Liverworts – THC alternative

Liverworts Characteristics

Liverworts are also called Radula perrottetii. It is moss. Mosses are plants believe it or not, though they look like fungus and grow in surprising places in a mat-like growth pattern. Liverworts are being studied at the University of Bern because it produces a chemical similar to THC, perrottetinene with similar effects, and a reduced capacity to cause a high and side effect (Chicca, Schafroth and Reynoso-Moreno). Since cannabis Sativa has proven so useful in the treatment of diseases like multiples sclerosis and cancer-associated nausea and pain, the appearance of this moss on the medical scene is a very promising development.

Figure 1.Liverwort (Radula perrottetii) UNIVERSITY OF BERN/STEFAN FISCHER


Perottetinene is a natural cannabinoid produced in the genus Radula:

  • Radula perrottetii
  • Radula marginata
  • Radula laxiramea

These grow in New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Japan. Perottetinene has effects on the CB1 receptor and it produces a moderate high. It also reduces prostaglandin E2 and D2 which suggests it has anti-pain and anti-inflammatory properties.

THC vs cannabinoid Perottetinene

Figure 2.

Figure 3.liverwort gametophyte and sporophyte properties

As you can see from the visual above, perrottetinene is very similar in structure to THC. In rat studies, it has similar effects to THC, inducing hypothermia, pain relief, reduced motion, and perceptual changes.

Perrottetinine has a stronger anti-inflammatory effect in the brain than THC, this was discovered by the University of Bern researchers.

Perrottetinene versus THC
Perrottetinene THC
Both have a similar structure. Both have a similar structure.
Has an extra benzyl group.
Produces hypothermia in rats. This can be a sign of pain reduction. However, the drop in temperature may be too great and limit dosage. Produces hypothermia in rats. This is a sign of pain reduction. The drop in temperature is fairly well balanced with weed.
Reduces movement in rats, a sign of relaxation. Reduces movement in rats, a sign of relaxation.
Analgesia Analgesia
Produces only a weak high Produces anywhere from a weak to a powerful high
Activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors to a weaker degree than weed. Weed can activate CB1 and CB2 receptors to a strong degree. Much stronger than both perrottetinene and CBD.
Crosses the blood-brain barrier easily. Crosses the blood-brain barrier easily.
Could be more effective medically than THC due to weaker effects in the brain and stronger anti-inflammatory action. Limited by psychoactive effects such as euphoria, perceptual disturbance, and anxiety.

CBD versus Liverwort

CBD is cannabidiol. It is the main cannabinoid present in industrial hemp which is federally legal in the United States. Industrial hemp contains .3% or less of THC and is therefore not psychoactive. It is a form of cannabis Sativa which is the main source of cannabidiol. Cannabidiol was first found to have anti-seizure properties when interest in medical marijuana began to take hold in the US. Subsequent research is discovering even more medical uses for CBD, such as for its antipsychotic effects, anti-anxiety effects, and anti-pain effects. It can have fewer side effects than THC. It is the second most-popular cannabinoid behind THC, but it is gaining on THC and has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Only time will tell if perrottetinene will follow this pattern or fade into obscurity. Here is what we know about CBD versus perrottetinene.

CBD versus perrottetinene
Liverworts facts CBD
It has a cannabinoid structure.
It has a cannabinoid structure.
Produces only a weak psychoactive effect. Produces no psychoactive effect.
Not yet used for seizures. CBD is used to treat childhood seizures.
Has a long history of indigenous use for health purposes. Has a long history of use throughout history around the world as a component of hemp.
Do liverworts have stomata?  They do not.
Cannabis Sativa has stomata.
How do liverworts reproduce sexually?  Liverworts can produce sexually or asexually. When they produce sexually, the sperm has to move to the archegonia and that is where that plant is fertilized.

Traditional Use

The article in Forbes highlighting Liverworts had a lot to do with bringing the plant into the public consciousness. A claim is made in the article that Liverwort was being sold as a legal high. This article appeared in 2018. Early study of liverwort goes back as far as 1994 when a Japanese researcher described the plant and its properties. A liverworts strain is native to Japan.

The Maori people of New Zealand have long used radula marginata – Wairuakohu – in their traditional medicine. It had been used to treat liver ailments and issues with digestion.

