Now that marijuana is being legalized state by state and around the world, research and investigation into exactly what this “weed” is capable of are becoming more common. This means more data for scientists, physicians, and consumers alike.
At present, almost 150 phytocannabinoids have been detected in the cannabis plant, but few have been isolated and studied. However, that’s not strictly due to legal restraints. Most strains of cannabis are THC- or CBD-dominant, making the isolation and study of minor cannabinoids challenging. As advances are made — such as spectrometry which is used to identify unknown compounds in cannabis — and advanced analytical techniques better enable the identification of new cannabis compounds, more cannabinoids are hoped to be revealed.
In 2019, an Italian team of researchers announced the discovery of a new cannabinoid, shown in lab results to be more than 30 times as potent as THC. Newly named tetrahydrocannabiphorol, or Δ9-THCP, it was isolated alongside corresponding cannabidiphorol or CBDP.
Published on Dec 30, 2019, in the journal Nature, Scientific Reports, their study showed that, in test tube experimentation, THCP would bind to both human CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system – with results 33 times more active than THC, 63 times more active than THCV, and 13 times more active than the newly discovered THCB, against CB1 receptors.
The research of the new cannabinoids began initially with studying industrial hemp. With cannabis continuing to remain illegal in many parts of Europe, including Italy, researchers needed special permission from the Italian Ministry of Health, in order to conduct the study.
Upon receiving permission, the researchers were able to study the FM2 cannabis strain cultivated by the Military Pharmaceutical Chemical Plant in Florence, the only state agency authorized to cultivate cannabis strains, provided by the Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural Economy Analysis, CREA.
It was during the research of the FM2 strain, that the seven-atom alkyl chain phytocannabinoid was discovered.
The alkyl chain, the main contributor to the cannabinoid’s effects on humans, is normally characterized amongst nearly 150 cannabis compounds, including THC, with a chain only 5 atoms long. However, that is where this gets interesting, as THCP has a seven-atom chain – which, in its natural state, may mean that it surpasses the potency of THC.
Isolating a naturally occurring cannabinoid with more than five atoms has never been previously reported due to what a challenging and extensive process it is.
With testing on mice, THCP was shown to have a similar cannabimimetic activity to that of THC. Taking that a step further, the researchers surmised that the presence of the new phytocannabinoid, alongside its corresponding cannabidiol, CBDP, may explain why some strains with a low THC level still have high psychotropic properties.
While the testing on mice did show that THCP was much more powerful than THC, further research will still be necessary to understand its effects on humans.
What Does it Mean?
The reason this study is so groundbreaking is due largely to the impact it will have on future research. One critical implication the study stresses is that THCP could account for why cannabis can provoke such different experiences in consumers. As the researchers took care to emphasize, there’s an astonishing variability of subject response to cannabis-based therapies, even with equal doses of THC.
While we’ve always thought the plant’s psychotropic effects are primarily due to THC, they may, be partly due to THCP or other extremely potent cannabinoids that haven’t yet been profiled.
Another implication of the study suggests the need to cultivate breeds of cannabis that are not dominant in THC or CBD. Genetics research into cannabis has made impressive progress in recent years. Strains that produce higher quantities of minor cannabinoids such as CBDV, CBG, and THCV are gradually becoming more available.
Sometime soon, cannabis varieties rich in other minor cannabinoids, like THCP may follow suit. Cultivating strains rich in these minor cannabinoids facilitates the production of the extract of those compounds, allowing consumers to enjoy the benefits of each compound’s specific pharmacological profile. With 150 already discovered, only time and research will reveal the extent of what yet undiscovered strains will provide to the marijuana arsenal.
Overall, the study’s authors stress that a comprehensive chemical profiling of cannabis is vital. Identification of minor and presently unknown cannabinoids could offer therapeutic riches to consumers and extensive treatment options for the medical community.