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Alt-Cannabinoids Explained: Is THC Out of Style?

As many have predicted, the cannabis industry continues to grow at an exponential rate. It seems that it was only yesterday that we saw pushes for the legalization of Marijuana. Today, we find ourselves in a market where many states have loosened laws and it's easier than ever to get your hands on a variety of Cannabis products.

However, this growth is frequently painted in a negative light. We are seeing more acme-dispensaries alongside cheap CBD products in local gas stations. This begs the question; has cannabis gone out of style? The recent surge of interest in alternative hemp-derived cannabinoids (such as HHC or THC-P) has resulted in some who say the answer is yes.

The Cannabis Industry Today

Alright, just to be clear; Cannabis is still great, and continues to improve. Both the Hemp and Marijuana industries have seen drastic improvements in a variety of ways. A large majority of these surround adoption, legality, and overall product quality.

However, as the industries have collectively grown, we've seen the inception of what some may call "Big Cannabis".

The rise of Big Cannabis has been fueled by the creation of the "Green Rush" mentality. This explosive growth has resulted in an influx of capital into the industry. As a result, we've noticed a sharp shift away from small scale operations, and towards large-scale, corporate entities.

On the other hand, we've also seen the growth of new, independent brands, who are standing out from the crowd in a time with such volatility. In a space such as this, it only makes sense to ensure they leave their mark in the industry. Innovation and going against the grain are key factors to long term success.

As a consumer, it's important to keep an open mind and look at the various trends that are taking place in the roots of the industry. It's easy to miss these trendsetters as they try to preserve the rich culture that was once the center of cannabis.

What are Alt Cannabinoids?

A recent trend that's been extremely influential lately is one that encompasses factors of both Hemp and Marijuana.

Alternative cannabinoids; A group of federally-legal compounds derived from hemp that have shown huge recreational potential.

Largely un-noticed by regular cannabis enthusiasts or casual CBD fans, these unique compounds have mostly flown under the radar. However, industry experts are speculating it to be one of the fastest growing markets in 2022.

Where Alternative Cannabinoids Come From

Although there seems to be an endless list of these new cannabinoids, many agree that the catalyst of this hot sensation is specific verbiage that originates in the 2018 Farm Bill. In short, this declared hemp and all products derived from hemp (such as Delta-8 THC) to be legal. However, this is given they adhere to a few rules; one of them being that they are required to contain less than .3% Delta-9 THC in them.

Initially, many manufacturers didn't bat an eye at this specific language of the bill. However, shortly after the nation embraced hemp derived CBD products, there was an oversupply of hemp with a demand that was lacking. As you can imagine, this led to dirt cheap CBD products being pawned off anywhere possible. In what can be called a "CBD Crash", business owners had begun looking for other options.

This resulted in the reutilization of hemp into other products, mainly to regain losses. Aligning with this goal, a few savvy entrepreneurs realized that the verbiage technically meant they could extract minor cannabinoids. Among these, there are some such as Delta-8 THC, that encompass mild psychoactive effects. As you can imagine, this legal grey area allowed for the utilization of them in their product offerings.

Alternative Cannabinoids Today

The early use essentially laid the ground work for what we've seen become the norm across the hemp industry lately.

Although plenty of companies are still focusing on CBD flower and other hemp products as their primary product, many retailers have come face to face with the reality that the overall interest in CBD has begun to lose its spark. We're seeing a new age of hemp that not only incorporates, but encourages the discovery and adoption of diverse cannabinoids with their own unique effects.

As expected with the recent surge in popularity, consumer shopping trends have shifted. We've seen that if you haven't started expanding your offerings to include some form of this new industry standard, you'll lose a percentage of your current market share to competition who have.

As a result, we're beginning to see more companies with a keen eye for opportunities (much like the initial wave relative to CBD) come into the space, focusing on the development of alternative cannabinoids. We've also seen the emergence of new brands, who have come up with unique business models that incorporate the new trend, while staying true to the original ethos of the industry.

List of Alt-Cannabinoids

So, market trends and industry speculation aside, what are these new cannabinoids that have started to take hold of the hemp industry? In order to stay within the legal boundaries set by the 2018 Farm Bill, many of these are typically derived from CBD directly, or process CBD using various methods of isomerization to turn it into delta-8 THC and other cannabinoids.

Sidechains & The ECS

As the alt-cannabinoid scene begins to mature, we're beginning to see some common themes among the molecular structures that are behind these new cannabinoids. Although there are some outliers, many of the cannabinoids differ slightly, primarily in their sidechain structure.

