Nestled behind unassuming doors in a research facility on a university campus in Rio de Janeiro, a potentially game-changing botanical find is being explored by Brazilian molecular biologist, Rodrigo MouraNeto. This extraordinarily ordinary-seeming plant, known as “Tremamicranthablume,” happens to be a native species in the Americas, where its prolific growth has given it a reputation as a weed.
However, MouraNeto’s recent studies are starting to redefine its connotation as a pest. Hidden within its flora are natural reserves of cannabidiol (CBD), a component of cannabis that has gained recognition due to its potency in treating conditions like anxiety, epilepsy, autism, and chronic pain. Even more intriguing is MouraNeto’s revelation that this plant lacks tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. This surprising finding opens the door to an exciting possibility – a novel, plentiful supply of CBD untethered from the legal complexities surrounding cannabis in several nations.
This breakthrough has catapulted MouraNeto, an amiable 66-year-old with five decades of service in academic research, into an academic celebrity. As he says, “Stumbling upon a plant with CBD but void of THC eliminates the entire dilemma of psychoactive substances.” His revelation captured the attention of patent specialists and businesses eyeing the burgeoning multi-billion dollar CBD market. Predictions indicate its potential to revolutionize the medical realm.
Buoyed by a public grant of 500,000 reais (roughly US$104,000), MouraNeto’s research team aims to devise optimum extraction methods from “Trema,” alongside evaluating its potential as a substitute for medical marijuana.
Still, the medicinal effectiveness of CBD remains a controversial subject. Even in Brazil, the argument rages, with many patients resorting to legal channels for its usage or paying steep amounts for its importation. Regardless of the political complications, the CBD market is experiencing rapid global expansion, projected to surpass a staggering US$47 billion by 2028.
Rosane Silva, director of MouraNeto’s lab, reports the “tremendous” interest in their research. It seems “an abundance of companies are reaching out, keen to participate in the development of potential CBD medication,” she shares, alluding to the “magic plant.”
In spite of the enthusiasm surrounding potential commercial applications, MouraNeto insists they have no plans to patent the plant itself. Their focus instead lies on patenting the innovative extraction techniques they might develop.
From its initial conception as a forensic genetics tool aiding in tracing the origin of confiscated marijuana, MouraNeto’s studies of “Trema” have evolved in astounding directions. Despite the prospect of a 5 to 10-year timeline before their findings can be transformed into a marketable medicine, MouraNeto and his team remain undeterred. Conscious of the possibility that “Trema’s” CBD might not be as effective as that from cannabis, they continue to forge ahead, driven by a shared vision of a sustainable ecosystem for living and working, a model for the new future.