Cannabinoids, the miracle molecules that provide cannabis with its medical efficacy—in addition to its euphoria—number more than 111. First discovered in 1940 by Roger Adams in the United States and again in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, cannabinoids have been found to work synergistically with the human body and, more specifically, the endocannabinoid system.
The body produces its own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids. The cannabinoids from a plant like marijuana, officially known as phytocannabinoids, are a perfect fit for specialized receptors found throughout the brain, nervous system, and immune system of the human body.
In addition, cannabinoids do more than work independently to deliver a particular therapeutic effect. Cannabinoids also work in tandem to regulate one another, something that has been labeled the entourage effect.
THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, is a cannabinoid that, while closely related to THC in molecular structure, has very different efficacy. Found mostly in sativa strains, THCV can constitute up to 54 percent of the total cannabinoids in certain strains. Think of THCV as a cousin, but not a sibling, of THC. Both molecules fit into the same receptors in the body, despite their markedly different effects.
The most impressive aspect of this cannabinoid is the wide variety of diseases and ailments for which it shows promise. Everything from PTSD to epilepsy to obesity may be effectively treated using THCV.
Major Role: Appetite Suppression
The most pronounced effect of THCV is appetite suppression. This is a bit ironic, considering that cannabis is famous for giving consumers the munchies. However, it is typically indica strains, which generally lack THCV, that have such an effect. Sativas, higher in THCV, act in an opposite manner. This is more evidence of the vast differences between sativa and indica strains and why patients and recreational consumers alike should recognize which species best treats their particular condition.
GW Pharmaceuticals, a British cannabis-focused biopharmaceutical company, has researched THCV. The company stated:
“In pre-clinical studies, THCV has shown effects on body weight, body fat content, energy expenditure, food intake, and other obesity-related parameters.”
While THCV holds great promise as an appetite suppressant and could be a powerful tool to combat the obesity epidemic, it offers other therapeutic benefits as well. It has also been found to convey anti-convulsive properties, making it appropriate for epilepsy sufferers and helping them experience fewer seizures.
Of course, with most patients simply seeking any “marijuana” for their conditions, a strain that is heavy in THCV would actually be detrimental for those suffering from conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer, and Crohn’s, where appetite stimulation is the goal. Research continues to prove that pot is not pot is not pot. Different strains provide very different efficacy; a strain that is perfect for one ailment may be inappropriate for another.
Psychoactive Like THC
Unlike most other cannabinoids, but like THC, THCV is a psychoactive component that results in an energetic, alert, and motivated euphoria—quite the opposite of an indica or indica-dominant strain that will produce more of a stoned, couchlocked effect. THCV actually enhances the psychedelic high derived from THC, delivering more rapid onset and potency. On the downside, cannabis strains high in THCV also have “shorter legs,” meaning their effects do not last as long as THC-dominant types.
While most abundant in sativa varieties, THCV is highest in landrace strains from Africa. In addition to suppressing appetite and reducing convulsions, this relatively unknown cannabinoid also provides a neuroprotective effect, meaning it is adept at relieving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and delaying its progression. This neuroprotective effect is likely also beneficial for neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis. One of the most promising applications of THCV is the treatment of metabolic disorders, including diabetes.
THCV also has the ability to block the body’s CB1 cannabinoid receptors, meaning it can buffer the effects of other cannabinoids that work with these receptors. THCV, along with THC, is one of the few cannabinoids to work with both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the human body. Such cannabinoids play a major role in modulating the effect of other cannabinoids (the entourage effect).
Research conducted by the Institute of Medical Sciences discovered that THCV delivers different efficacy depending on its potency. At low doses, THCV blocks CB1 receptors, meaning the uptake of THC is decreased. However, at higher doses, THC-A activates CB1 receptors. Researchers believe that this dynamic may enable the effective treatment of conditions like chronic liver disease.
Anxiety and Stress
The therapeutic effects of THCV are obviously wide ranging. It has been found to be an effective treatment for stress, anxiety, and other mental disorders—including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). According to Steep Hill Labs, a leading cannabis research and development laboratory in Berkeley, California:
“THCV has been found to reduce or even block panic attacks and, as a result, can be highly effective in the management of PTSD and other mental disorders involving anxiety or stress.”
THCV’s similarity to THC-A, the acidic precursor to THC, gives researchers hope that it also carries anti-inflammatory efficacy and can be used to treat a variety of inflammation-related conditions.
Found in Rare Strains
The landrace strains in which THCV is found in quantity are relatively rare. The overwhelming majority of strains available on the black market are indica-dominant and, thus, contain little THCV. Considering that some sativa strains can contain up to half their cannabinoid content in the form of THCV, availability to patients is a major concern.
One of the most cited strains that contains high amounts of THCV is Durban Poison. Samples have revealed more than 0.5 percent THCV in plants that exhibit roughly a 20:1 THC-to-THCV ratio. Testing of one strain, Pineapple Purps, revealed a THC-to-THCV ratio of 3:1, with more than 4 percent THCV. One sativa strain, Doug’s Varin, is the first bred to contain relatively massive amounts THCV. Samples revealed a THC:THCV ratio of 6:7.
The emergence of legal medical marijuana and dispensary networks in states like California and Colorado has enabled patients to obtain whole-plant flowers, edibles, tinctures, and concentrates from sativa-dom strains that are higher in THCV. However, until more states adopt medical cannabis programs, few patients will be capable of abandoning the black market in favor of high-quality, laboratory tested cannabis from a known strain.
Unfortunately, this information is based on only a few non-clinical studies, most of which work with mice or rats. In the United States, this is due to the Schedule I status of cannabis, which is the government’s way of saying it offers zero medical efficacy and is highly dangerous (heroin is also a Schedule I drug, while cocaine and methamphetamines are both Schedule II and can legally be prescribed by doctors).
Until more research is conducted and human clinical trials begin, researchers and patients can only imagine the incredible — and often antithetical, in relation to indica strains high in THC — effects of THCV. This special cannabinoid shows great promise for diseases like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and obesity.
This post was originally published on June 23, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.