THCV is one of over a hundred cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, and scientists are currently probing the molecule for potential therapeutic effects. Research is still early, but the minor cannabinoid has displayed several interesting properties. Keep reading to find out more.
THCV—or tetrahydrocannabivarin—is a close relative of THC, but slight differences in chemical structure mean it has a unique influence on the body. Indeed, it's this very influence that researchers are keen to explore, as THCV may work alongside other cannabinoids to impact the endocannabinoid system. The only problem is that THCV is much harder to isolate in large quantities than some other cannabinoids, and this makes extensive trials difficult to facilitate.
However, to understand why THCV is hard to get hold of, we first need to take a few steps back and examine the top of the cannabinoid family tree.
All cannabinoids stem from the precursor molecule CBGA; it's via several chemical reactions that this one cannabinoid slowly becomes over a hundred different compounds. Of course, not all of these cannabinoids exist at the same time or in the same ratio, which is where the difficulty in isolating THCV begins.
THCV is produced during the early stages of a hemp plant's development. A derivative of CBGA (CBGVA) interacts with enzymes to become CBDVA, CBCVA, and THCVA. After going through decarboxylation, THCVA loses a carboxyl group to become THCV. While this is similar to how we get major compounds such as CBD and THC, much less THCVA is available to convert to THCV.
As we've highlighted, getting hold of THCV is challenging. In mature hemp or cannabis plants, levels are naturally very low. Some cultivars are exclusively bred to contain more significant levels of THCV, but these are few and far between. The hope is that as breeders get to grips with cannabis and hemp genetics, it'll be possible to develop accessible THCV-rich cultivars.
That said, with THCV-rich hemp in hand, the extraction process is similar to isolating and extracting CBD. Raw plant material is processed using sophisticated CO₂ extraction, and the various cannabinoids are separated and condensed, allowing for unique formulations.
THC and THCV are very similar on a molecular level, with only a slight difference in their carbon side chain (the former has a 3-carbon side chain, while the latter has 5). It may seem slight, but the variance in chemical structure alters THCV's effect on the body.
It's important to note that both cannabinoids can produce a high-like sensation. While THC's impact is potent and profound, THCV produces a more stimulating and less intoxicating sensation. However, unlike THC, THCV exerts a dose-dependent effect, meaning you need to consume significantly more THCV to feel its euphoric effects.
Having briefly mentioned the mechanics of THCV, it makes sense to dive a little deeper into how the compound works. As pointed out, THCV's interaction with the ECS appears dose-dependent, meaning a low dose exerts a different outcome than a high dose.
Both THCV and THC are agonists of CB1 receptors, increasing their firing rate as a result. However, low doses of THCV may actually block CB1 receptors and inhibit the psychotropic effect of THC. In contrast, high doses appear to activate these sites and produce a psychotropic effect.
THCV also appears to target CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, which are associated with inflammation and other functions of the immune system.
While workplace drug tests don't specifically look for THCV, its close relation to THC means it has the potential to trigger a positive result. Given the limited availability of THCV-specific products, it's more than likely that consumption of THCV will come from THC-rich cannabis, which still presents significant legal issues in much of the US and Europe.
While scientists try to establish better detection methods for THCV and other cannabinoids, it's best to avoid THC-related products if they are not legal in your area.
THCV holds many untapped secrets. We're still in the early days of cannabis science, and human trials are needed to paint a clear picture of THCV's effects. For now, we have to rely on animal and cell research as clues to the molecule's potential.
The most researched aspect of THCV is its potential link with appetite. A critical review of research containing the keywords "THCV", "obesity", "body weight", "metabolism", and "diabetes" highlighted several possible "mechanisms of action within the ECS".
In one of the animal models examined, the researchers noted that orally administered THCV impacted the mice's body weight and total food intake. It's thought that this interaction stems from THCV's binding affinity with receptors in the brain.
Studies are also examining a possible interaction between THCV and inflammation. Researchers already know that THCV can block CB1 receptors (in low doses), so they aimed to see if and how the cannabinoid affects CB2 receptors.
By monitoring the levels of cytokines associated with CB2 receptors, the review found encouraging results. Of course, the jump from an animal model to the human body is significant. While these results point to a potential mechanism of action, it's too early to tell how THCV impacts inflammation and the immune system at large.
The evidence examining THCV against epilepsy is still in preclinical stages, but research has uncovered some interesting potential mechanisms of action. Most notably, a 2021 paper suggests that THCV's effects are not only dose-dependent, but activate the ECS in region-specific areas. The implications of this discovery are significant, and could lead to targeted applications of specific cannabinoid formulas.
The paper also highlights another key reason researchers are keen to explore the potential of compounds such as THCV, CBDV, and CBG—their "favourable side effect profiles". Unfortunately, the preclinical evidence does rely heavily on in-vitro (outside the human body) designs. More placebo-controlled clinical trials are needed to bring all of the compound's potentially favourable elements together.
Because we don't know much about the effects of THCV in humans, the cannabinoid’s range of side effects is also unclear. However, THCV's activation of CB1 receptors in high doses means it could share some of the potential side effects of THC, such as anxiety, paranoia, dry mouth, red eyes, short-term memory loss, increased heart rate, and slowed reaction time.
It's important to highlight that the safety of THCV remains under review. While it’s generally accepted that the cannabinoid's effects are dose-dependent, there is still the risk of psychotropic effects, albeit to a milder degree than its close counterpart, THC. THCV appears to show a favourable safety profile despite its subtly intoxicating influence, although we should stress that the cannabinoid has yet to be observed extensively in human trials.
When talking about safety, it's also prudent to discuss legality. THCV occupies somewhat of a grey area when it comes to the law. The molecule isn't widely recognised or explicitly prohibited, but tends to be illegal by default because of its links to "marijuana extract".
• The Psychoactive Substances Act in the United Kingdom bans any substance capable of producing a psychoactive effect, thereby criminalising THCV levels above a specific threshold.
• The United States government doesn't specifically classify THCV as a Schedule I substance, but cannabis and its derivatives are illegal at a federal level (state laws differ).
Despite being classed as a minor cannabinoid, THCV has a lot of potential, especially when considered alongside non-intoxicating compounds such as CBD or CBG.
The difficulty, of course, is not only navigating the complex legal restrictions, but isolating enough of the compound to draw accurate conclusions. The hope is that the research supporting THCV will develop in kind with consumer interest.
Browse the Cibdol store today to explore the combined influence of cannabinoids like CBD, CBDA, CBG, and much more. And to learn more about the potential of minor cannabinoids like THCV, visit our CBD Encyclopedia for everything you need to know.
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