Something Amazing Was Discovered Hiding Inside Marijuana

These new components may explain some of its effects on the brain.

Posted Feb 11, 2020

You might think that by now marijuana would have been completely analyzed for any possible psychoactive ingredients. To date, almost 150 cannabinoids have been identified in the marijuana plant.

We do not know what all of them actually do in the body, but that has not concerned scientists because the levels of these other molecules are so low. The assumption was that the other cannabinoids were precursors to the two most interesting molecules, CBD and THC. The pharmacological dogma that has been written into the textbooks for decades is that THC produces euphoria.

In recent years, agricultural genetics research has made great progress in breeding plants that produce high amounts of CBD or THC. The assumption has been that these are the only two interesting molecules worth enhancing. Thus, today we have strains of cannabis that produce very high levels of both or either of these molecules.

Recently, two new exciting molecules have been discovered in a marijuana plant. They are variations on the familiar CBD and THC molecules; they have been named cannabidiphorol (CBDP) and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP).  THCP appears to be thirty times more effective than THC at stimulating the brain’s type one cannabinoid receptor, CB1. This receptor is responsible for producing the euphoria, or the high, associated with marijuana. This means that THCP is thirty times more potent than THC. Therefore, although the level of THCP in the marijuana is quite low, its ability to stimulate CB1 receptors and produce euphoria is quite powerful.

THCP was discovered in one particular variety of marijuana, the Italian FM2 variety. The authors of the study suggested that it is reasonable to predict that other cannabis varieties may contain even higher levels of THCP. Variations in the level of THCP in different marijuana variants might explain why people report such varying levels of psychotropic effects with different plants. The authors of this study expressed excitement that their discovery of such an extremely potent THC-like cannabinoid may shed light on several pharmacological effects not ascribable solely to THC. This makes sense given that the overall experience of marijuana is due to the aggregate effects of all of the molecules in the plant.

Future studies will likely investigate health benefits in THCP and CBDP. The discovery of these new compounds in a medicinally important plant will lead to the development of plant variants that produce higher levels of THCP and CBDP. Once that occurs, we will all discover the benefits and risks of these novel molecules that have been hiding inside marijuana. 

© Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D. Author of Your Brain on Food, 3rd Edition, 2019 (Oxford University Press)

References

Citti C et al (2019) A novel phytocannabinoid isolated from Cannabis sativa L. with an in vivo cannabimimetic activity higher than Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol: Δ9-tetrahydrocannabiphorol. FIC Reports (Nature)  9:20335