THCV: A Marijuana Cannabinoid for Weight Loss and Diabetes Prevention?

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The cannabis sativa plant, marijuana, produces dozens of cannabinoids. The THC cannabinoid that elicits psychoactivity, and numerous medical benefits, is but one of over 60 phyto (plant-based) cannabinoids found in cannabis. Cannabidiol or CBD, is a second, now under intense study for its anti-inflammatory and other health properties. Another of these phytocannabinoids is  tetrahydrocannabivarin or THCV. Cannabis strains favoring this cannabinoid might serve as tools for weight loss and preventing diabetes.

Medical research on cannabinoids has flourished in recent years and most research points to health positive effects of medical cannabis for a wide range of conditions. Cannabis has been found to be neuroprotective, anti-painantioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatoryanti-tumor as well as cardioprotective. One area, though, where research is less positive is in the metabolic effects of cannabinoid receptor activation. Activation of the endocannabinoid regulatory system, an effect of THC and human endogenous cannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG, seemed to correlate with some health-negative metabolic conditions. Conversely, blockage of this activation with synthetic cannabinoid antagonists (e.g. rimonabant) correlated with health positive cardio-metabolic changes. As listed by the European RIO study, some positive changes induced by blocking CB1 receptors include positive changes in body weight, waist circumference, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, adiponectin, fasting insulin and insulin resistance.

Because of these effects on the endocannabinoid system, it has long been assumed that cannabis consumption would tend to cause weight gain. These metabolic effects and enhanced eating because of amplified taste, i.e. “munchie effects” would theoretically make marijuana users ravenous and fat. To the surprise of many, several studies have now found that cannabis users are actually less fat than their abstaining counterparts. As reported here, marijuana users tend to be less obese and less diabetic than non-users.  Their waists were smaller. These real life observations seem to contradict the supposed munchie effect and predicted effects of CB1 activation. Such health positive indication by cannabis users may even be amplified with development of THCV-heavy cannabis weight loss products e.g. edibles for appetite suppression.

For some people eating does often follow use of THC-heavy marijuana.  Indeed, important medical uses of cannabis include treatment of the wasting syndrome and lack of appetite from chemotherapy. But by no means does everyone using cannabis each time become ravenous. Depending on the person, the setting and the cannabis, consuming cannabis is often a prelude to cardiovascular exercise, not gluttonous indolence. As much as taste enjoyment is enhanced by cannabis for some, for others (or for the same people at other times.) the sensory enjoyment of exercise is enhanced. With cannabis, activities like running can hurt less and feels better, even ecstatic. Might a higher THCV-content cannabis both dampen appetite and create an energetic cannabis experience encouraging exercise?

For a short time in 2005 and 2006, it looked this CB1 receptor antagonist, the synthetic cannabinoid rimonabant, might be a powerful anti-obesity drug. Problems arose for this promising weight loss and metabolic drug, though, from its blockage of the endocannabinoid system. Ananadamide and THC are blissful, because they activate this system. Blockage of the system, it seems, is anti-blissful, with feelings of anxiety and depression common. Also worrisome was blockage of the positive health effects of medical cannabis, e.g. glaucoma reduction and pain relief. For example, cannabis is an anti-nausea drug offering immense relief to chemotherapy patients. And indeed, nausea was another of the symptoms bothering those taking this synthetic “anti-marijuana.” Depression and nausea are probably not part of an effective weigh loss program.

After approval in Europe and other countries, rimonabant was rejected by the FDA. It has since lost favor in Europe. An obese world lost a potentially useful weight control product. Could there be other options? As it turns out one of the phyto-cannabinoids from the cannabis plants, THCV, may have potential. Although its interactions with THC, other cannabinoids and the cannabinoid receptor system are complex, recent research found that THCV is a CB1 and CB2 receptor antagonist. Seemingly, this would make for “downer cannabis,” blocking the CB1 receptors that THC activate, but that does not seem to be the case. It is possible THCV intensive cannabis might offer the appetite reduction and  and positive cardiometabolic effects of Rimonabant without the negatives of the synthetic drug. This is especially true when the THCV is mixed, with other cannabinoids, as found in cannabis. A cannabis with high THCV and low or moderate THC and CBD might be ideal.

Seminal cannabis researcher and discoverer of THC, Raphael Mechoulam, in British Journal of Pharmacology in 2005, discussed the apparent unique properties and posed several research questions. He notes, as has Scottish researcher Roger G. Pertwee, that THCV content can be very high in hashish from Pakistan. Despite these high levels of the supposed CB1 receptor antagonist THCV, Pakistani hashish has no apparent  “downer” aspect depressing the user. Perhaps this is due to the presence of the other 60 cannabinoids.

