Cannabis Research to Watch in 2021

Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Jan 19 2021 - 9 min read

2020 is over and 2021 is underway. Leafwell is looking forward and identifying some of the exciting cannabis research we expect to see come out over the following 12 months.

While it’s fair to argue that last year was a historically awful one, I think we can all agree that it wasn’t all bad. After all, legal cannabis made enormous progress last year. We saw five states legalize cannabis by the will of the people via Election day, which paved the way for even more state-level pushes for legalization this year, and despite a global pandemic that left many unemployed or in dire economic straits, the cannabis industry just kept on growing. The legal U.S. cannabis industry outgrew 2020’s expected $16.1 billion valuation by nearly $2 billion, and is projected to be worth as much as $24 billion by 2022. It’s fair to say that cannabis seems to be as close to an unstoppable industry as there is.

Due to the health of the industry economically and the slow-but-steady growth of U.S. states, like Pennsylvania, and nations around the globe, like Israel, that can legally study cannabis and its effects, there’s a ton of promising research in the works this year that will be vital to normalizing the use of cannabis as medicine.

This article is going to highlight some of that promising research, break down why it matters to medical cannabis patients everywhere, and the nitty-gritty scientific in’s-and-outs of it all. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Better Understanding the Medical Impact of Cannabis

For a long time now, medical cannabis has been simplified into what seemed like a two-horse race between THC and CBD. Extensive research has been done on both of these compounds, with researches linking THC to effectively helping patients deal with illnesses like chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, cancer, nausea, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and insomnia, and CBD to reducing anxiety, inflammation, and improved quality of sleep.

But little research has been done on the 140 or so other naturally occurring cannabinoids and 200 terpenes present in cannabis until very recently. Some of the most promising ones we’re set to learn more about going into 2021 are the impacts of Delta-8 THC, CBN, and CBG. While we might have known about these compounds for a little bit of time now, we’re starting to see the research come out about what they can do and how they work.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these compounds and see how they could help people.

Delta 8 THC

One of the main reasons people might steer away from using cannabis to treat their various medical ailments is the paranoia and anxiety that some experience due to high-THC strains. In fact, for those already suffering from anxiety disorders or issues like bipolar disorder, taking too much THC can compound their already existing issues.

What many might not know, however, is that there is more than one type of THC. Research has shown that the type of THC that causes that anxiety, paranoia, and dizziness in some patients is Delta-9 THC. That opens the door for Delta-8 THC to play a major role in 2021.

Delta-8 THC is very similar to Delta-9 THC, with many of the mind-altering effects but significantly less psychotropic properties. Delta-8 THC has the same chemical formula as Delta-9 THC (C21H30O2), but one of its carbon-carbon double bonds is in a different position. Research shows that those who use Delta-8 THC-rich cannabis instead of Delta-9 were more clear-headed and couch-locked, allowing them to enjoy the pain-reducing effects of THC without the adverse effects we mentioned above.

On top of that, the less mind-altering effects make Delta-8 THC great options for helping kids with cancer manage their symptoms with less of the psychoactive effects, and has even proven to be more shelf-stable than other THC-rich options, which opens the door to using it in topical creams, patches, vape cartridges, and edibles without fear of it being inactive after a short time.

Possibly the most important difference between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC is that Delta-8 THC can be derived from hemp. That means it can legally be harvested thanks to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, while Delta-9 THC is still federally illegal. The US government holds the patent for converting CBD into Delta-8 THC. Delta-8 THC is not considered an analogue of Delta-9 THC.

Despite the ever-marching progress towards full legalization here in the U.S., there’s still a way to go. Delta-8 THC being federally legal means it can be tested more clinically and hit store shelves everywhere, similar to what’s happened with the boom in CBD products over the past few years.

However, it is important to note that there are no specific court cases concerning Delta-8 THC. Although Delta-8 THC derived from hemp may technically be legal, the same cannabinoid derived from a psychoactive cannabis plant is still illegal. Plus, Delta-8 THC still has some psychoactive effect, so there’s no guarantee that the courts will be entirely convinced by the “hemp-derived Delta-8 THC is technically legal” argument. Basically, be careful if you intend to make products containing Delta-8 THC, and consult a lawyer before you decide to do so!

