Liverwort is a moss-like plant that most people would overlook. Scientifically known as Radula perrottetii, this plant is indigenous to just a few countries and grows exclusively in Japan, New Zealand, and Costa Rica.
While its humble appearance may deem it generally unimpressive, liverwort is actually the only other plant — except for Cannabis sativa — that produces a cannabinoid substance. The plant contains a chemical compound known as perrottetinene, which is related to the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found in cannabis.
First discovered in 1994 by Japanese scientists, the THC-like substance in liverwort has been the focus of a new study which argues that the plant could be used as an effective painkiller — potent enough to rival medical marijuana.
According to Science Daily, Swiss researcher have studied the analgesic properties of perrottetinene and found it to be potentially “more medically effective than cannabis.”
“It’s astonishing that only two species of plants, separated by 300 million years of evolution, produce psychoactive cannabinoids,” said study senior author Jürg Gertsch, a researcher with the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland.
As Science News points out, only three species of liverwort are known to produce perrottetinene. The compound seems to be slightly less psychoactive than THC and may actually have superior analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
“This natural substance has a weaker psychoactive effect and, at the same time, is capable of inhibiting inflammatory processes in the brain,” noted study lead author Andrea Chicca, also from the University of Bern.
The new findings suggest that liverwort could provide the pain and inflammation relief granted by medical marijuana — minus the same kind of high. The study also shows that perrottetinene might produce fewer negative side effects than THC, such as memory loss and impaired coordination.
“Radula preparations are sold as cannabinoid-like legal high on the internet, even though pharmacological data are lacking,” the authors wrote in their paper, published this week in the journal Science Advances.
The plant only generates a small amount of perrottetinene, so studying the properties of this cannabinoid substance has proven challenging in the past. However, the Swiss team developed a synthetic version of the compound and tested its effects on mice and on human brain cells.
After monitoring the animals’ pain response, body temperature, and movement, the scientists uncovered that perrottetinene reaches the brain very easily and activates cannabinoid receptors there. In addition, the cannabis-like substance in liverwort was found to have a stronger anti-inflammatory effect in the brain than THC, reports UPI.
“Nobody really notices [liverworts] because they’re so small,” says phytochemist Douglas Kinghorn of the Ohio State University in Columbus, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Sometimes you find important medicinal compounds in plants from unexpected sources.”