It’s been a long year, and with the holiday season upon us, nobody needs an excuse to unwind. But for those who do, look no further than the humble liverwort plant, native to New Zealand and Tasmania, that scientists have found is remarkably similar to marijuana.
Particularly savvy drug enthusiasts may have heard of making tea from Radula, a member of the liverwort family whose effects are similar to those of cannabis. For anybody who hasn’t, you may be hearing a lot more about it in coming months and years. In 2018 researchers examining its chemical makeup found evidence that Radula might even have some of the same medicinal properties as marijuana but without some negative side effects.
In October, Inverse reported that a team of Swiss scientists publishing in Science Advances found that the main active molecule in Radula is extremely similar to THC — which is short for (−)-trans-Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol — the most famous psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. When they tested the molecule, called (−)-cis-perrottetinene — cis-PET for short — on mice, the effects were quite similar to the effects of THC on mice.
And the similarities get more profound on the molecular level. Jürg Gertsch, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland and one of the corresponding authors on the paper, told Inverse in October that the molecules are super similar.
“These compounds are very similar and only differ at one atom in their 3D organization, and cis-PET has an additional benzyl ring at the end of the chain,” Gertsch said. In short, there’s just a couple of small differences in molecular structure that make cis-PET different from THC, which might explain why their effects on mice seem so similar.
When the team tested cis-PET on mice, they also found something fascinating about the way it affected their brains: Whereas THC has been shown to increase levels of prostaglandins in the brain, which can lead to inflammation, cis-PET seems to actually decrease levels of these compounds. This suggests that Radula could contain an even safer medicinal compound than marijuana.
Oh and to answer your question, yes, Radula does have effects similar to marijuana, though many users report it’s weaker. But don’t hold your breath for it to be in the local dispensary. For now, your best bet is just buying liverwort online.