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



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

Excellent video on cannabis and cannabinoids with Michael Pollan.

This material is from Michael Pollan’s new DVD of his book, The Botany of Desire.  Pollan narrates how cannabis has flourished by making itself useful to humankind. The DVD provides an excellent, graphic review of THC and anandamide and the endocannabinoid system. It features legendary cannabis/cannabinoid researcher, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam

Anandamide Why did they call it bliss?

In Jerusalem in the year 1992, Ananda, the Sanskrit word for bliss, named a newly identified molecule. Anandamide was given as name to the cannabinoid molecule first discovered being produced in the human body, that is, the first endocannabinoid. This revelation solved a decade’s old mystery. The discovery of anandamide and the receptor system it stimulates has greatly changed and grown our knowledge of the structure and functioning of our human bodies. What has been learned already offers to better our health and well-being.

A mystery and a great discovery.

The great discovery begins wrapped in a mystery: In the mid 1960’s researchers in Israel identified the active component of the plant Cannabis Sativa. Then, over a quarter century later, in 1990, researchers indentified natural receptors activated by this plant cannabinoid. The discovery of these receptors found them first in the brain, then throughout the human body.

The mystery: Why should human beings have a natural receptor system triggered by molecules from the flowers of a plant?

The discovery of the human cannabinoid receptor system and the natural substances that activate this system extends our knowledge of human body and its workings. The beneficial properties associated with the activation and modulation of this newly found system are profound: They offer a whole host of beneficial physiological functions including preventative and curative effects for many commonly afflicting diseases. Medicine in the 21st century will be fundamentally altered by the discovery of this system and the natural molecules we produce to manage it.

Jerusalem Journey

Jerusalem is sacred ground in many ways. It is central to three of the world’s most influential religions, and home to many of their key relics, both present and long past. The Wailing Wall, The Dome of the Rock and the Garden Tomb keep uneasy company with each other and with the ghosts of ancient structures, such as the Second Temple, twenty centuries ago burned to ash by the legions of Rome.

During all these thousands of years of Jerusalem history, back 1,000 years to the Crusades, back 2.000 years to the time Christ walked the city’s streets, and much further back, thousands of more years back, something else was constant in the land. Down these long centuries, humans were cultivating, trading and using a weedy plant across the Middle East of which Jerusalem is the center. The fast growing cannabis sativa provided its cultivators with useful fiber, nutritious seeds, potent medications and perhaps even helped stoke their spirituality.

Dr. Raphael  Mechoulam’s discoveries began when he undertook the investigation of the active components of cannabis sativa, the plant so long used in the Middle East for relieving aches and pains, inflammation and a score of other ails, and for enjoying its bliss-giving properties. He began by securing a chunk of hashish, concentrated products of the flowering female plant. In 1964 at the Weissmann Institute of Science at the Rehovoth campus of Hebrew University, he and his team discovered the major active ingredient in cannabis, THC.[i]
But that is the story of a later post.

[i] Gaoni, Y.; Mechoulam, R. Isolation, structure, and partial synthesis of an active constituent of hashish. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1964, 86, 1646-1650.