The rapid spread of legalized cannabis has meant an equally rapid evolution of the research. Scientific study no longer focused strictly on delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), it is moving into the hundreds of other, lesser-known cannabis-derived compounds – including a minor cannabinoid called tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCv).
THCv is a propyl analog of Δ9-THC. Its journey begins as cannabigerovarin acid (CBGVA), then gradually synthesizes into tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCVA) throughout the plant's maturation. Other cannabinoids follow this same path of transformation. For example, cannabigerol acid (CBGA) transforms into CBDA and THCA.
THCVA drops the molecular acid component during its final conversion following the process of decarboxylation. Decarboxylation, commonly called decarbing, is the process of applying heat over time. Decarbing can either happen during the extraction process or through incineration or vaporization (smoking, vaping). Once THCVA is exposed to heat, the molecule transforms into THCv.
What We Know About THCv
THCv is very similar to THC at the molecular level, but it is non-intoxicating. It also has a slightly different relationship with endocannabinoid receptors compared with its THC cousin. Research has found it seems to be a CB1 antagonist and a partial agonist of CB2. Thanks to this difference, THCv may hold powerful antipsychotic properties.
Beyond its interaction with the endocannabinoid receptors, THCv also interacts with a non-cannabinoid receptor – 5HT1A. This relationship could also attribute to its antipsychotic effects.
Although in the very early stages of study, THCv holds the potential for several other therapeutic applications:
- Known Anticonvulsant – Along with Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), CBD, and cannabidivarin (CBDV), THCv is another known anticonvulsant agent.
- Improves Insulin Sensitivity – In a dietary-induced mouse model of diabetes, THCv improved insulin sensitivity, as published in a preliminary study from in 2013 in the Journal of Nutrition & Diabetes. According to the authors, “THCV did not significantly affect food intake or body weight gain in any of the studies but produced an early and transient increase in energy expenditure.”
- Neuroprotective Qualities – In an animal model of Parkinson's Disease, THCv has “a promising pharmacological profile.” Acute administration of this cannabinoid improved the symptoms of the disease, including reducing motor inhibitions. The authors attributed these benefits to the antioxidant properties of THCv as well as the way this cannabinoid blocks CB1 receptors while activating CB2 receptors.
Who is Producing It?
There are only a handful of producers of THCv worldwide, and its distribution is highly regulated based on its relationship with THC. Isolations are available as Certified Research Materials (CRMs), but at the time of writing, pure THCv isolates were not in production for commercial applications.
At the consumer level, Doug’s Varin, appropriately named after a strain of cannabis known to produce higher levels of THCv, in California, creates several THCv rich consumer goods, like tablets, pre-rolls, and tinctures. These typically contain unique ratios of many cannabinoids, not just THCv. They are not isolates.
Cannabis cultivators are actively responding to the shift if interest, to breed new strains selecting for the minor cannabinoids like THCv. Combined with technological advances within commercial extraction, we should soon expect to see new products hitting the market with minor cannabinoid isolations. With more research, the pharmaceutical industry could also lead the charge, chasing THCv as a therapeutic solution.