There are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant—of which tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most well studied. But as we learn more about marijuana, interest in other cannabinoids, like tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), is on the rise.
Recently, THCV has been garnering some interest due to its reported ability to suppress appetite and lessen some of THC’s psychoactive effects. But the cannabinoid may be able to do more than that: THCV’s ability to influence the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system may make it useful in the treatment of certain conditions like:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Obesity and type 2 diabetes
How THCV Can Affect the Endocannabinoid System
Similar to your body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant work on the endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors located throughout the body. Currently, we know of two receptors in this system: CB1 and CB2.
CB1 is most prevalent in the brain and spinal cord, though it’s also found throughout the body. CB2 is often found in immune cells, the gastrointestinal system and as we continue to learn more, the skeletal system. Research on the CB2 receptor suggests that influencing it with medications could regulate inflammation throughout the body.
Just as endocannabinoids attach to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, the compounds in cannabis— THC, CBD and THCV—are also able to attach to or influence these receptors. Much of the research surrounding THCV says that in the right amounts, it’s a CB1 antagonist and a CB2 agonist.
In other words, THCV can attach to the CB1 receptor and keep other molecules from binding to it; and it can attach to the CB2 receptor to bring about certain effects. Much of THCV’s therapeutic potential relies on these abilities.
THCV May Protect Brain Cells & Reduce Inflammation in Parkinson’s Disease
In Parkinson’s disease, the body doesn’t make enough dopamine, a chemical that plays a role in:
Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system is out of balance in those with this disorder. In late-stage Parkinson’s, where characteristic symptoms like tremors and rigidity appear, there’s an increase in CB1 receptor density and activity.
In addition, inflammation in the brain can further worsen the disease, which is why researchers think that influencing the CB2 receptor, which plays a role in our body’s inflammatory response, could help slow or even reverse the disease.
Given what researchers know about CB1 overactivity in Parkinson’s patients coupled with CB2’s ability to alleviate inflammation, THCV seems like a good therapeutic fit: It can stop substances from binding to CB1 and reduce overactivity. It can also activate CB2 and maybe even ease inflammation.
In a study published in 2016 in the British Journal of Pharmacology, scientists tested the effects of THCV in rats with Parkinson’s disease. They found that the cannabinoid improved motor function and had a protective effect on brain cells.
They hypothesized that these effects were due to THCV’s antioxidant properties and its ability to attach to CB2. Overall, with more research they concluded that THCV could be useful in slowing progression and reducing symptoms of Parkinson’s.
THCV May Help Diabetics Control Their Blood Sugar Levels
Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose, a simple sugar, that’s in your blood. WIth type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t respond properly to insulin, or it doesn’t make enough of it. This leads to high levels of glucose in the blood, also known as high blood sugar. There’s no definitive cause for type 2 diabetes, but contributing factors may include obesity and lack of exercise.
A 2013 study on obese mice found that THCV could control blood sugar and make the body properly respond to insulin. The study’s researchers speculate that the cannabinoid was able to do this by binding to CB1 receptors. That said, they say more research is needed because there could be other factors at play.
THC and CBD both show potential in helping those with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. However, THCV may show the most promise: It actually went through a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with good results. In the study, which was published in Emerging Technologies and Therapeutics, researchers found THCV reduced glucose levels, while also improving the function of beta-cells, which make the hormone insulin.
THCV May Reduce Bone Loss
Osteoporosis is a disease that occurs when your body makes too little bone tissue, loses too much bone mass, or both. Though there are no studies directly showing that THCV can help with osteoporosis, research on the CB2 receptor suggests that THCV may have therapeutic potential.
CB2 has been found on cells that make bone tissue and also on cells that reabsorb bone, prompting scientists to speculate that CB2 regulates bone mass. So far, studies on both mice and humans seem to say that this is true.
Mice who are deficient in CB2 receptors tend to lose bone tissue more quickly than their healthy counterparts do. And in humans, researchers have looked at variations in the gene that codes for the CB2 receptor. They found that people with two particular variations in this gene were more likely to have osteoporosis.
Though we still don’t fully understand the role of the CB2 receptor in bone health, substances that attach to it may help those with osteoporosis. Indeed, researchers have already tested compounds that have an affinity for the receptor, and they’ve found that these substances can reduce bone loss. Since THCV can also attach to CB2, this suggests that it may also have similar benefits.
Though much remains to be studied, it’s clear that THCV’s ability to bind to CB2 and block substances from attaching to CB1 can have applications to a number of diseases.