While there’s certainly more research to be done on the compound in 2021, these first steps and early research has been promising to say the least, and its current legal status makes it a promising compound for researching further.

Cannabinol (CBN)

CBN has long been called the next CBD. It might surprise many to find out that this lesser-known cannabinoid is actually the first cannabinoid ever isolated by scientists. Unlike CBD, however, there has been much less research done on CBN and its effects on people.

Here’s what we do know for sure about CBN and how it can help people, however. We know that CBN is a byproduct of the THC we find in the cannabis plant. When exposed to heat or oxygen, THC converts into CBN. CBN may have mild psychoactive effects.

We also know that early research has shown that CBN is useful as a sedative, helping ease pain and facilitate more restful sleep, has been shown to be effective as an antibiotic powerful enough to treat a bacterial infection like MRSA, reduces harmful inflammation all over the body, is an effective appetite stimulant, and works as an anticonvulsant.

With all of that in mind, however, there are still some things about CBN that need to be further researched and set in stone before CBN has a locked-in role therapeutically. Unlike CBD, which science has shown to be completely non-intoxicating (meaning that it won’t get you high), CBN can’t definitively say the same yet. Some research has shown that it’s non-psychoactive, while other studies seemed to say it had a mild psychoactive effect. Simply put, we just need more information on the matter before we can say anything for sure.

As we’ve seen hemp-derived CBD explode into a $20 billion industry in just a few years, it’s clear that they’re a massive, lucrative market for cannabis-derived medicine. CBN could be the next cannabinoid to explode once some research in 2021 is published.

Download Free Guide to CBN

Cannabigerol (CBG)

CBN isn’t the only lesser-known cannabinoid that’s set to get some shine in 2021 either. So let’s talk about cannabigerol, or CBG for short. This lesser known cannabinoid, unlike CBN, is present in very low levels in the cannabis plant itself. It’s so rare in plants that cannabis growers have to grow and crossbreed plants just to produce cannabis with enough CBG to be worth collecting. Research has shown that less than most strains contain around 1 percent, making it a minor cannabinoid. That doesn’t mean that its effects are minor, however.

CBG, just like every other cannabinoid, works with the human body’s built-in endocannabinoid system. What makes CBG interesting and worthy of more research in 2021 are the very specific ways it benefits the human body when used.

For example, CBG has been shown to be particularly helpful in reducing the intraocular pressure that causes glaucoma, has been shown to ease the effects of inflammatory bowel diseases, has shown the potential of protecting from Huntington’s disease in very early trials, and has been shown to be an effective appetite stimulant.

Early research has even shown CBGs potential to help stop the growth of tumors in users’ colons, but much more research needs to be done before we can declare with absolute certainty.

CBG also has antibiotic properties, and has been found to be useful in the treatment of drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA. This is advantageous, as cannabinoids aren’t derived from bacteria, mold or any other types of fungi, meaning bacteria do not form a resistance to it as readily. As antibiotics are becoming less effective, finding alternative sources of antibiotics is especially important.

There simply needs to be more research and trials done on humans, rather than mice, before we see CBG gummies, oils, and extracts sold the same way as we see CBD today.

When we get more research on the effects of CBG, what it can be used to treat and help manage, and exploring the medicinal possibilities of CBG use. We’ll have to wait and see what 2021 has in store for some of these lesser-known cannabinoids.

Download Free Guide to CBG
The chemical structure of various cannabinoids, including Cannabigerol Monomethyl Ether (CBGM).
Cannabigerol Monomethyl Ether (CBGM) in the center. C23H34O4. Small, E. Evolution and Classification of Cannabis sativa (Marijuana, Hemp) in Relation to Human Utilization. Bot. Rev. 81, 189–294 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12229-015-9157-3

Medical Cannabis and Infectious Diseases

The COVID-19 pandemic has, understandly, been the main focus this year, and will likely be so well into 2021 as well. The search for a vaccine or any other form of treatment lead us to explore a number of different areas. One of these areas is cannabis, seeing as it’s helpful for so many other conditions. Now, as cannabinoids can modulate the immune system, it is not necessarily useful for treating coronavirus and influenza-like diseases. However, when it comes to cytokine storms – where an overactive immune system starts attacking itself after fighting off an infectious disease – cannabinoids could be very useful due to their anti-inflammatory effects.

