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In a remarkable discovery, Canadian researchers have found 21 previously unknown cannabinoids when they were studying the chemistry of various strains.

In a paper1 with the heady title Chemometric Analysis of Cannabinoids: Chemotaxonomy and Domestication Syndrome, University of British Columbia researchers found 21 cannabinoids that have yet to be identified and thoroughly analyzed.

“We used a chemical process to isolate chemicals in enough quantities to determine the cannabis plant’s structure,” says Susan Murch, a professor of The Canada Chair in natural products chemistry at UBC, in an interview.

Murch is quick to note that most plants can have as many as 2500 chemicals within a leaf, and it’s well-known that cannabis contains hundreds of cannabinoids in the trichomes of its flowers, of which only a few have been identified. The most recognized cannabinoids are THC and CBD, but hundreds more have yet to be properly separated and researched, Murch says.

In the paper, Murch and her team also reported on how strain differentiation might be more marketing hype than evidence-backed data. They write: “The ‘sativa’ and ‘indica’ lineages used to describe cannabis throughout the industry are based on postulation that sativa strains originated from European hemp cultivars, while indica are from potent, resinous Indian cannabis but given the use and trade of the plant in ancient times, the exact origin is unknown and these may not be distinct species.”

The potential outcome of Murch’s research could prove vitally important for anyone involved in cannabis production and consumption. She says, “Because all strains come from individual growers, there hasn’t been one study saying what’s the same, what’s different…”

She elaborated more on this in an interview earlier this year “People have had informal breeding programs for a long time. In a structured program we would keep track of the lineage, such as where the parent plants come from and their characteristics. With unstructured breeding, which is the current norm, particular plants were picked for some characteristic and then given a new name.”

Murch says cannabis contains so many chemicals and compounds “people are basically consuming a black box – how certain molecules function is not well known. We really need to learn more about cannabis’s shelf life, stability, the best delivery method, and so much more.”

She is especially cautious about the many infused drinks being proposed in the cannabis market. “If you make cannabis beer, how long will that drink last on the shelf? We know about beer’s expiration date, say, but we don’t know how cannabis will interact with the liquids in that way.”

As a researcher who has long focused on plant chemistry, Murch admits that “if five years ago, you’d be telling me I’d be studying cannabis I’d have laughed and believed it would never be part of my career. I think legalization is ultimately a good thing for researchers, giving us opportunities to work on a crop in order to make it safer for consumers to use.”

  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-31120-2
  2. http://www.spectroscopynow.com/details/ezine/167072adf1d/Chemometrics-of-cannabinoids-THC-under-strain.html?tzcheck=1

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