The scientists at the University of Bern and Zurich’s ETH technology institute investigated the psychoactive effects of compound perrotetinene (PET), which is found in a small group of liverworts and resembles THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
Their results show the compound from the Radula perrottetii liverwort easily binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors and can dull the sensation of pain.
PET even has a stronger anti-inflammatory effect than THC, meaning it could have potential medical applications.
It also has the added advantage of being legal and having less of a psychoactive effect than THC, noted researchers in a media release published by the University of Bern.
Researchers in Bern needed a large amount of PET for their study. However, they were unable to obtain enough from the liverworts that grow only in Japan, Costa Rica and New Zealand.
To get around this problem, they enlisted the help of colleagues at the ETH in Zurich who synthesized the THC and PET needed to carry out tests on mice.
“This study is a perfect example of how new concepts of synthesis can enrich our pharmacological knowledge of biologically active natural substances,” said ETH doctoral student Michael Schafroth.
Researchers now say further studies are required, including, for example, preclinical modelling of the effects of PET on chronic and inflammatory pain.
Switzerland currently allows products containing less than one percent THC to be grown and sold while Sativex is the only medicinal cannabis product permitted on the market.