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?
THCV, short for tetrahydrocannabivarin, is one of the lesser-known cannabinoid compounds. THCV is relatively under-studied in the medical community; in fact, there’s still some disagreement about whether it has psychoactive properties at all. Some studies even suggest that THCV activates CB1 receptors at higher doses, but acts as a CB1 antagonist at lower doses.
THCV is found in very small quantities in most strains of cannabis, so you’re likely to encounter it in combination with THC and other cannabinoids, rather than in isolation.
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.
It’s “the sports car of cannabinoids,” according to one California cannabis testing lab. That’s certainly a sexier way of referring to the THCV molecule than by its full name, tetrahydrocannabivarin. But the zippy tagline might be misleading. While some claim the little-known cannabinoid packs a punch—“a powerful high without the munchies,” one website promises—the science tells a different, much more complicated story.
THCV and the Endocannabinoid System
To understand how the body uses cannabinoids like THC, you first need to understand a key internal system that may not have shown up in your high school biology textbooks: the endocannabinoid system. This complex, built-in mechanism allows you to respond to cannabinoids using a network of receptors scattered throughout the body. Found in almost every major organ system—from the brain and spinal cord to the gastrointestinal tract—these receptors help your body regulate its health and achieve homeostasis.
The endocannabinoid system contains two major types of receptors. CB1 receptors are predominantly linked to the brain and nervous system, while CB2 receptors primarily influence the immune system. These receptors, along with enzymes that aid in cleanup after endocannabinoid system processes take place, help our bodies maintain a stable internal environment.
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.
Researchers haven’t been talking about THCV for long. In the 1960s, scientists were isolating and identifying all sorts of new cannabinoids: CBD, CBG, CBC, CBDV, and—in a seminal 1970 paper—THCV. The vast majority of study, understandably, focused on that intriguingly psychoactive molecule, THC.
Does THCV Cause a High?
As science dives deeper into the physiological effects of lesser-known compounds in cannabis, there’s always that voice calling from the sideline:
“Yeah, but does it get you high?”
When it comes to THCV, the answer is… probably. We’re not 100% sure yet.
This is science, after all. It’s complicated.
Early studies suggested THCV was about a quarter as potent as THC in this regard, meaning it did seem to exhibit psychoactive effects. But later research suggested something interesting: The behavior of the molecule seems to change depending on the dose.
At lower doses, THCV acted as a CB1 antagonist—in very, very simple terms: does not get you high. At higher doses, however, it can switch, behaving as a CB1 agonist, much like THC. In other words, take a lot of THCV, and zoom—it’ll tickle that CB1 receptor and produce a psychoactive buzz.
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.
The buzz associated with THCV, from what little science has studied it, appears to be clear-headed and stimulating. It’s said to intensify the euphoria of THC—although it doesn’t last as long. A THCV-induced high seems to set in quickly yet fade faster, demonstrating about half the duration of THC.
THCV seems to act a bit like CBD in that it modulates and dampens some traditional effects of THC.
There are good reasons beyond the buzz to study THCV. If you’ve read about the cannabinoid before, for example, you’ve probably read of lab tests that show the cannabinoid can suppress food consumption and even encourage weight loss.
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.
Uses of THCV
Though it’s similar to THC in molecular structure, THCV has been shown to have very different physical effects in a small number of scientific studies. 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.
Unlike THC, THCV has been found to dull the appetite, indicating possible benefits for consumers interested in weight loss.
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.
Anxiety and PTSD
Like many cannabinoids, THCV may be an effective option for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.
There are also indications THCV could reduce anxiety attacks in PTSD patients, improve tremors and motor control problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and stimulate the growth of bone cells. Research suggests it may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
We’ve long been dazzled by the sparkle of THC. We’re starting to understand the sway of CBD. 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. THCV and other less obvious cannabinoids are proving to be captivating worlds of their own. What a universe a single plant can unlock.