In a paper published in the journal Nature, researchers describe the new compound, tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP), as potentially 30 times stronger than THC. But whether or not this new cannabinoid has any intoxicating effects, like THC, or health benefits remains to be seen.
The new compound was isolated and identified from an Italian medical cannabis strain called FM2. To isolate it, researchers used mass spectrometry and metabolomics to find the basic chemicals of a sample of the molecule.
When they discovered THCP, the researchers sent the compound to a laboratory to test its ability to bind to human cannabinoid receptors found in the endocannabinoid system. The latter's job is to keep the human body in homeostasis, or equilibrium. It regulates everything from sleep to appetite to pain and more.
When a person smokes or consumes marijuana, chemicals such as TCH overwhelm the endocannabinoid system, latching onto cannabinoid receptors.
Following the lab tests, the researchers found that THCP bonds 33 times stronger to the receptors than THC. This discovery has the researchers wondering if THCP can explain why certain cannabis strains are stronger in ways that can't be explained by the presence of THC and CBD (cannabidiol) alone.
"This means that these compounds have higher affinity for the receptors in the human body," lead author Cinzia Citti said in an interview with CNN. "In cannabis varieties where THC is present in very low concentrations, then we can think that the presence of another, more active cannabinoid can explain those effects."
The scientists found that THCP has a seven-atom-long alkyl side chain. This appears to be the driving force behind cannabinoids' effects on humans. Most other cannabinoids like THC and CBD have alkyl side chains that max out at five atoms long.
Of all the known cannabinoids, CBD has been the focus of most studies because it provides many health benefits for humans without the psychoactive effects of others like THC.
In particular, CBD has been linked to the following health benefits.
At the same time, THC has also been linked to many health benefits, though at the cost of also being psychoactive. (Related: 8 Evidence Based Medical Benefits Of THC.)
With this in mind, the researchers are now wondering about what health benefits the much stronger THCP can provide. At the same time, its discovery hints that there could be other as of yet undiscovered cannabinoids in the plant that could offer their own benefits.
"There are other minor cannabinoids and traces in the plant that can be hard to study, but by isolation we can continue to assess the effects they might offer," said Jane Ishmael, an associate professor in Oregon State University's College of Pharmacy, who wasn't involved in the study. "Historically, many of our medicines have been derived by or inspired by natural products. By having new compounds that bind with very high affinity, that will give scientists a new probe into biological sciences."
Learn more about the benefits of cannabis at CBDs.news.