THC and THCV: these two ingredients in marijuana sound similar and even look very much alike at the molecular level. Both are cannabinoids that are found in various amounts in different marijuana strains. Over the years, THC has gained fame as the cannabinoid that’s highly sought-after due to its ability to cause an intense high, as well as its many medical uses. But what is THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), and what is it good for?
Despite their similar-sounding names, it turns out that THCV is a very different compound than THC. Although it’s one of the least-studied cannabinoids, scientists are beginning to take notice and learn more about the potential that THCV holds.
What Is THCV?
THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) is a minor cannabinoid, which means it’s one of the active ingredients in cannabis that are present in low concentrations. There’s typically much less THCV in any given marijuana strain than there will be THC or CBD, for example.
This doesn’t mean that the THCV isn’t important, however. Each cannabinoid has its own individual effects, although some effects may be more subtle than others when the cannabinoids are combined. There’s also huge medical potential when they’re isolated and used separately.
THCV and the Endocannabinoid System
Cannabinoids work by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and throughout the body. Compounds like THCV, THC, CBD, and others mimic natural chemicals called endocannabinoids and either stimulate or interrupt these receptors to cause effects such as calming nausea and vomiting, increasing or suppressing appetite, or calming pain.
Over the years, many marijuana users have noticed that they often get a different result from using traditional, whole-plant cannabis than from using medication made from individual cannabinoids. Scientists are beginning to confirm that while each cannabinoid has important individual effects when they’re isolated, they also work together to boost the effects of others. This phenomenon is known as “the entourage effect.”
This means that when combined with all the others, minor cannabinoids like THCV can play a big role in marijuana’s overall effects and medical benefits.
Where Does THCV Come From?
Most of the “big six” widely-researched cannabinoids start out as CBGA (cannabigerolic acid). As a marijuana plant matures, the CBGA synthesizes into THCA, CBDA, CBCA, and so on. These are the acidic precursors to the cannabinoids the world knows as THC, CBD, CBC, etc.
Not so with THCV. It begins its life as CBGVA (cannabigerovarin acid). As CBGVA synthesizes, it transforms into THCVA, CBDVA, CBCVA, while some of it remains as CBGVA. How does THCVA (tetrahydrocannabivarin carboxylic acid) turn into THCV? This happens through the process of decarboxylation.
Decarboxylation happens when marijuana is heated (and to a lesser extent when it’s cured). Some people decarboxylate their marijuana flower on baking sheets in the oven, while others instantaneously decarboxylate it through the smoking or vaporizing process.
Once a cannabinoid is decarboxylated, it’s pharmacologically active. For example, THCA can’t create a high, but when it’s decarboxylated and becomes THC, it will create a strong high when it’s consumed. Similarly, the effects of THCV are unleashed after it’s been activated.
Does THCV Cause a High?
THC causes a psychoactive buzz, making it the most famous and sought-after cannabinoid. THCV is very similar to THC in name and molecular structure, which naturally begs the question: does THCV cause a high?
The answer isn’t straightforward. Cannabinoids work by interacting with various receptors throughout the body. THC acts as a CB1 agonist, which is why it creates a high. At the low doses found in most marijuana strains, tetrahydrocannabivarin/THCV acts as a CB1 antagonist, meaning it blocks that receptor. This means that small amounts of THCV actually work to moderate the effects of THC, counteracting its high.
Up the dose of THCV, however, and the picture changes. Larger amounts of THCV behave as a CB1 agonist, meaning that this once-nonpsychoactive cannabinoid is suddenly capable of plugging into CB1 receptors, producing a noticeable buzz. The high from THCV kicks in faster than THC but doesn’t last as long. It’s said to be a stimulating high that leaves the mind clear.
Medical Uses of THCV
THCV’s other effects may not be as noticeable when it’s used alongside the entire family of cannabinoids. They are powerful, however, when the cannabinoid is isolated and studied on its own. In its concentrated form, THCV holds great medical potential. Here are a few of the ways it’s being studied.
THCV has been touted for its appetite-suppressing qualities, with some marijuana strains being promoted as “marijuana without the munchies.” Because THCV is present in such low concentrations even in “high-THCV” strains, it’s unclear how effective it is as an appetite suppressant when used in whole-plant form. Studies are ongoing to see if concentrated THCV may have potential as a weight loss drug.
Researchers are also finding that THCV may be effective for diabetes. In studies on mice, it reduced insulin resistance and helped regulate blood sugar levels. THCV creates an increase in energy expenditure and reduces glucose intolerance, spurring scientists to label it “a new potential treatment” against obesity-associated diabetes.
THCV has antioxidant properties and activates the CB2 receptors while blocking the CB1 receptors. Scientists believe this makes THCV a promising treatment for Parkinson’s disease, as it can reduce symptoms such as tremors and may delay brain degeneration caused by lesions.
Inflammation and pain
Another benefit of THCV’s ability to activate CB2 receptors is its ability to calm inflammation. Pending more study, this may make it a potentially good anti-inflammatory treatment for many painful symptoms and conditions.
Scientists have been looking at minor cannabinoids to see what role they may play in the healing of bone fractures or treatment of diseases such as osteoporosis. THCV, for instance, has shown the ability to “stimulate the recruitment of quiescent mesenchymal stem cell present in bone marrow.” In other words, THCV can help with bone formation, making it a potentially useful weapon in the medical world.
THCV and THC: the Similarities and Differences
THCV and THC sound alike, leading to quite a bit of confusion about the two cannabinoids. While they do share some things in common, the effects of THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are actually quite different.
Their molecular structures look somewhat alike.
THCV is described as “the propyl-tailed analog of THC,” while THC is the homolog of THCV.
Both are phytocannabinoids.
This means that they’re plant-based cannabinoids, and both are derived from the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interact with receptors in the human body to mimic the effects of chemicals our bodies create naturally. THC, for example, plugs into the same receptors as anandamide, a natural antidepressant and pain killer.
Both originate from parent cannabinoids.
THCV and THC both originate from a parent cannabinoid before turning into their acidic forms (THCVA and THCA). They lose their carboxyl acids (and the A’s at the end of their names) when they’re exposed to heat and decarboxylated.
They originate from different parents.
Some of the better-known cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.) originate from CBGA before synthesizing into their acidic forms (THCA, CBDA…). Meanwhile, THCV begins as CBGVA and transforms into THCVA before it’s decarboxylated into THCV.
They affect appetite differently.
THC has become famous as an appetite stimulant, even being used as a treatment for people with medical conditions that cause wasting. Meanwhile, THCV does the opposite – working as an appetite suppressant and causing some dispensaries to tout high-THCV strains as “skinny weed.”
THCV is hard to find in high amounts.
Most marijuana strains on the market will have substantial amounts of THC, whether those amounts range from just a few percent all the way up into the twenties. THCV, meanwhile, is typically found in trace amounts. Many South African sativa strains have higher amounts of THCV than other strains, but the percentages will still be low compared to THC and CBD.
THCV Use in the Real World
While THCV may not generate intense and individually noticeable effects when marijuana is ingested, it likely creates subtle effects that contribute to the overall experience. Tetrohydrocannabivarin (THCV) does seem to counteract a bit of the high and appetite stimulation caused by THC, for example.
As for its potential as a medical treatment – a weight loss supplement or a treatment for brain disorders like Parkinson’s, for example – this remains to be seen. Very little research has been focused on THCV, and once results have been confirmed in a laboratory setting, it’s a long road towards applying them in the real world. Still, knowledge about THCV and the way it works is giving the world a small glimpse into the expansive puzzle that is marijuana and its potential for both recreational enjoyment and use as a medical treatment.
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