The cannabis plant has always been controversial, with many proponents heralding it's therapeutic and medicinal properties, while others villainize the plant as an illicit drug. While there is still much to learn about cannabis, research has begun to isolate and identify specific compounds in the plant and gain a better understanding of how they interact with the human body.
Cannabis research has led to many important discoveries in recent years. It is now known that the cannabis plant contains over 100 different compounds known as cannabinoids. The study of these compounds led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, which is now believed to play a crucial role in nearly all functions of the human body.
Research Discovers New Cannabinoids
While the majority of cannabis research has revolved around THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana and CBD, the cannabinoid that provides much of the plant's various therapeutic properties, many other cannabinoids have also been discovered. A recent study published in December of 2019, revealed the discovery of two previously unknown cannabinoids, THCP and CBDP. One of the compounds, CBDP, structurally resembles the nonpsychoactive compound CBD, while the other closely resembles THC. While the effects of these chemical compounds on the human body are still unknown, research suggests that THCP may be at least 30 times as potent as the psychoactive compound THC.
Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system by attaching to receptors found throughout the body, with the cannabinoid THC interacting with the receptor known as CB1. THCP is nearly identical in chemical structure to THC, with the difference being a chain of atoms extending off the newfound compound. Researchers believe that this chain of carbon atoms gives THCP its high affinity for the CB1 receptor.
A cannabinoid needs to have at least three carbon atoms in its chain to bind with the CB1 receptor, with THC compounds typically carrying five. The more carbon atoms in the chain, the better the cannabinoid can attach to the receptor, with eight carbon atoms considered to be a perfect fit and would elicit the most potent biological response. While no such ideal compound exists in nature, the cannabinoid THCP has a total of seven carbon rings in its side chain. When tested under laboratory conditions, THCP was able to bind to a makeshift receptor 30 times more reliably than THC.
Further studies on mice also showed that THCP had an attraction to the CB1 receptor that was more than thirty times higher than the data reported for THC, making it much more potent than THC. When given the newly discovered cannabinoid, lab mice demonstrated behavior that was similar to if they had received THC. Lab mice under the influence of THCP had a decrease in body temperature, slowed movement, and displayed less reaction to painful stimuli. Not only did lab mice behave as if they had been given THC, but they also reached this state at relatively low doses of the compound, approximately half the amount of THC required to induce the same effects.
Further cannabis research will likely lead to the discovery of even stronger or more potent cannabinoids in the future and a greater understanding of the pharmacological potential the plant holds. Research on THC has shown that it is an effective treatment for a wide range of disorders and ailments. The discovery of a similar yet more potent cannabinoid, THCP, may lead to the development of even more effective treatments. THCP and its higher binding affinity for CB1 receptors may explain some of the therapeutic qualities of cannabis that cannot be attributed to THC or CBD alone.
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