on marijuana’s ability to calm pain and help with depression, researchers looking into CBC discovered another purpose that’s useful, if not as news-worthy. The CBC in cannabis is highly effective at treating acne. It helps reduce the skin’s production of sebum as well as calming inflammation – two of the major features of painful and unsightly breakouts.

Antidepressant

When scientists tested individual cannabinoids on mice, they found that CBC and other cannabinoids produced anti-depressant effects. With cannabinoids such as CBC, this may be because they help increase the levels of endocannabinoids such as anandamide in the brain.

Antibacterial and Anti-fungal

In addition to having anti-inflammatory properties, CBC has been shown to have strong antibacterial and mild to moderate anti-fungal properties. This was based on studies carried out on rats; it remains to be seen if these properties could be useful for human ailments.

Antidiarrheal

In a study on mice, CBD reduced inflammation-induced bowel hyper motility. While more studies are necessary to determine what this could mean in humans, it would be a potentially helpful treatment for people with painful conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Anti-inflammatory

Cannabichromene has also been demonstrated as an effective anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. While it’s not as effective as THC, some studies show that – in yet another confirmation of the entourage effect – the two kill pain better when paired together. Researchers are exploring whether cannabinoids such as CBC may be a good alternative to highly-addictive opioids.

Brain Cell Development

Astroglia are star-shaped brain cells that provide nutrients to nerve tissue, help the brain repair itself after a trauma, maintain the extracellular ion balance, as well as support the cells that make up the blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that cannabichromene has a positive effect on the neural stem/progenitor cells that transform into cells such as astroglia, neurons, and others. This development of new brain cells, known as neurogenesis, is essential to brain function and health.

Cancer Fighter

One of the most powerful functions that marijuana and CBC may play in the health world has to do with the use of individual cannabinoids to kill certain types of cancer cells. Cannabichromene doesn’t attack cancer cells directly; instead, it helps increase the amount of anandamide in the body. Anandamide has shown real potential in the battle against breast cancer because it stops the cells from growing new blood vessels.

While THC has also demonstrated anti-tumor properties, researchers have found similar effects in CBD (cannabidiol). In fact, CBD acts “a more potent inhibitor of cancer cell growth than THC.” Next to CBD, however, CBG and CBC were found to be the most potent cannabinoid cancer-fighters.


CBC: Much More to Learn

While it’s unclear what all of this research means in terms of everyday use, it is clear that CBC (cannabichromene) is a potent cannabinoid in its own right. When combined with the others, however, each cannabinoid’s powers are truly unleashed due to the entourage effect.

It’s possible that with more time under the microscope, cannabichromene may provide answers to some of the questions that have plagued doctors and their patients for decades. For now, CBC is just one part of the cannabis puzzle that’s slowly coming together.


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