Rio university finds cannabidiol in THC-free native Brazilian plant

The discovery could advance medicinal use with no legal restrictions

Published on 17/06/2023 - 09:33 By Rafael Cardoso - Rio de Janeiro

Researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) have identified cannabidiol (CBD) in the fruit and flower of a native Brazilian species, the Trema micrantha Blume.

The discovery could pave the way for the legal use of the substance for medicinal purposes, as regulations effective in Brazil today ban planting and using plants from which hallucinogenic drugs can be produced. Unlike the Cannabis sativa, the Brazilian species does not have Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has a psychoactive effect, among its chemical components.

Cannabis has its medicinal and industrial use authorized in countries like the US, Canada, and Portugal. In Brazil, however, Congress is still discussing cultivation. A number of lawsuits and injunctions have guaranteed the cultivation of cannabis and the importation of cannabidiol in isolated cases. Last year, a resolution by the nation’s Federal Council of Medicine stipulated that doctors can only prescribe CBD for the treatment of epilepsy in children and adolescents. The measure specifically includes Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis.

Legal barriers

Research Coordinator Rodrigo Soares Moura Neto, professor at the UFRJ Biology Institute, explains that the Brazilian plant could dodge legal obstacles currently imposed on cannabis.

“When you sell cannabidiol, [national drug watchdog] Anvisa imposes a restriction on the formula, which can only have 0.2 percent THC. But with the Brazilian plant, this would not pose a problem, as there’s no THC in it. There would also be no legal restrictions on planting, since it can be planted freely. Plus, it’s spread all over Brazil. It could become an easier and cheaper source of cannabidiol,” he pointed out.

The Trema micrantha Blume is often used in reforestation, given its rapid growth. Its leaves are also known as an analgesic to treat skin rashes. International scientists had discovered cannabidiol in a plant of the same family, the Trema orientale Blume—not indigenous to Brazil. The UFRJ study used it as a reference early in its investigations.

The research relies on BRL 500 thousand in resources through the Agricultural Sciences tender from the Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support of Rio de Janeiro, linked to the Secretariat of Science, Technology, and Innovation of the state government.

Where it stands now

In its current stage, about ten scientists—among them chemists, biologists, geneticists, and botanists—are mapping the best methods for the analysis and extraction of cannabidiol from the plant. The first phase is likely to be concluded in six months, when the in vitro process should kick off, aimed at checking whether the component behaves the same way as the cannabidiol from Cannabis sativa.

Scientists have highlighted the benefits of cannabidiol in the relief of neuropathic pain, in treatments for psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, as well as as an adjunctive analgesic in cases of advanced cancer.

Looking further afield

The ultimate goal of the research with the Brazilian plant, Professor Neto remarked, is to extend these benefits to everyone who needs treatment with the substance.

“With a large production capacity, you can reach public care centers. We scientific researchers are always seeking to extend its advantages to everyone, and the public health care network is the way to go. It’s a great goal, which encourages us to work and make this substance available to everyone. It’s ambitious, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Rio de Janeiro

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