October 01, 2016 | DR. SCOTT D. ROSE, SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR
Getting familiar with tetrahydrocannabivarin.
The Cannabis plant produces over 400 chemical compounds, including about 111 compounds named phytocannabinoids that have not yet been detected in any other plant. These phytocannabinoids include familiar compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), but you might not have heard of tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCV, which has gained fame due to its high potency, rarity and promising medicinal value.
Only certain strains of Cannabis contain THCV in appreciable amounts. Breeders have developed strains that contain higher levels of THCV for medical patients looking for a particular type of relief or for recreational users chasing a specific high.
THCV is a homologue of THC, which means they belong to a series of compounds that are only very slightly different from each other. In this case, THCV has a propyl (3-carbon) side chain instead of a pentyl (5-carbon) group on the molecule, which makes it produce very different effects from THC. Their chemical structure is nearly identical, but the biochemical process involved in their creation is quite different. Unlike THC, THCV doesn’t begin as a cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Instead of combining with olivetolic acid to create CBGA, the geranyl phosphate joins forces with divarinolic acid, which has two fewer carbon molecules. The result is cannabigerovarin acid (CBGVA). Once CBGVA is created, the process continues the same as it does for THC. CBGVA is broken down to THCVA by the enzyme THCV synthase. At that point, THCVA can be decarboxylated with heat or UV light to create THCV, or in other words become activated.
The activation of THC occurs at a temperature of 314 degrees Fahrenheit. For THCV, the activation temperature is 428 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a lot hotter than THC, and as a result, more complex to prepare! The vaporizer temperature will need to be turned up. Decarboxylation in the oven of flower and trim for tincture and edible prep will need to be performed at higher temperatures to take advantage of the THCV present (240 Fahrenheit). When combusting or smoking flower, most lighters have a flame heat of 500+ degrees, well beyond the activation temperature of THCVA or THCV. And with the superheating required for consuming concentrates, THCV activation is not an issue.
The cannabinoid compounds like THC, CBD and THCV bind to specific receptors in the body named cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors. When cannabinoid receptors are stimulated, a variety of physiologic processes ensue. CB1 receptors are predominantly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, glands and organs, while CB2 receptors are by and large found in the immune system and its associated structures like white blood cells and the spleen. THCV affects the same receptors in the brain as THC, and many report it produces a much different high. THCV is psychoactive, and causes a reported psychedelic, clear-headed effect. THCV at low doses has been shown to interfere with the physiological action of THC at the CB1 receptor due to having a similar structure as THC and blocking its ability to bind. However, THCV acts as a CB1 agonist at higher doses where binding to the receptor occurs and the receptor is stimulated instead of inhibited.
Interestingly, a study published in November 2015 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology seems to show that THCV works against THC to dampen the high. While the sample size was small, the results showed that combining doses of THCV with THC overwhelmingly resulted in a high that felt “less intense” compared to THC alone. The study used single agents and not the complex chemistry found in the whole plant. THCV also seemed to protect against other common effects of THC, including memory impairment and increased heart rate. Information about the dosing and action of THCV on the cannabinoid receptors is increasing and will be helpful to utilize the power of this cannabinoid to its fullest extent. THCV may offer a similar sort of benefit to medicinal users as CBD in modulating the psychoactive effects of Cannabis and tailoring use to the patient’s desired needs.
Because of its inhibitory action on the CB1 cannabinoid receptors, THCV is being studied for its use as an appetite suppressant. Obesity is a severe health problem in the modernized world, especially in the U.S., and understanding the central nervous mechanisms underlying food-seeking behavior are at the forefront of medical research in this field.
Cannabinoid receptors have proven an efficient target to suppress hunger and weight gain by their pharmacological inactivation. For example, the anorectic anti-obesity drug rimonabant functions by inhibiting CB1 receptors, though it was withdrawn from the worldwide market in 2009 due to frequent reports of severe depression and suicidal thoughts. THCV may be a better way to aid in fighting obesity as it blocks the rewarding sensations we experience when eating often unhealthy comfort foods. A conclusion of one research study from 2009 states that “THCV is a novel compound with hypophagic (appetite-lowering) properties and a potential treatment for obesity.” Cannabis that can inhibit the munchies… hmm…
THCV produces therapeutic metabolic effects, and its strongest effects are exerted on plasma glucose and insulin levels. Based on the data of E. T. Wargent, et. al., published in the May 2013 Journal of Nutrition and Diabetes, “it can be suggested that THCV may be useful for the treatment of metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes, either alone or in combination with existing treatments.” Given the reported benefits of CBD in type 1 diabetes, a CBD/THCV combination may be beneficial for different types of diabetes mellitus. GW Pharmaceuticals is studying a plant-derived tetrahydrocannabivarin (as GWP42004) for type 2 diabetes in addition to metformin, a popular drug for treating type 2 diabetes.
THCV may actually interact with a different cannabinoid receptor than CBD, THC and other cannabinoids. Its unique mechanism of action makes it a potentially useful cannabinoid for treating various neurological disorders from schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s disease. Again, much attention has been paid to THC and its binding to the CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and its subsequent results. THC has been shown at high levels to induce anxiety and panic in some individuals, most notably with sativa strains in general. These may indeed be sativa strains lacking appreciable levels of THCV. 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 doesn’t appear to suppress emotions, only the ability to panic, associated with the fight or flight response.
THCV has also been shown to reduce tremors associated with diseases such as Parkinson’s, along with ailments associated with motor control like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Promising research also demonstrates a reduction of brain lesions associated with Parkinson’s. THCV stimulates bone cell growth and has potential in the treatment of osteoporosis and similar ailments, and it also has anti-convulsive properties. It seems to raise the seizure threshold for those with epilepsy. As a result, those who take THCV experience fewer seizures. THCV has shown benefit for the treatment of addiction to just about anything. Imagine: a Schedule I drug may just turn out to be the key to curing drug and alcohol addiction!
High-THCV strains are out there, and some breeders have started to focus on the production of more of them (more strains like TGA Genetics’ Jack the Ripper would be great additions). THCV traditionally is most prominent in African sativa landraces like Durban Poison and the Haze strains. Southeast Asian sativa varieties are known to have high THCV content, namely Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese. Dutch Treat and Skunk #1 also have significant THCV content. If a strain has one of these four strains in its lineage, it’ll probably have some THCV. Strains bred specifically for high THCV content include Doug’s Varin and Willie Nelson, but they aren’t very common. Pineapple Purps is one of the highest THCV strains out there, but again hard to find. Pineapple Purps’ breeders claim it has a THC to THCV ratio of 3:1.
An article in the American Journal of Botany found that of 157 different strains analyzed from around the world — whether sativa, indica or ditch weed — all contained some measureable amount of THCV. THCV is an important cannabinoid lending to the complex chemistry of the Cannabis plant. It could work wonders for addicts, for those with bone disorders, for obesity and diabetes — which often go hand in hand — or for people who suffer from epilepsy or other neurological disorders. One can expect soaring, creative highs and psychedelic experiences from bud containing higher levels of THCV. You may believe THCV is the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack cannabinoid, but don’t lose hope. As more research is done on THCV, you can expect to see breeders and scientists alike focusing on this cannabinoid. In the near future you may see a “High THCV” label on the dispensary shelves.