We asked a prominent researcher about human use of liverworts derived cannabinoids and got this response:

“We are actually studying this cannabinoid now in rodents in models of autoimmune encephalomyelitis and it dramatically reduces body temperature (unseen so far), which is concerning.  We are trying to understand whether this is an off-target effect or not.  I do not think there is any traditional or other ethnomedical info regarding its use in humans.”

We have seen of course that one type of liverworts, Radula marginata, is used in Maori traditional medicine. However, as the researcher pointed out, there is not a lot of available information on such usage. There is also very little information on what if any high is produced by this plant. To learn about that, we have to ask the rabble.

The Wisdom of Social Media

So, we scoured social media and discovered this incredible comment on the message boards:

This commenter in Polynesia claims to have harvested and processed Radula. After a little digging, we discovered he is from Samoa though it is not clear where he is doing the harvesting of Liverworts or Radula Marginatat. This is the type used in Maori traditional medicine.

This guy picks it out his yard and smokes it just like weed. We do not know if this is the way the Maori use it. The smoking method needs to be validated by traditional use. However, this tells us one thing for sure, you can smoke it and get high indeed.

This Reddit user also lives in New Zealand and also smokes the Radula Marginata. However, he is very short on the details we are so hungry for. Like how to dry and cure it, do the elders use it in this way, and can you send some overseas to the states (he later agrees to send some to a commenter further down actually). Note, this conversation is from 7 years ago, long before the Forbes article.

Can you Get high from it?

We have to ask, where do the reports of people selling Liverworts as a natural high originate?  And where have they gone?  A likely explanation is that some savvy marketer discovered the studies identifying the cannabinoids in Liverworts. They then likely just got some inert herbs and sprayed them with synthetic cannabinoids, or spice and sold it as Liverworts incense. One reason this is likely is that this moss is seasonal and difficult to grow. Also, we are no longer finding legal highs claiming to be radula Liverworts. However, it could be that preparations intended as a legal high simply aren’t being sold in English-majority countries. So, we will just have to wait for a definitive answer to the question of are people really selling Liverworts as a legal high?  We can believe the reports of people in New Zealand smoking the stuff in their back yard, but we haven’t found it being sold as a legal high. The reason this is of interest to the biohacker is that if it produces a high, and if it has been used traditionally for many centuries by the Maori, this fulfills two important risk criteria for if it is a reasonable risk to try the substance. Traditional use can be as good or better than scientific studies. However, not much of this valuable information is written and available. We would have to do a cultural canvassing of New Zealanders and other indigenous users and find out how to use it and the risks involved.

Biohackers want to know if this plant can be used to produce a high because that would indicate antidepressant properties, but also anti-pain, and pro-social effects. This may come without the anxiety or memory loss you get with weed. Since it inhibits prostaglandins, this anti-inflammatory effect may act just like ibuprofen does, which has been shown to limit memory loss from weed if you take it before smoking.

The last word on the question of whether Liverworts produces a high. If in fact, the preparations being sold were a front for selling spice, subsequent spice bans around the world would have taken out the Liverworts products with it. Therefore, even though actual liverworts contains an actual cannabinoid, the legal highs were possibly not Liverworts at all, but Spice instead, and those products have disappeared or gone underground.

Can you use Liverworts Medically and for Pain?

As we have said, information on the medical use of Liverworts is lacking. The main cannabinoid is currently being studied for encephalomyelitis but is only in the phase of rodent studies presently. Regardless, we have found an herbal preparation for sale. Let’s have a look at it and see what we can deduce about it.

Figure 4.

This product by looks to be the real deal, made in an FDA registered facility, and using Radula Marginata. This is the form that grows in Polynesia. It is not known if this tincture contains intact cannabinoids or if those cannabinoids will have a psychoactive effect at the doses listed on the bottle.

Directions:  Shake it up. For an adult, you will take up to 1 mL in half a cup of juice, up to four times per day.