More and more people are thinking about their health and living a healthier lifestyle since the outbreak of COVID-19. People are looking at reducing their alcohol intake, people want a way to reduce anxiety and get better sleep, and they are becoming more accepting of the idea of medical cannabis as people’s understanding of the science improves and states are looking for an industry to help keep jobs and tax receipts up. Cannabis could be the plant of choice in a post-COVID world. Expect interest in cannabis to increase over the next few years.

The U.S. Government’s Role in Cannabis Research

As more and more states in the U.S. and nations around the world loosen their grip on cannabis, the more quality research we’ll get. The U.S., despite the continued federal illegality, is no exception to that rule.

For example, the FDA has already revealed its plans to flesh out CBD research with “real-world data” this year, a vital step in further understanding the safety and efficacy of CBD. Noting the “rapid increase in the interest and availability” of CBD products on the market today, despite the fact that the agency “still have a limited understanding of the safety profile of CBD and many other cannabis-derived compounds, including potential safety risks for people and animals.”

That means that the FDA will be spending 2021 testing out CBD products via a “two-phase marketplace sampling and testing study” that will teach us more about how CBD works in our bodies, what it can do for us, and what products on the market today actually have the CBD they claim to have on the packaging, something the FDA has proven is an issue in the past.

A budget-friendly cannabis research bill has already passed the House that would allow for researchers to access products from state-legal dispensaries and manufacturers all over the country, giving them easier access to the cannabis that patients are using. Not only does this streamline the process of research for scientists, but it also ensures that the research they’re doing matters to medical patients all over the country. No sense in studying the impact of cannabis on medical conditions if you’re not using the same cannabis to test that the patients are using to treat.

Another interesting set of studies from the U.S. federal government in 2021 is their on-going review of published studies to try to better understand the role of cannabis in treating chronic pain. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is asking the public to help identify research that specifically looks at the risks and benefits of cannabinoids, citing the rise in opioid prescriptions and overdoses as a reason to further explore plant-based alternatives.

Some data suggest that cannabinoids may have analgesic properties, though research in this area is mixed. AHRQ, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a notice that THC “has demonstrated analgesic properties, though its psychoactive effects and abuse potential increase its risk and suitability as an analgesic.”

Other ingredients in marijuana like CBD, CBG, and CBC “may also have some analgesic or anti-inflammatory properties and are not thought to be psychoactive or addictive, but these cannabinoids may not be as potent as THC,” the agency said.

This exploration comes with an interesting and extremely notable admission about the consequences of marijuana prohibition and the potential benefits of state-level legalization.

“Although some PBCs thought to reduce pain are currently classified as Schedule I by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the recent legalization of cannabis by several states may lead to more, and higher quality, research on them,” AHRQ said. “Initiatives to develop and study alternative interventions for chronic pain are expected to contribute to this increase in research on PBCs, specifically for pain.”

That means that now, in 2021, even the U.S. federal government is willing to admit and allow for researchers to explore the medical potential of cannabis. That’s a huge step for the medical cannabis community.

It’s likely the U.S. isn’t going to be the only nation around the world conducting new and promising research either. After the U.N.’s paved the way for medical cannabis all over the world at the end of last year, more and more nations are going to embrace clean, green, natural medicine as an alternative to addictive and synthetic opioids for their citizens.

All in all, 2021 is shaping up to be another fruitful and historic year in the fight to normalize and legalize cannabis as medicine all over the world.

senate decriminalize cannabis

Written by
Joe Evans
Joe Evans

Joe Evans is a journalist, writer, editor and contributor for Leafwell. He has, to date, more than 5,000 articles published online under his byline on topics like cannabis, local and National news, politics, automotive news, sports, pop culture and even a cult.

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