Several hundred million years ago when mosses evolved one way and trees and flowering plants went another, a few members of these distantly related groups in the plant kingdom copied one another and apparently produced a psychoactive chemical that behaves like one we all know and love: a cannabinoid.
According to a Scientific American report, the moss-like plant, known as Radula perrottetii, or Liverwort, has been shown to produce a chemical that behaves in the mammalian brain (ours!) very much like THC.
The chemical, known as perrottetinene (PET), was first discovered by Japanese researcher Yoshinori Asakawa in 1994, when it was noted for its structural similarity to THC. Although, until recently, no research had been done on PET’s effects on mammals.
Researchers from Switzerland isolated and synthesized the chemical, which allowed them to study its effects in higher concentrations. They reported their results in Science Advances.
The researchers showed, through a variety of tests, that PET from these Radula species looks and acts a lot like THC from Cannabis.
“Curiosity-driven research can lead to interesting results,” says Daniele Piomelli, professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the study.
“This is solid work, very credible, showing that this type of liverwort contains compounds that are akin both in structure and pharmaceutical activity to psychoactive cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.”
Researchers checked the chemical effects on cells in vitro and did behavioral tests on mice and found that in addition to behaving almost exactly like THC, with the exception that PET is less psychoactive when compared to THC.
The thought is that PET’s low psychoactive effect could make it an ideal chemical for synthesizing into a pharmacological drug.
“PET is highly interesting for medicinal applications, as we can expect fewer adverse effects while still having pharmacologically important effects,” said Michael Schafroth, one of the study’s authors.
Researchers say the next step is testing it directly on inflammatory neural conditions such as multiple sclerosis.