Author: Luke Sholl
CBDA is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The molecule is a precursor to CBD, but it may have some distinct therapeutic uses of its own. Research on this compound is sparse but encouraging, and we’re excited to watch the science develop. Learn more about this lesser-known cannabinoid below.
Otherwise known as cannabidiolic acid, CBDA is a cannabinoid acid. It starts off life as the “mother molecule” CBGA. Eventually, the enzyme CBDA synthase comes along and catalyses a reaction that converts CBGA into CBDA. CBDA is the precursor to CBD (cannabidiol) and undergoes this transformation when subject to heat.
There’s almost no CBD in raw cannabis flowers. CBDA is converted into CBD when exposed to high temperatures during vaporization, cooking, or extraction. This process is known as decarboxylation. The “acid” part of CBDA comes from a carboxyl group on the molecule; a structure made up of one carbon, one hydrogen, and two oxygen atoms. Hence, CBDA is known as a carboxylic acid. During decarboxylation, this group is ejected from the molecule, leaving behind CBD.
Some consider CBDA to be an “inactive” form of CBD that only becomes “active” following decarboxylation. We now know this to be untrue. Researchers are continuing to discover that CBDA possesses its own therapeutic potential. As such, cannabinoid users are beginning to express an interest in “raw” hemp products as sources of CBDA.
The side effects of CBDA aren’t well-known due to a lack of clinical trials. However, an animal study published in the journal Psychopharmacology states that CBDA was very well tolerated and devoid of sedating side effects. CBDA may share some of the side effects of CBD due to their similar molecular structure. These include dry mouth, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, and interaction with certain medications.
The lack of clinical trials makes it hard to determine the efficacy of CBDA in humans. However, a battery of animal and cell studies indicate how the molecule could potentially be applied.
Much like CBD, CBDA doesn’t directly activate CB1 or CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. Instead, it exerts its effects through other sites such as serotonin receptors and TRPV receptors. The cannabinoid acid also binds to GRP55—a novel cannabinoid receptor.
Early research suggests that CBDA may be effective in treating anxiety. CBD has been shown to ease social anxiety in humans, partly by binding to the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor. Drugs designed to target this receptor help to ease general anxiety, prevent adverse effects of stress, and promote fear extinction. Interestingly, CBDA binds to this receptor with 100-fold greater affinity than CBD.
CBDA’s affinity for serotonin receptors may also be responsible for its apparent anti-nausea properties. Research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found CBDA to be effective at reducing toxin- and motion-induced vomiting in shrews, and nausea in rats. In fact, the molecule was more effective at treating these conditions than CBD. Researchers concluded that CBDA shows promise as a treatment for anticipatory nausea, nausea, and vomiting.
CBDA may also help to quell inflammation—a factor that underpins many disease states. CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory action, but CBDA may target inflammation through a unique mechanism. Research published in the journal Drug Metabolism & Disposition found that CBDA works to inhibit an inflammatory enzyme known as COX-2. CBDA is similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in that it features a carboxyl group in its chemical structure. When researchers removed this feature through methylation, CBDA lost its ability to target COX-2. Thus, researchers state that the whole structure of CBDA is important for its anti-inflammatory function. This trait could set CBDA apart from CBD when it comes to treating inflammation in humans.
Additional research published in Psychopharmacology tested several cannabinoids on acute inflammation in rodents. The researchers found that CBDA was capable of producing anti-inflammatory and pain-killing effects. The researchers also found that CBDA produced more potent pain-killing effects than CBD when both were administered in equally low doses.
CBDA has shown mixed results when tested for its effects on certain types of cancer cells. Research published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics tested an array of different cannabinoids on a panel of tumour cell lines. Researchers found CBD to be the most effective at inhibiting growth, whereas CBDA was one of the least effective. However, more recent research has shown that CBDA is capable of inhibiting the migration of a highly invasive line of breast cancer cells. Future research will determine the exact effects of CBDA as an antitumour agent.
Unlike the psychotropic cannabinoid THC, there are no outright restrictions on CBDA. Thus, the cannabinoid appears in legal products throughout Europe and the United States. Essentially, anywhere CBD is legal, so is CBDA.