Newfound Cannabis Compound May Be 30 Times More Potent Than THC

gloved hands holding cannabis plant
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Two newfound cannabinoids have been discovered in the glands of the Cannabis plant, and one of them may be at least 30 times as potent as the high-inducing compound THC. 

No one knows, however, exactly what effect these cannabinoids actually have on the human body.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, plugs into receptors in the brain and alters our ability to reason, record memories, coordinate movements, perceive time and experience pleasure. Cannabis contains over 140 similar chemicals that interface with receptors throughout the body, but as far as we know, only THC can induce a mind-bending high. Now, scientists have uncovered two new cannabinoids, one of which structurally resembles nonpsychoactive compound CBD and the other of which looks like THC but could elicit stronger effects — at least in theory. 

The THC look-alike, named tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP), seems to interact with the same receptor as THC, the receptor known as CB1, according to a new study published Dec. 30 in the journal Scientific Reports. The key difference between THCP and its cousin lies in a chain of atoms jutting off the newfound compound.

Related: 25 Odd Facts About Marijuana

Research suggests that the protruding structure, called an alkyl side chain, is what allows THC to plug into its preferred receptor. A cannabinoid must carry at least three carbon rings in its side chain to gain access to CB1, and THC compounds typically carry five. On paper, a cannabinoid equipped with more than five carbon rings would fit even more snuggly into the receptor, and eight carbon rings would supply the absolute perfect fit, eliciting the strongest biological response. But no such compounds have been uncovered in nature, the authors noted in their paper.

Enter THCP. 

This compound boasts not five, not six, but seven carbon rings in its alkyl side chain. When applied to a makeshift receptor concocted in a lab dish, the compound tended to bind the substance 30 times more reliably than THC did. 

The researchers then gave THCP to lab mice and found that the animals behaved as if they were on THC, meaning their movement slowed, their temperature decreased and their reactions to painful stimuli diminished. And the animals reached this state at relatively low doses of the newfound compound; it would take about twice as much THC to induce the same effects.

Related: Mixing the Pot? 7 Ways Marijuana Interacts with Medicines

Although potent in the lab, THCP may or may not induce dramatic effects in humans, Vice reported. First of all, the compound appears to be present in plants in only small amounts, at least in the low-THC cannabis variety used by the researchers. Even assuming THCP can be grown in larger quantities, we still don’t know whether the compound would induce a high similar to that caused by its psychoactive cousin. And while THC offers some medicinal effects, including pain and nausea relief, no one knows if THCP has these qualities, Vice reported. 

In addition to THCP, the researchers also uncovered a CBD look-alike with seven carbon rings, which they named cannabidiphorol (CBDP). The team found that this compound doesn't bind strongly to either the CB1 receptor or the related receptor CB2. While CBD has been tied to anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-seizure effects, investigating these effects in CBDP "does not appear to be a high priority," the authors wrote.

Originally published on Live Science. 

Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.

  • Synoptic
    Discover is not the right word, those plants have been around since Man Invented Fire. It was one plant, now it happens there are strains, potency, medicinal effects... No one mentions it was well known as a hunger inductor and sold as syrup decades ago.
  • Truthseeker007
    Synoptic said:
    Discover is not the right word, those plants have been around since Man Invented Fire. It was one plant, now it happens there are strains, potency, medicinal effects... No one mentions it was well known as a hunger inductor and sold as syrup decades ago.

    Also religion said it was Satan's plant with all the propaganda they had going. :D

    According to this it is the reason it was made illegal.
    In many ways, the move toward legalization of marijuana, particularly medical marijuana, is a return to the status quo … the very long-ago status quo. In America, before the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, cannabis was a common ingredient in medicinal tinctures, and sellers didn't even have to mention it on their labels.
    During the 1920s and 1930s, though, Mexican immigration to the United States spiked as a result of the Mexican Revolution, according to PBS Frontline. People moving from Mexico brought along the custom of using marijuana recreationally, and the drug became linked with public fears of the newcomers. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal government waffled on making marijuana illegal even as states enacted their own laws — a strange mirror image of the legalization process going on today. Nevertheless, Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger campaigned to quash recreational marijuana, an effort that led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This law allowed for the importation of marijuana, but heavily taxed it, making it too expensive for recreational use.

    I think big oil played a part it making it illegal also. Due to hemp being cheaper and easier to run in automobiles.
  • Synoptic
    Nothing like arguing from Reality and not from beliefs: Africans and Indians get personally affected if YOU smoke it, in inverse form, hence disallow YOU smoking while they do not care being heros, ie, criminals. Then they can extinguish it peacefully or hide the very best strands and effects, from YOU. Anything else is just rationalizing arguments and misleading. Your good, their BAD. That s the real conflict behind recreational in all forms but ALSO medically speaking. Since no other lifeform SMOKES, the conflict is biological and those rulers wanted actually to change our own very definition of what is Human and what is mere animal, without knowing it! Natural selection by decree but against the state-sman himself. There are other four plants Africans smoke not opium but tobacco that remain hidden under a self incriminating pseudo law, a trap actually, that MIGHT surface once legalization without constraints is done.
  • kathyleen
    It's great for many people who use CBD as a treatment. I have chronic back pain and I would say CBD hemp by really work.
  • Chem_kenzie
    This article has a very large error. “A cannabinoid must carry at least three carbon rings in its side chain to gain access to CB1, and THC compounds typically carry five.” Every time carbon rings are mentioned it should say carbon atoms. The chains are Just that, chains of carbon atoms, not rings. So delta 9 THC has 5 carbons on its alkyl chain, where as THCV has 3 carbons on its alkyl chain and this new compound has a 7 carbon alkyl chain tail.
  • spectrumlabs
    We recently launched this THCP product here:
    It's currently in a liquid tincture form and we'll have gummies available soon.
    Check it out and try for yourselves to feel the effect yourself 😉