New Cannabinoid Discovery Highlights Need for More Cannabis Research

new cannabinoids discovered

Even after all these 10,000 years, the cannabis plant still continues to surprise us.

Last month, a group of Italian researchers successfully discovered and isolated two new cannabinoids from the cannabis plant: tetrahydrocannabiphorol, aka THCP, and cannabidiphorol, aka CBDP. This discovery brings the grand total of known phytocannabinoids in cannabis up to nearly 150. The research team discovered these new phytocannabinoids with the help of some new and improved analytical techniques and cutting edge mass spectrometry which hadn’t been previously available to cannabis scientists.

Through examination of the new cannabinoids’ molecular structures, the researchers discovered that both THCP and CBDP have elongated side chains with seven links, compared to THC and CBD which both have five links each. While that may not sound particularly interesting to the modern layman, these longer side chains and additional links play a major role in how these cannabinoids interact with the body.

There’s this thing called “binding affinity” which describes the level of attraction between a cannabinoid and a cannabinoid receptor. Binding affinity increases with each link in the side chain, maxing out at eight links before beginning to decrease in affinity again. With seven links, THCP thus has an even stronger binding affinity to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. This means that THCP could be a much bigger factor in how people respond to cannabis than we ever considered.

Scientists previously attributed almost all of cannabis’ psychotropic properties to THC levels. With this new knowledge of THCP, they’re now considering how much of a role this new cannabinoid and other yet undiscovered ones could actually be contributing.

The one piece of bad news in this study from this study is that nothing is yet known about the other new cannabinoid, CBDP. CBDP does have the elongated side chain and additional links. Yet, since CBD itself already has a low binding affinity to CB1 and CB2 receptors, it’s unlikely that additional links would result in it binding more effectively. Therefore, the group of Italian researchers will focus exclusively on studying on THCP for now. This research group is currently in the early stages of a 3-year study on hemp funded by the European Union. 

Aside from the potential of these new cannabinoids, this discovery reveals another important insight - that there’s still so much about cannabis that we simply do not know. If these two new cannabinoids are so influential and we’re just now finding out about them, what else don’t we know about?

Unfortunately, a big part of the reason that research hasn’t been able to take place is because of the extensive cannabis prohibition around the world. Luckily, business operators aren’t the only ones who agree this needs to change. In a positive signal for the cannabis industry, lawmakers from both parties and three government witnesses told a U.S. congressional subcommittee that the federal government urgently needs more access to research around marijuana.

Currently, cannabis is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Under this law, researchers seeking to investigate cannabis must work with the FDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the DEA to meet the federal requirements specified in the Controlled Substances Act to conduct research. Researchers can only use cannabis products sourced through the University of Mississippi, which is currently the NIDA’s only licensed grower and distributor.

“Unfortunately, cannabis used for research is distinct from what is commercially available from state-legal dispensaries...meaning that we have little to no data on the health impacts of products in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use,” said Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) during the subcommittee hearing in January.

The hearing revealed a catch-22 for cannabis: research is restricted because cannabis is an illegal substance, yet more research is needed to determine whether cannabis should be descheduled and/or legalized. 

Said Nora Volkow, director of the NIDA, “Having only a single domestic source of research cannabis limits the diversity of products and formulations available to researchers and slows the development of cannabis-based medications.”

Hope is not lost, though, as cannabis legalization is now a hot-button issue in the upcoming 2020 elections. And the good news is that you can make a difference, too! 

Bluebird Botanicals is partnering with the Cannabis Voter Project, a division of Headcount, to encourage supporters to register as a cannabis voter and make your voice heard to your local representatives. You can use their website to look up your representatives’ current stance on seven major cannabis issues, from industrial hemp to outright legalization.

The Cannabis Voter Project website also has links to the best of cannabis media, advocacy organizations, and opportunities to take action. And of course, it’s a place where you can register to vote.

Thank you for joining us in our fight towards making cannabis accessible for all!