Researchers at McMaster University made a surprising discovery last winter.
In a mice study, they found that the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid cannabigerol (CBG) was not only a potent microbial agent but was also capable of killing the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Resistant to several antibiotics, MRSA can spread in hospitals, and other healthcare facilities, and lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections and even sepsis.
The CBG not only destroyed the MRSA microbes but also prevented the bacteria from forming ‘biofilms,’ communities of microorganisms that attach to surfaces.
In order to conduct the study, the research team enlisted the help of Jakob Magolan, a McMaster associate professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences who synthesized the CBG in a mass quantity.
That process mirrors the efforts of cannabis and biotech companies that are now racing to bring CBG, and other rare cannabinoids, to the masses through synthetic production.
“I’m a firm believer that this is the next CBD,” Roy Lipski tells The GrowthOp.
Lipski co-founded California-based Creo, a cannabinoid ingredient company, alongside Dr. Ramon Gonzalez, a professor of bioengineering, in 2016. The company’s sole focus, at the moment, is on creating CBG through biosynthesis.
Using fermentation, Creo produces CBG without involving the cannabis plant. Their process involves fewer energy demands than traditional growing operations, Lipski argues, and ensures consistency, purity, and the ability to produce cannabinoids in commercial quantities.
Creo, and similar companies, are betting that cannabinoids will soon be incorporated in everything from beauty and skincare products, to the food and beverage, and health and wellness sectors.
“Our vision as a business is to bring cannabinoids into the mainstream, ” Lipski says. “We want cannabinoids and the benefit of cannabinoids to reach every household.”
Lipski points to a growing body of research that highlights not only CBG’s anti-microbial properties, but potential use in treating things like dental health, dry skin, and gastrointestinal inflammation.
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CBG is sometimes referred to as the ‘skin cannabinoid’ as it’s the only cannabinoid known to stimulate the body’s natural production of sebum. Most other cannabinoids, including CBD, suppress sebum production, which is good for conditions like acne, but less beneficial to those with dry skin.
A 2020 report from financial services firm Raymond James predicts that the creation of cannabinoids through biosynthesis, defined as the production of molecules by living organisms, could lead to “a renewed wave of innovation and investment into bio-based technologies, not seen since biofuels.”
According to the report’s estimate, the global market for products derived by cannabinoid biosynthesis could grow from $10 billion in 2025 to $115 billion by 2040.
Lipski believes that for cannabinoids to take the next step, however, they need to be utilized by mainstream consumer product companies and the pharmaceutical industry.
He cites two reasons why that hasn’t happened yet: supply chain and legal complexity.
Companies like Creo believe that biosynthesis can solve both of those issues.
“Biosynthesis is established as a way to make these natural ingredients for consumer packaged goods companies,” Lipski says. “Lemon flavour, lavender smell, even things like sweeteners, all of these things are biosynthesized because you get scalability, cost advantage, consistency, purity, and reliability.”
Lipski argues that plant production cannot meet those requirements. Since Creo uses a fermentation process to create its cannabinoids, and there are no plants involved, Lipski says that the legal complexity that can surround the cannabinoid market is also alleviated.
Vancouver-based Willow Biosciences is another company that’s producing cannabinoids without growing cannabis plants. Instead, the company uses yeast fermentation. A similar approach is used in the pharmaceutical industry to biosynthesize insulin.
“We’re still using a living organism to produce the cannabinoids, we’ve just adapted nature to our own needs,” says CEO Trevor Peters.
Peters says biosynthesis is especially applicable to consumers who may not be looking to consume a flower-based product. “Beverages, topicals, things of that ilk, that’s where biosynthesis really makes a lot of sense,” he explains.
Last month, the company completed its first commercial-scale fermentation run of CBG, produced in partnership with a European-based contract manufacturing organization.
And while Willow intends to branch out to THC and other cannabinoids, Peters says they began with CBG as it’s the “mother cannabinoid.” Its acidic form, CBGA, is the parent molecule from which other cannabinoids are made.
Starting with CBG allows the company to build a foundation, Peters says, and they can quickly add other cannabinoids in the future from that base.
Beyond that, though, Peters says CBG is the company’s initial focus because of its potential as a health and wellness ingredient, highlighting, in particular, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
“These truly are health and wellness products that reduce inflammation, fight off bad microbes, even do things like pick up free radicals in our body and I think CBG can go a long way in that regard,” he says.
Still, flower remains king in the Canadian cannabis market and some licenced producers are working to incorporate higher percentages of CBG in their cultivars.
Family-owned and operated MTL Cannabis is one of a few producers that have a strain on the market that contains higher than average CBG properties.
The company launched its Sage N Sour cultivar in October 2020. The sativa-dominant cross between Sour Diesel and S.A.G.E. is high in THC but also has a punch of CBG.
The signature cultivar comes from brothers Mitch and Rich Clement, who worked as Health Canada licensed growers for medical patients before founding the company.
“The Sage N Sour doesn’t give you that sativa ‘hit’ that a lot of people might not want to connect with and we attribute that to the CBG creating a sativa with a different expression and a different profile,” says Jenn Larry, chief commercial officer at MTL Cannabis. “We’re really excited that’s what we were able to bring onto the market.”
For now, Sage N Sour is the sole cultivar being sold by MTL Cannabis but the next product is in the pipeline and the company is aiming to have it on shelves across Canada this summer.
That cultivar will not be focused on CBG but Larry says they will be playing with some different terpene profiles to once again create a unique experience for consumers.
Larry, who says she’s been consuming cannabis for 30 years, says she didn’t always appreciate that the cannabis plant is “a chemical factory.”
“We don’t start or end our day thinking about THC,” she says. “We think about plant health. We think about the atmosphere and environment, we think about measures of quality and what brings us a smile and what will bring the consumer a smile. And so having CBG in our mix helps us to mix it up.”
As the Canadian market matures and customers experience different product categories and different plant profiles, Larry predicts that CBG and other rare cannabinoids will continue to be a point of focus.
“I think we’re excited to see what everyone’s going to bring to the table and how the cannabinoid space is going to evolve in the farming world, not only in the biosynthetic and the synthetic world,” she says.
Larry comes from the world of consumer packaged goods and says the idea of integrating an ingredient like CBG or CBD “is incredible.”
“It’s the future because we know that the evolution of products will mimic everything you see in the grocery store today and in the pharmacy today because those products and those formats have already demonstrated that they satisfy consumer need.”
As a flower first company, however, she says MTL Cannabis takes pride in being able to provide something different to Canadian consumers. They also work with a partner to supply Sage N Sour to the medical market.
“What we have heard is that certainly, Sage N Sour is one of their driving cultivars,” she says. “Maybe that’s because of its overall experience, or maybe it’s because of the CBG. But it’s resonating both with the adult-use consumer and with the patients.”