When you think of cannabinoids, you likely think of THC and CBD; they are the star and co-star of active ingredients found within the plant. However, the cannabis plant contains 100+ cannabinoids at least, and none are rising in popularity as fast as THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin.

If you don’t know what a cannabinoid is, we’ve got you covered. Read this article first.

What’s the difference between THC and THCV?

THC is tetrahydrocannabinol. If you look at the word for THCV, you’ll notice the only difference is the “-varin” at the end. There are a handful of different -varin cannabinoids, like CBDV (cannabidivarin vs. cannabidiol) or CBGV (cannabigerovarin). What makes a -varin cannabinoid different from a regular cannabinoid? Only two atoms.

THCV is very similar to its cousin THC. Indeed, the only visible difference between the two is that THC has a 5-carbon tail in its chemical structure, rather than the 3-carbon tail on THCV. That small difference might make a pretty big impact, as it turns out.

THC and THCV molecules

It should go without saying that not enough research has been done to know exactly how THCV benefits the human body, because federal prohibition continues to hinder research. What we do know from a number of studies, however, is enough to drive innovation across multiple product categories, like tabs, vapes, drinks, and even cultivars bred to express THCV.

Existing research shows promise that THCV might operate as an appetite suppressant and help aid in weight loss. This has led a few companies to get a little ahead of themselves in marketing THCV products as “skinny weed,” including a failed product launch of vaporizers under the Suicide Girls brand three years ago. This claim can’t be made quite yet, but it’s based on research in mice. 

What does the research show?

In mice studies, THC and THCV were co-administered, and a few observations were made. For one, THCV seems to suppress the effects of THC. It does this by operating as a CB1 antagonist, which means THCV prevents THC from binding to the CB1 receptors, according to a 2005 study by Thomas Adèle in the British Journal of Pharmacology. The CB1 receptors are one of two kinds of cannabinoid receptors in the human body, and when activated, they increase food palatability and reward feedback. In other words, activating the CB1 receptors with THC makes you want to eat with less discretion; we call this the munchies.

Theoretically, blocking THC from activating the CB1 receptors should suppress this urge for food and reward, thus decreasing appetite. This requires far more research to reach this conclusion, and that’s challenging for reasons we’ll explain below.

Human and mice studies on THCV showed some other interesting results. Co-administering THC and THCV prevented the increased heart rate and helped delay verbal recall caused by THC, as shown in a 2016 study by Amir Englund. This fits with anecdotal beliefs that THCV is a “racey” cannabinoid, found in cannabis cultivars like Durban Poison and Pineapple Purps that are typically used for productivity and energy.

Research has also indicated that THCV significantly reduced inflammation and inflammatory pain in mice, as well as showing antioxidant properties. Reportedly, THCV also has anticonvulsant properties, although the mechanism for this is still unknown. There is even evidence that THCV may aid in insulin sensitivity and lower glucose levels, which could help patients with diabetes. However, a phase II clinical trial of this theory failed, so there’s still debate around this.

Why don’t we have more research?

That brings us to why we know so little about THCV still: we need more research. Typically, compounds as promising as those in cannabis would be researched all across the globe by a ton of research groups of all varieties. The FDA would be heavily involved in determining what claims had sufficient enough evidence to make about cannabis medicine.

The US government continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, equivalent to heroin and Bath Salts. The DEA defines a Schedule 1 drug as a substance with "high potential for abuse with NO accepted medical value", even though the federal government owns a patent on the medical applications of cannabinoids: Patent #US6630507B1. 

Because of this insane designation, universities, research groups, and just about any other scientific body is prevented from researching it without DEA special approval. Until the cannabis plant is either de-scheduled or rescheduled as a Schedule 3 drug, research will continue to be suppressed by the federal government.

It’s time to lend your voice to prevent cannabis from remaining a Schedule 1 drug. Sign petitions to de- or reschedule cannabis. Vote for politicians that want to legalize cannabis federally. Until then, we’ll learn very slowly what can be unlocked in minor cannabinoids like THCV.

Brad Bogus

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