THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, is the molecular cousin to the most famous cannabinoid, THC. It is found mostly in sativa strains of cannabis and, like THC, fits into the same microscopic chemical receptors in the central nervous system and immune system. Unlike THC, THCV is either mildly or not psychoactive and is actually one of the more common cannabinoids. It may constitute up to half of the cannabinoids, by volume, present in a particular strain of cannabis. This largely unknown chemical is more accurately deemed a phytocannabinoid, meaning it is a plant-based cannabinoid that works in tandem with the human body’s endocannabinoid system.
Another way in which THCV is similar to THC is medicinal efficacy. THCV has been shown to delivery relief and therapy to patients with conditions as wide ranging as epilepsy, PTSD, and even obesity. However, tetrahydrocannabivarin beats the stereotype regarding how pot causes the munchies (excessive appetite). It is actually known to suppress one’s appetite and is being investigated as a therapy for obesity and related eating disorders. A reduction in the obesity epidemic would result in across the board decreases in diseases like diabetes and heart disease, including heart attacks (the leading killer of men and women in the United States) — among many others.
In addition to decreasing appetite, THCV is also known to buffer the psychoactive effects of THC. It makes sense that THCV is present in the largest quantities in potent sativa strains, which are most capable of delivering a sometimes debilitating psychological blow in the form of paranoia, disorientation, and confusion. Could it be that those strains that cause adverse reactions in some users are the result of a lack of THCV and too little buffering of the sometimes very potent effects of THC? According to new research, the answer is yes.
A recent study released in November 2015 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that THCV not only buffers adverse side effects, like paranoia, of strong sativas, but also decreases the memory impairment of THC and its ability to increase heart rate (especially directly following initial consumption). The particular study also indicated that THCV carries no psychoactive effect; human participants could not discern between THCV and a placebo. This result goes counter to research dating back to the 1970s that indicated this cannabinoid delivers a very mild and energizing psychoactive effect.
As laboratory testing becomes increasingly common in legal states, results are indicating that sativa strains show higher levels of THCV. As more information becomes available — be it anecdotal, research-based, or even human trials — it is quickly becoming apparent that cannabis medicine is much more than merely THC and CBD. With more than 111 cannabinoids and 200 terpenes available in the cannabis plant, a solid understanding of the efficacy of individual cannabinoids for particular diseases and condition is critical.
A better knowledge of the delicate and synergistic interplay of these volatile molecules, something called the entourage effect, is necessary to properly address the needs of both patients and lifestyle users. Until research is permitted in the United States into the full medical efficacy of cannabis for a variety of major and minor diseases, medical professionals, caretakers, and patients themselves will be left wondering if they are getting the right medicine for their symptoms.
Currently, cannabis is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of the federal government, meaning it officially and legally has no medical value whatsoever and is as addictive as heroin or bath salts (also in Schedule I). Less restricted Schedule II features drugs like methamphetamines and cocaine, both of which can be prescribed by a doctor.
Legislators and business leaders must recognize that cannabis medicine offers not only tremendous benefits to patients with literally hundreds of different diseases, but also the hope of economic growth, decreased climate change (read about the benefits of hemp here), and lower pollution levels. The removal of cannabis from Schedule I is first necessary to allow robust research and human trials into the efficacy of cannabinoids like THCV.