Cannabinoids are a family of chemical compounds that bind to cannabinoid receptors found on various cell types in the body, and alter the release of neurotransmitters. Endocannabinoids are produced naturally in our bodies (e.g. anandamide is associated with the euphoria of a “runner’s high”). On the other hand, phytocannabinoids are found in plants – of course, the most well-known phytocannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is responsible for the psychoactive effects of the Cannabis plant. THC has great therapeutic value for treating chronic and inflammatory pain, but its psychoactive properties makes it difficult to use in higher doses.
Recently, scientists in Switzerland investigated a cannabinoid called perrottetiene (PET), found in the liverwort plant Radula perrottetii. They learned that PET resembles THC in its 3D shape, and can bind to many of the same cannabinoid receptors as THC (e.g. CB1 and CB2 receptors). Interestingly, PET reduces the levels of prostaglandins in the brain – a compound with inflammatory properties that increases in response to THC, and may be responsible for adverse effects. Additionally, PET is 10 times less potent in its binding to CB1, implying lower potential for abuse. However, it remains to be determined whether significant amounts of PET will be required to achieve the same levels of pain relief as THC, and if these levels will induce adverse effects such as a psychoactive high.
Cannabis contains over 113 different cannabinoids, many of which have been found to offer therapeutic value. For example cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, was recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of two severe forms of epilepsy. It would also be important to compare the pharmacological activity and therapeutic effects of PET to those of cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabis-derived cannabinoids. Researchers could then determine if PET provides novel benefits that justify its use as a therapeutic option.
Managing Correspondent: Jeremy Gungabeesoon
News Article: Lowly Moss-Like Plant Seems to Copy Cannabis. Scientific American
Original Article: Uncovering the psychoactivity of a cannabinoid from liverworts associated with a legal high. Science Advances
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons