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Understanding Cannabis Biosynthetic Pathways

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

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Cannabis Biosynthetic Pathways

This free article, part. ofthe Higher Learning LV Understanding Series, explores the molecular and environmental mechanisms behind the formation of the most popular hemp- and cannabis-derived cannabinoids (and a few you've probably never heard of).

A path through the woods.
What are biosynthetic pathways?

Molecular Genesis of Cannabinoids

The molecular genesis of all cannabinoids produced by the botanical species Cannabis sativa L. (cannabis/hemp/marijuana) is a chemical named geranyl pyrophosphate (also called geranyl diphosphate).

"CBGA and CBGVA are special because they indirectly morph into the major and minor cannabinoids most culturally celebrated."

Geranyl pyrophosphate combines with one of two acids to produce the special cannabinoids CBGA and CBGVA. It is these molecules that indirectly morph into the major and minor cannabinoids most culturally celebrated and commercially transacted in modern legal markets, including THC, CBD, CBC, and CBG.

  • Olivetolic acid + geranyl pyrophoshate = CBGA (neutral analog acidic precursor)

  • Divarinic acid + geranyl pyrophoshate = CBGVA (varin acidic precursor)

A sign that reads "Please stay on the path."
How do cannabinoids form?

Environmental Triggers

Cannabis Biosynthetic Pathways. As can be seen, the biosynthetic pathways of cannabinoids originate with CBGA and CBGVA. The transition from one biosynthetic state to another, such as the conversion from an acidic precursor to a neutral cannabinoid, is triggered by a number of environmental factors, including:

  • Air flow level

  • Ambient oxygen

  • Humidity

  • Presence of specific enzymes

  • Physical movement/jostling

  • Temperature

  • UV light

Extremes in any of these factors increase or decrease the rate of molecular conversion.

A chart featuring the biosynthetic pathways of common cannabinoids.
Some biosynthetic pathways.

Cannabinoid Pathway Examples

Cannabis Biosynthetic Pathways. Some cannabinoid acidic precursor pathways include:

Some varin acidic precursor pathways include:


Some cannabinoid degradation pathways:

  • CBC > CBL

  • THC > CBN > CBND

A chart showing how cannabinoids are formed.
Biosynthetic pathways define cannabinoids.

CBGA: Mother of All Cannabinoids

Because all cannabis cannabinoid acidic precursors feature a common source of CBGA, this special phytocannabinoid has been described as the "mother of all cannabinoids." CBGA and CBG feature similar medicinal efficacy and have been shown to result in reductions in anxiety and systemic inflammation.

CBGA is considered the "mother of all cannabinoids."

Research studies conducted over the past 30 years indicate that CBG and its analogs may be of benefit to those suffering a range of diseases, from Crohn's and cancer to Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer's.

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