Isolation of a High Affinity Cannabinoid for Human CB1 Receptor from a Medicinal Cannabis Variety: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabutol, the Butyl Homologue of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, Pasquale Linciano et al., 2019

Isolation of a High Affinity Cannabinoid for Human CB1 Receptor from a Medicinal Cannabis Variety: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabutol, the Butyl Homologue of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol

Pasquale Linciano, Cinzia Citti, Livio Luongo, Carmela Belardo, Sabatino Maione, Maria Angela Vandelli, Flavio Forni, Giuseppe Gigli, Aldo Laganà, Carmela Maria Montone, Giuseppe Cannazza

Journal of Natural Products, 2019 Dec 31.

doi: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.9b00876.



The butyl homologues of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabutol (Δ9-THCB), and cannabidiol, cannabidibutol (CBDB), were isolated from a medicinal Cannabis sativa variety (FM2) inflorescence. Appropriate spectroscopic and spectrometric characterization, including NMR, UV, IR, ECD, and HRMS, was carried out on both cannabinoids. The chemical structures and absolute configurations of the isolated cannabinoids were confirmed by comparison with the spectroscopic data of the respective compounds obtained by stereoselective synthesis. The butyl homologue of Δ9-THC, Δ9-THCB, showed an affinity for the human CB1 (Ki = 15 nM) and CB2 receptors (Ki = 51 nM) comparable to that of (-)-trans9-THC. Docking studies suggested the key bonds responsible for THC-like binding affinity for the CB1 receptor. The formalin test in vivo was performed on Δ9-THCB in order to reveal possible analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. The tetrad test in mice showed a partial agonistic activity of Δ9-THCB toward the CB1 receptor.


Cannabis sativa has always been a controversial plant as it can be considered as a lifesaver for several pathologies including glaucoma1 and epilepsy2, an invaluable source of nutrients3, an environmentally friendly raw material for manufacturing4 and textiles5, but it is also the most widely spread illicit drug in the world, especially among young adults6.

Its peculiarity is its ability to produce a class of organic molecules called phytocannabinoids, which derive from an enzymatic reaction between a resorcinol and an isoprenoid group. The modularity of these two parts is the key for the extreme variability of the resulting product that has led to almost 150 different known phytocannabinoids7. The precursors for the most commonly naturally occurring phytocannabinoids are olivetolic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate, which take part to a condensation reaction leading to the formation of cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). CBGA can be then converted into either tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) or cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) or cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) by the action of a specific cyclase enzyme7. All phytocannabinoids are biosynthesized in the carboxylated form, which can be converted into the corresponding decarboxylated (or neutral) form by heat8. The best known neutral cannabinoids are undoubtedly Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the former being responsible for the intoxicant properties of the cannabis plant, and the latter being active as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, but also as antagonist of THC negative effects9.

All these cannabinoids are characterized by the presence of an alkyl side chain on the resorcinyl moiety made of five carbon atoms. However, other phytocannabinoids with a different number of carbon atoms on the side chain are known and they have been called varinoids (with three carbon atoms), such as cannabidivarin (CBDV) and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (Δ9-THCV), and orcinoids (with one carbon atom), such as cannabidiorcol (CBD-C1) and tetrahydrocannabiorcol (THC-C1)7. Both series are biosynthesized in the plant as the specific ketide synthases have been identified10.

Our research group has recently reported the presence of a butyl phytocannabinoid series with a four-term alkyl chain, in particular cannabidibutol (CBDB) and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabutol (Δ9-THCB), in CBD samples derived from hemp and in a medicinal cannabis variety11,12. Since no evidence has been provided for the presence of plant enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of these butyl phytocannabinoids, it has been suggested that they might derive from microbial ω-oxidation and decarboxylation of their corresponding five-term homologs13.

The length of the alkyl side chain has indeed proved to be the key parameter, the pharmacophore, for the biological activity exerted by Δ9-THC on the human cannabinoid receptor CB1 as evidenced by structure-activity relationship (SAR) studies collected by Bow and Rimondi14. In particular, a minimum of three carbons is necessary to bind the receptor, then the highest activity has been registered with an eight carbon side chain to finally decrease with a higher number of carbon atoms14. Δ8-THC homologs with more than five carbon atoms on the side chain have been synthetically produced and tested in order to have molecules several times more potent than Δ9-THC15,16.