Understanding the Biosynthesis and Transformation of Cannabinoids: From CBGA to THCA, CBCA, and CBDA


The cannabis plant is a treasure trove of chemical compounds, each with its unique set of physiological effects. Understanding the biosynthesis and transformation pathways of cannabinoids can provide valuable insights into how these compounds contribute to the plant’s medicinal and therapeutic properties.

Acid Forms of Cannabinoids and Enzymatic Reactions

Cannabis plants initially produce cannabinoid acids, which are the precursor forms of cannabinoids. The primary cannabinoid acid synthesized by the cannabis plant is cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Enzymes like THCA synthase, CBDA synthase, and CBCA synthase then act upon CBGA to produce THCA, CBDA, and CBCA respectively (Fellermeier et al., 2001).

CBDA Synthase

CBDA Synthase is responsible for the conversion of CBGA to CBDA. It functions by oxidatively cyclizing CBGA to form CBDA through a reaction that requires molecular oxygen and involves co-factors like magnesium ions (Taura et al., 2007).

THCA Synthase

THCA synthase transforms CBGA into THCA. This enzyme also oxidatively cyclizes its substrate, a mechanism similar to that of CBDA synthase (Sirikantaramas et al., 2004).

CBCA Synthase

Less is known about CBCA synthase, but it plays a role in the conversion of CBGA to CBCA. It is also hypothesized to function through oxidative cyclization (Shoyama et al., 2012).

Influences on Cannabinoid Transformation

UV Radiation

Ultraviolet radiation is known to cause degradation in cannabinoids, often converting them to other types of cannabinoids or degrading them entirely (Peres et al., 2016).


Temperature plays a role in the decarboxylation of acidic cannabinoids to their neutral form. THCA converts to THC more rapidly at higher temperatures (Veress et al., 1990).


Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus can influence cannabinoid concentrations, although the specifics are not yet well understood (Caplan et al., 2017).

Medical Considerations

Patients with liver conditions, heart disorders, or those undergoing chemotherapy should exercise caution with cannabinoid use. For personalized guidance tailored to your specific medical condition, consult Dr. Caplan at CED Clinic.


  1. Fellermeier, M., Zenk, M. H. (2001). Prenylation of olivetolate by a hemp transferase.
  2. Taura, F., Sirikantaramas, S., Shoyama, Y., Yoshikai, K., Shoyama, Y., Morimoto, S. (2007). Cannabidiolic-acid synthase.
  3. Sirikantaramas, S., Morimoto, S., Shoyama, Y., Ishikawa, Y., Wada, Y., Shoyama, Y., Taura, F. (2004). The gene controlling marijuana psychoactivity.
  4. Shoyama, Y., Tamada, T., Kurihara, K., Takeuchi, A., Taura, F., Arai, S., Blaber, M., Shoyama, Y., Morimoto, S. (2012). Structure and Function of Δ1-Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA) Synthase.
  5. Peres, F. F., Lima, A. C., Hallak, J. E., Crippa, J. A., Silva, R. H., Abílio, V. C. (2016). Cannabidiol as a Promising Strategy to Treat and Prevent Movement Disorders?.

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