Researchers at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, collaborating with scientists from the technical university ETH Zurich, have found a substance in liverwort that seems to mimic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Besides inducing a legal high, the substance, like THC, has analgesic (painkilling) and anti-inflammatory properties. The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

RELATED: Cannabis is now legal in Canada, but not for athletes

Cannabis is (unofficially) quite popular among runners, in particular trail runners, for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anxiety-calming effects, though it remains banned in athletic competition despite being legalized in Canada for recreational use earlier this month.

Liveworts are moss-like, flowerless plants of the Hepaticae class, and they are believed to be the only other plant that produces cannabinoids. The substance, known as perrottetinene, was first identified by a Japanese scientist more than 20 years ago. It acts on cannabinoid receptors in the brain, and its anti-inflammatory properties may be even more pronounced than those of THC, while its psychoactive effects are less, making it potentially even more appropriate for medicinal purposes (or, indirectly, to enhance performance) than cannabis. 

The specific liverwort that produces perrottetinene grows only in Japan, Costa Rica and New Zealand. ETH Zurich was instrumental to synthesizing the plant in the lab so enough quantities could be harvested to study it.

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