In This Post:
- THCp Cannabinoid Discovery
- Cannabinoids: A quick recap
- The Implications of THCp
- THCp Discovery
- The endocannabinoid system
- THC vs THCp in the body
- Is THCp stronger than THC
- THCp potency in cannabis
- What about CBDp?
- What’s next for THCp?
Until this year, THC was known as the most powerful psychoactive cannabis compound. But as of late last year, there’s a new cannabinoid in town, and it’s called THCp. According to research by a team of Italian scientists, THCp may be 30 times stronger than THC—at least in its ability to activate biological receptors in the body.
“Stronger” is a loose term that requires more context to fully understand its meaning. For example, does 30 times stronger mean 30 times more effective than THC? Will THCp make you 30 times higher, hungrier, or sleepier? Let’s explore what scientists know about this brand-new discovery.
In total, scientists have identified almost 150 organic chemical compounds produced by cannabis that form as a result of natural enzymatic reactions. On December 30, 2019, the Italian research team discovered two more: tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCp) and cannabidiphorol (CBDp). These compounds are known as phytocannabinoids, which mimic the behavior of naturally occuring chemicals in the human body.
THC is perhaps the most famous cannabinoid, known for its intoxicating properties, as well as its ability to support sleep while targeting pain and nausea. CBD—another household name in cannabis—is a cannabinoid used for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-seizure properties. Studies have found that CBD also helps mitigate the effects of THC on short-term memory impairment and cognition.
Aside from the “big two” phytocannabinoids mentioned above, cannabis also contains a wealth of minor cannabinoids, such as CBC, CBN, THCV, THCA, and CBDA. These compounds are structurally similar to THC and CBD, but differ slightly in effect, strength, and bioavailability. Generally, minor cannabinoids are not potent enough in common strains to make a real difference. So, why might THCp matter?
The issue with most minor cannabinoids is one of the main reasons why the scientific community and industry at large are so excited about THCp. Through the discovery, extraction, and experimentation with THCp, the team of scientists showed that THCp may mimic the effects of THC, but at a much more effective rate. They theorize that the presence of THCp in cannabis may also help explain why different strains of marijuana produce such different types of “highs.”
While analyzing a medicinal cannabis strain known as FM2 provided by the Military Chemical Pharmaceutical Institute in Florence, the Italian scientists accidentally discovered CBDp and THCp. THCp is homologous to THC, meaning it shares a similar molecular structure and function, but it differs slightly by a fixed group of atoms.
Before the recent discovery, THC contained the longest known alkyl side chain, which consisted of five atoms. But THCp contains a seven-atom side chain. According to the report, the length of a cannabinoid’s alkyl side chain of atoms may directly influence its biological activity in the human body. So, in terms of human health, what could that mean for THCp’s greater potential to heal?
First, let’s review how cannabinoids such as THC and THCp work within the body.
Like THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, THCp exerts therapeutic effects through interaction with chemical receptors in nearly every system of the body. The two primary chemical receptors are called CB1 and CB2, which make up what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is involved in regulating a wide range of our body’s functions required for optimal balance and health.
CB1 receptors are found throughout the body but are concentrated in the brain and nervous system, while CB2 receptors are more prevalent in the immune system. When they communicate with chemical signals known as cannabinoids, they help regulate a variety of functions including pain, appetite, hormones, inflammation, and blood pressure. This process is what defines cannabinoids’ powers to promote healing.
THC, with its five-atom side chain, has one of the strongest binding affinities to CB1 receptors. This helps explain its psychoactive effects. THC’s binding affinity also explains its unmatched ability to reduce nausea, promote pain relief, and support better sleep.
But when scientists discovered the seven-atom side-chain chemical known as THCp, they theorized it may have an even higher binding affinity for CB1 receptors. They also wondered if it could be even more potent than THC in terms of psychotropic and medicinal effects. In order to investigate, they conducted in vitro tests on mice.
As a result of the in vitro tests, the team of researchers found that THCp binds easily to both human CB1 and CB2 receptors. In particular, THCp was 33 times more active than THC against the CB1 receptor and up to 10 times more active against the CB2 receptor compared to THC.
Scientists also found that THCp was as active as THC, but at lower doses. For example, 10 mg/kg of THC produced the same effects as 5 mg/kg of THCp in three of the four tests they conducted.
But the next question is, how much THCp is needed in order to produce noticeable therapeutic and psychoactive effects? And do cannabis strains contain enough of this minor cannabinoid to make a difference?
In short, scientists don’t really have the answer—yet. In their analysis of the FM2 military strain, scientists found merely trace levels of THCp and CBDp compared to THC and CBD. That said, the report indicated that “it is reasonable to suppose that other cannabis varieties may contain even higher percentages.” However, up until now, no one has looked.
But even if the search for naturally occurring strains with high-THCp levels falls short, science may have a solution. Through agricultural genetics research, it is theoretically possible to produce cannabis varieties with high content of this powerful cannabinoid in the future.
While the research team discovered CBDp at the same time as THCp, they focused on THCp in their first experiment due to its potential to mimic THC’s medicinal and psychoactive qualities. They did, however, note that CBDp appears to mimic the structure and biological activity of CBD. That means future research may show CBDp has similar or even greater anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-seizure properties. As of now, we simply do not know.
Based on their research to date, the Italian scientists believe THCp should be promoted from a “minor cannabinoid” to a “main cannabinoid.” This designation will mean it can be properly evaluated for its potential pharmaceutical benefits. They went so far as to say: “In fact, we believe that the discovery of an extremely potent THC-like phytocannabinoid may shed light on several pharmacological effects not ascribable solely to Δ9-THC.”
At ACS Laboratory, our team is diving into the research and looking forward to future experiments surrounding THCp’s biological activity and potential to heal. We will always keep you updated with the latest.
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