After THC and CBD, the pharmaceutical industry has also decided to start studying the possible pharmaceutical uses of the precursor acids of the two best-known compounds in cannabis.
CBDA is the acid originally found in cannabis that acts as a precursor to CBD after a decarbonisation process (generally carried out with heat), which is also what makes the plant psychoactive. Last July, Professor Raphael Mechoulam, 88, a professor of chemical medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained to Forbes magazine how the team he works with at the American company EPM, had come up with a method by which to work with the original compounds of cannabis.
"Everyone is discussing THC and CBD, but these cannabinoids are really secondary substances - they appear in the plant afterwards," Mechoulam explains to Forbes.
The method he used to work with the CBDA and THCA acids that are originally found in the plant is called esterification, and it allows these acids to be kept stable enough to allow their use. "Originally, there are acids that appear in the plant, and those acids are these mysterious worlds of compounds that are much more powerful than cannabinoids," adds Professor Mechoulam, who explains that the instability of these substances is what has made studying their medical uses impossible so far.
And what would those uses be? Mechoulam, who is known as one of the fathers of the THC study, highlights the potential of CBDA to treat anxiety and nausea, which could make this acid a good supplement for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as well as people suffering from intestinal inflammation and psoriasis. At this stage, Mechoulam's team has tested the effectiveness of CBDA in intestinal ailments, comparing the effects with two other conventional products used for this ailment (one of which is prednisone, a type of corticosteroid). The scientist affirms that the effects achieved with CBDA were very similar and he is confident that the compounds found in cannabis – which is safer - may serve to replace current steroid and opiate-based medicines.
Mechoulam was the leader of the research group that succeeded in isolating and analysing the chemical structure of CBD in 1963 in addition to isolating THC.
"These cannabinoid acids were relegated as inactive in the past, but they just weren't looking in the right places, or they didn't have the right tools at the time," says neurologist and cannabis researcher Ethan Russo in an interview published by Project CBD in December 2019.
Russo explains that 15 years ago, THCA was shown to have activity on tumour necrosis factor alpha, a protein released by the immune system that is involved in secondary inflammation, apoptosis and joint destruction when one suffers from rheumatoid arthritis or other pathologies.
“This is an important mediator of autoimmune effects. It’s important in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, and probably a lot of other autoimmune diseases that we’re seeing increasingly in our populations,” continues Russo.
In the same interview, Russo also spoke about the uses of CBDA to treat anxiety and nausea, for which he calculated a potency one hundred times higher than that of CBD. But at this point, only animal testing had been carried out.