Liverwort May Rival Cannabis as Pain-Killer

October 26, 2018

A type of moss found in New Zealand and Tasmania contains a substance that acts on the brain in the same way as the active compound in marijuana – and might even be more beneficial for medicinal purposes, researchers say.

In a study, published in the journal Science Advances, a group of researchers led by Jürg Gertsch at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, compare perrottetinene, the compound found in a liverwort species (Radula marginata), and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from marijuana. They reveal that, in the brains of mice at least, they act on the same cannabinoid receptors.

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

A Japanese phytochemist, Yoshinori Asakawa, discovered a THC-like substance in another liverwort species, Radula perrottetii, as early as 1994, and named the compound “perrottetinene”. Scientists documented the cannabinoid in R. marginata in 2002. Earlier this year, a group of researchers identified the genes in liverwort that enabled the cannabinoid biosynthetic pathway.

Now, Gertsch and his team say perrottetinene could be even more effective than THC in medicinal applications. THC is currently used to treat headache, muscle ache, glaucoma, nausea, and loss of appetite, among other symptoms.

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