THCV’s appetite-reducing and fat loss potential await studies, as do new cannabis cultivars enhancing this cannabinoid. Except, of course, no studies on the medical potential of cannabis are allowed in the USA by the DEA.  Americans, so in need of useful weight loss products, will have to wait until the research is done in places like Israel, Spain and Portugal.

Copyright © 2013 Don Fitch

Cannabinoids 1988 – The Day the DEA told the truth

With 2008 just behind us, this post looks back not across last year, but farther back, 20 years. 1988 witnessed a remarkable event. On September 6 of that year the federal bureaucracy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, told the truth. This may be the only case of veracity by the DEA during its meteoric 35 year history.

The uncharacteristic truthfulness from the DEA came from one of its own administrative law judges, Francis L. Young, in his report and recommendations to the agency on the prospect of reducing cannabis’ Schedule 1 status.  Such extreme status supports governmental torments inflicted upon Americans nearly equal to the tortures of the Inquisition for mere possession of plant material used by humans over the last 12,000 years. Instead of tools of physical torture, the new Drug War brought torments such as the family and soul-killing horrors of mandatory minimum sentences and asset forfeitures.

Zero-tolerance zealotry inflamed Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, along with authoritarian senators, such Joe Biden and John Ashcroft, and Torquemada-like prosecutors such as Eric Holder and Rudy Giuliani in the 1980s. Their ire was written into harsh new drug laws and sentencing scheduling. New legislation began allowing drug war bureaucrats to make war against a sub-set of Americans

  • These laws allowed the DEA and even local police to take Americans’ property away from them and give it, in part, to police agencies.
  • The same laws encouraged police to take Americans’ liberty away from them and give it to the mushrooming prison/industrial complex.

Cannabis sativa, of all drugs, was the center of this ever-growing drug war. Crack cocaine got the headlines, but as always, marijuana users suffered the most arrests. “Just say no” campaigns and DARE programs, along with beer and cigarette company planned and financed drug-free America campaign, institutionalized lying about cannabis. This drug has none of the violence promotion of alcohol, or the addictiveness or lethality of cigarettes, and even then showed strong medical utility. Nonetheless, it was denounced by the DEA and essentially the entire US government, as without medical value and dangerously addictive, fully supportive of its harsh schedule 1 status.

Into this maelstrom came a voice of calm from DEA law judge Francis L. Young. His investigation into the correctness of Schedule 1 for cannabis resulted in a set of talking points remarkable in their clarity and a direct challenge to the plant’s draconian rating:

  • The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision.
  • Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality.
  • Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.
  • It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.

Such findings caused Judge Young to reject the agency’s claim for Schedule 1 status for cannabis. What was the result of truth being told to power? Essentially nothing.

The DEA continued, of course, to be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious and stubbornly clung to the draconian scheduling of cannabis that accounted for (and still accounts for) so much that agency’s total activity. Like any bureaucracy, the DEA is protective of its turf, and persecuting cannabis makes up huge portion of the agency’s reason for existing.

Since Judge Young’s honest but futile ruling, over 10 million Americans have suffered arrest and the resulting damage to their lives and families for possession of a relatively harmless and medically beneficial plant substance.

Californians voted in 1996 to exempt medical cannabis users from prosecution. Clinton administration drug warrior Rahm Emanuel participated in the attempted persecution of physicians who might advise patient’s of cannabis medical benefit. Emanuel actually said “We’re against the message that the initiative sends to children.” Apparently young people might be damaged by being made aware of the medical benefits of a plant? Attempts by Emanuel and the Clinton administration at muting physicians suffered defeat at the hands of the US Supreme Court when such heavy-handedness was declared as a violation of free speech.

During the ensuing 20 years since Judge Young’s refreshing candor, essentially nothing has changed at the federal level. During this time, the discovery of the endocannabinoid receptor system has redefined our understanding of the workings of the human body. Cannabis remains as Schedule 1, despite 20 years of research, performed mostly outside the USA, showing huge medical value as an anti-inflammatory, neuro-protectant and pain relievers. Instead, over 800,000 Americans suffer arrests each year, more than one cannabis arrest each minute. Although these mass arrests seem to have no effect on use of cannabis, it does serve as a colossal jobs program for urine testers, snitches, cops, DEA agents, drug counselors and jailers.

After 20 years since Judge Young told the truth, many Americans hoped the election of Barack Obama might signal a new direction. Perhaps the drug war might be reconsidered by better minds? Perhaps the incarcerated nation with over 2 million of its citizens behind bars might be reexamined/ Perhaps decades of lies and tens of millions of arrests for possession of a beneficial plant might end? But now things do not look hopeful. Barack Obama, for some reason, has placed in key positions, including Attorney General, the worst of the drug war zealots of the Clinton administration. Probably none of them have heard of the DEA law judge and his findings of the relative harmlessness of cannabis and the great injustice in demonizing the plant in draconian legal code as Schedule 1. Nor would they care. After all, it sends the wrong message to children.