A type of moss is discovered to be potentially more “medically effective” than cannabis, with less of the psychoactive high. It is being marketed online as a “legal high.”

'Legal High'

For a long time, cannabis was known to be the only plant to produce tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is used by many to treat various conditions such as dizziness, loss of appetite, and pain, but is still considered an illegal narcotic and may produce side effects. This is because THC has a strong psychoactive effect when used in higher doses.

It was in 1994 that Japanese phytochemist Yoshinori Asakawa discovered that the liverwort plant Radula perrottetii actually has a substance in it that is rather similar to THC but differ in their three-dimensional structure and has an additional benzyl group. He called it perrottetinene.

Fast forward to just a few years ago, Dr. Jürg Gertsch of the University of Bern found out that liverworts were being advertised online as a “legal high,” though at the time there was no known information about its pharmacological properties.

More 'Medically Effective' Than THC

Now, animal model studies by Gertsch's research team, along with a research team from ETH Zürich's Department of Chemistry, compared THC and perrottetinene and revealed that perrottetinene can actually reach the brain easily and triggers or activates cannabinoid receptors in the same way that the body's natural endocannabinoids do. They further found that the substance has an even stronger anti-inflammatory effect in the brain compared to THC and with a weaker psychoactive effect.

In comparison, THC is therapeutically effective in treating various conditions in low doses but has serious psychoactive effects in higher ones. It is for this reason that THC, while effective for some, is still not widely used by many. Simply put, it's possible that perrottetinene may be more “medically effective” compared to THC, although more researchers are needed to fully understand its pharmacological potentials.

“It’s astonishing that only two species of plants, separated by 300 million years of evolution, produce psychoactive cannabinoids,” said Gertsch.

The paper is published in Science Advances.

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