Although more research needs to be done, there seems to be a consensus in the community that the length of the sidechain directly affects how our body reacts to the intake of cannabinoids.

With the emergence of these cannabinoids, we're beginning to see more research being done on the role of the ECS and the potential benefits of these cannabinoids as they become more popularized.

For those somewhat out of the loop, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating many physiological functions. This can include pain, mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and immune response, among others. 

This is why many of these new cannabinoids are seen as a natural progression from the previous wave of CBD - There may be a plethora of pharmacological properties that come from these new compounds that have yet to be discovered.

Alt-Cannabinoid Categories

Suffix A's (Acids)

Acidic cannabinoids, mainly CBDA and THCA, are among the most prominent of the minor cannabinoids. In short, these are the forms of the more popular cannabinoids we know, such as CBD, THC, CBG, and others before going through a complex biosynthesis process that turns them into what we know them as. A fun fact is that the majority of these cannabinoids start their journey as CBG-A!

Suffix V's (Varins)

Varin cannabinoids are among the least commercialized cannabinoids, as of now. However, they are growing in popularity at an alarming rate. Specifically CBDV and THCV have been in the crosshairs of many businesses. According to info from an article written by the team at Front Range Bio, varin cannabinoids such as CBDv or THCv typically have adjacent properties to their more popularized cousins, CBD and THC, with slight differences in effects. The key differences that make varin cannabinoids, well, varins, is that their carbon side chain is much shorter, coming in at a length of 3 carbon links instead of 5.

Prefix-H's (Hydrogenates)

Hydrogenated cannabinoids are one of the newest types of cannabinoids we've seen pick up in popularity lately. The main hot one right now is HHC, which is essentially THC after going through a process called Hydrogenation. Hydrogenation, in short, is a process that adds hydrogen molecules to the cannabinoid's structure. Although it may sound simple, the synthesis process is very complex. The end result, however, (when derived from hemp) is typically a cannabinoid close to their not hydrogenated form. These new forms typically have higher a binding affinity and are more stable, allowing for more concentrated (ie: longer/cleaner) effects and a longer shelf life, with a close potency.

Suffix O's (Acetates)

Acetate cannabinoids, like THC-O,  are typically more potent, but also the more controversial ones available as of now. To start, the manufacturing process is one of the most complex, and could lead to severe injuries if executed poorly. In addition to that, they're not directly derived from hemp, but manufactured via a process that involves multiple cannabinoids and steps before reaching the final product.

In short, Acetate cannabinoids are your regular cannabinoids, just those that have had acetic anhydride introduced to their chemical makeup, hence why they are called acetylated. Many of the most common cannabinoids have been acetylated, however we expect to see even more appear on the market as this new side of the industry matures.

Suffix P's (Phorols)

Last on the list for now, are phorol cannabinoids. The popular one right now is THC-P, but we've already seen franken-cannabinoids such as HHC-P or THC-P-O, so... yeah. In short, phorol cannabinoids are those that have a side-chain incorporating 7 carbon links, in comparison to the traditional 5 found in both Delta-9 THC or CBD. As mentioned earlier, this is a direct contributor to the potency of the effects felt when binding to the CB1 receptor in our ECS. As such, THC-P has exploded in popularity; given it's remarkable potency in minimum amounts.

List of Alt Cannabinoids On the Market

This list is far from exhaustive, as we've already seen options such as THC-h, THC-b, and others briefly discussed in the community.

The point is this; we're entering a new realm of cannabinoids that will be hitting the market at an ever increasing rate.

If you're looking to get into this burgeoning space, or just want to know what the future may hold, keep this list in mind.

Alt-Cannabinoids & The Future

On an ending note, as it is right now, this sub-market of the industry is increasingly volatile. New laws, such as in Oregon, are being pushed through to ban these unique hemp-derived molecules.

This unpredictable fluidity can make it hard to navigate this everchanging space. For example, it can be easily positioned that these laws are meant to transition these cannabinoids to accompany the umbrella of products in the regulated, but booming cannabis industry. As a result, this could lead to further research and adoption, while opening up the doors to new products that utilize all of these compounds.

On the contrary, however, some could perceive this as regulation in order to limit the current free market outside of the new "Big Cannabis".

It’s important to remember that, although a pivotal moment, this isn’t the ‘end game’ for these compounds. They are simply beginning to be explored, and can provide endless opportunities for researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs to find new applications for these molecules - depending, that is, on what actually happens next.