The cannabis plant has had a great decade with decriminalization as well as medical or recreational legalization across the globe. The global change in marijuana laws has opened the doors for research that is long overdue, but quite exciting. If you’re reading this then chances are that you’re already familiar with many of the cannabinoids of the cannabis plant such as THC, CBD, and CBG. Though there are about 150 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, little is known about most of them since THC and CBD are so dominant in most marijuana strains. We do know that CBG is the precursor to other cannabinoids and carries within itself vast therapeutic benefits. As a cannabis plant matures, enzymes breakdown and transform CBG into other cannabinoids. Today there is more research being done on phytocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system than ever before. Italian researchers have recently discovered and identified two new cannabinoids that show some serious therapeutic potential.
What are these two new cannabinoids?
The new cannabinoids that have been identified are called THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol) and CBDP (cannabidiphorol). To understand the importance of these two phytocannabinoids, it is important to understand the structure of THC and CBD and how they relate to the human endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system consists of CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors live in the nervous, reproductive, and respiratory systems and CB2 receptors live in the immune and digestive systems. When THC binds to CB1 receptors it produces the psychoactivity associated with cannabis. Cannabinoids attach to CB2 receptors to provide rich therapeutic properties. Cannabinoids have side chains that are composed of carbon atoms, or “links”. The length of a cannabinoid’s alkyl side chain has a large influence on how well that cannabinoid binds to our CB1 and CB2 receptors and a minimum of three links is required to establish a strong connection. Both natural or non-synthetic THC and CBD have five-link side chains. CBD attaches to a different binding site on our endocannabinoid receptors and attaches in a different way. This is the main reason why it isn’t known to provide any psychoactive effects. The two novel cannabinoids, THCP and CBDP have the same structures as THC and CBD, but with a seven-link alkyl side chain instead of five. This might seem like a minor difference, but the discovery is actually quite important as they are the longest alkyl side chains of any naturally occurring cannabinoids.
What is the significance of THCP and CBDP?
Since the length of the alkyl side chain is so important for cannabinoids to bind to our receptors, the extended side chain could open new doors to the potency and efficacy of cannabis. As we’ve mentioned, the minimum length for an alkyl side chain for a cannabinoid to effectively connect to the CB1 or CB2 receptors is three links. The maximum of links before efficacy begins to descend is eight. An alkyl side chain with seven links means much stronger potency and potential for even more therapeutic benefit. With the longer side chain, THCP in turn would be much more potent. The researchers who discovered these novel cannabinoids found that when connected to the CB1 receptor could be up to 33 times more potent than regular THC. When connected to the CB2 receptor, THCP could be 5-10 times more potent. This increased potency could change the landscape for cannabis therapy for people who require much higher doses of THC and CBD. Unfortunately, researchers aren’t paying as much attention to CBDP because of how CBD binds to our receptors. It’s weaker binding affinity makes the discovery of a lengthened alkyl side chain less exciting than its counterpart. According to Leafly, the researchers recognize the possibility that the discovery of CBDP could be just as groundbreaking as THCP, but the discovery of the new cannabinoid is not as high of a priority. According to Nature, there are ongoing studies that are devoted to discovering the pharmacological activity of CBDP, so more exciting findings could be on the horizon.
THC and CBD are the predominant cannabinoids in modern-day cannabis. Little is known about the other 150 cannabinoids that have been detected in the cannabis plant, but scientists are working to learn more. Naturally, the prohibition of cannabis has created countless legal obstacles for researchers, but the cannabinoid content itself has presented a myriad of challenges as well. Minor cannabinoids exist in such small percentages that their properties are difficult to study. The same Nature article explained that agricultural research has made progress finding rare strains that are higher in minor cannabinoids such as CBG, CBDV, and THCV. These findings could be game-changing for the medicinal cannabis industry. As for the discovery of THCP and CBDP, cannabinoids with naturally occurring alkyl side chains could influence dosing for therapeutic cannabis since THCP has the same properties with much higher potency. As researchers discover more about minor phytocannabinoids, we get closer to understanding the full potential of this beautiful plant.