This product will cost you about $25. It appears to be a good deal. If you try this product, let us know what your experience was of the effects. This is the only product we have found which is readily accessible in the United States which contains a Radula marginata Liverworts extract. It is made in the United States. Extraction is done using cold maceration, and by this method, it is hoped that none of the therapeutic ingredients are destroyed. The site gives good and accurate information about the history of the plant, which is a good sign. They mention that the product inhibits prostaglandins, but they do not mention that it contains cannabinoids. This is also a good sign. It means they probably really know their stuff. They are avoiding legal problems down the line by not mentioning the cannabinoids in the plant. From what we can see, this product is definitely worth a try. The biohacker is gonna note quickly whether or not it produces any high, because for a biohacker, a high means it works for sure. You can decide later if you want only pain relief and no high, but you wanna get a little high to be sure it works first. Also, since not much is as yet known scientifically about the substance, it is taking a risk to use it, so if you take that risk, you at least want to get a little buzzed. Otherwise, you could get nothing but downside. Watch out for allergic reactions and drop in body temperature as these are two possible side effects suggested from observation and rats studies.

This herbal preparation is most often used for pain. If there is any reason to doubt this substance, it would simply be from the fact that it is not yet tremendously popular and even copied. If in fact, this product can produce a mild high and pain relief, people in states which are not friendly to marijuana will be clamoring to get it.

If you try radula and love it, there appears to be an easy way to order bulk powder or tincture from New Zealand. Here is a company selling it. Scientific studies on this substance will take many years. The biohacker is interested in using it in ways which have been practiced by the Maori for centuries. It may or may not be safe, but at least the Maori have centuries of observation to be able to know what the side effects may be.


The side effects of taking this substance outside of the context of Maori medicine are not known. The Maori may have traditional ways of taking the substance and they may be aware of side effects and dosages. If you take it as a legal high, or as a healthy herb, you may not have the protection and support of persons who know the positive effects, side effects, and risks. Let’s do our standard risk assessment.

Overall Risk: medium-High

Risk comparison:
Less risky than synthetic cannabinoids.
Riskier than CBD.

This is suitable for the high risk, chance-taking biohacker.

Risk Questions

How long have humans used this substance? We can assume the Maori have used it for centuries. For them, using in a seasoned cultural context, the risk may be known or minimized.
Did animals Co-evolve with the substance? Yes.
Did humans co-evolve with the substance? Yes.
How synthetic is it?  How much has it been altered from a natural substance? It’s natural. The tincture form is also natural and concentrated.
How long as it been on the market? The Forbes article appeared in 2018. Legal highs allegedly containing liverworts may go back several more years. Traditional use may be centuries old.
What do post-clinical reports say? It is not on the market as a medicine. Reports from users who live where the moss grows have not yet reported negative reactions but these reports are too few to draw any conclusions about the plant.
Is it used medically? It is used traditionally for pain in general, also specifically muscle pain and headache.
Are side effects severe? We see profound hypothermia in lab rats, it’s not clear how or if this translates to humans.

Anecdotal reports of people smoking the stuff in their back yard do not report troubling side effects, but in general, side effects are not known so this introduces some risk.

Scientists are hoping to eventually find that this plant has fewer, not more side effects than Cannabis Sativa. So, the risk we have is due to our own I, they plant itself may turn out to be of comparable safety to Cannabis Sativa, and lacking some of the troubling side effects as it is less psychoactive.

Is it easy to overdose? It is not known if it is possible to overdose. Hypothermic responses in rats could indicate the possibility of overdose.


Chicca, Andrea, et al. “Uncovering the psychoactivity of a cannabinoid from liverworts associated with a legal high.” Science Advances 4.10 (2018). 12 6 2019.


We were pleasantly surprised to discover a tincture of radula marginata being made and sold in the United States. We are looking forward to reports coming out about people’s experience with it. We do not yet know the effects perrottetinene may have on organ systems like the liver and kidneys, much less so the full extract. The long history of traditional use is promising as it means that the plant has co-evolved with a group of humans and therefore humans may prove to be able to process the plant and would have known from experience if the plant were toxic.  However, we should wait for scientific studies to validate any claims to safety. Also, it would be prudent to use the plant in only the ways sanctioned by the Maori users who have the most experience using it.
Any other context of using is of high risk because we do not have information about what became of others who have tried smoking it or taking tinctures not created in a traditional cultural context. So, one is being a guinea pig, which is fine, but we want to be aware that we are taking chances and we want to make sure our goal is worth it.

General Medical Disclaimer

Leaf Expert is not dispensing medical advice.

FDA Disclaimer

Liverworts are not regulated as a drug by the United States of America FDA. It is not meant to treat, diagnose, or prevent disease.

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