As many of our dedicated Marijuana.com readers already know, cannabis is a complex plant filled with a wide variety of healing cannabinoids and terpenes. Today, we’re going to shine the spotlight on a compelling cannabinoid that is rarely the center of attention — tetrahydrocannabivarin, better known as THCV.
THCV is a unique phytocannabinoid that has peaked the interest of many cannabis researchers as more of its extensive therapeutic benefits are uncovered. Cannabis scientists have discovered that THCV has an incredible ability to improve symptoms of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, control and reduce epileptic seizures, stimulate bone growth, regulate diabetes, and most notably for our interests, ease the symptoms of severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Researchers have shown that when cannabis is consumed, it activates endogenous cannabinoid receptors in the body which generate a wide range of effects in the central nervous system. It is believed that this cannabis-derived shift in the central nervous system is responsible for managing the three core PTSD symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance-numbing, and hyperarousal.
Who is affected by PTSD?
Every year in the United States, approximately 5.2 million people are diagnosed with PTSD. Individuals who have served combat tours in the military are undoubtedly more vulnerable; according to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), almost 31% of Vietnam veterans are suffering from diagnosed PTSD; at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or clinical Depression. Recent reports released by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) show that every day approximately 22 military service members take their own lives. Symptoms of PTSD range in severity and affect each person uniquely, but those who suffer from PTSD are also at risk for developing other issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, chronic pain, hypertension and even asthma.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, nearly 60% of males and 50% of females will experience at least one severe traumatic event in their lifetime.
What exactly defines PTSD?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders created a PTSD Checklist for veterans that outlines the three core symptom clusters: re-experiencing, avoidance-numbing, and hyperarousal. Re-experiencing symptoms include vivid flashbacks that cause the patient to relive their traumatic experience, avoidance-numbing causes a lack of emotion that can seriously damage personal relationships and well-being, and hyperarousal triggers irritability, lack of focus, over-worrying, and increased sensitivity to stimulation. If these symptoms are experienced in combination for at least one month and to an extent where they are interfering with daily life, then the patient meets the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
Is anyone studying cannabis use for PTSD?
While there are some studies being conducted on the benefits of marijuana use for easing PTSD symptoms, they are few and far between. However, there have been promising results from various study groups such as one out of New Mexico as summarized by the CannabisClinicians.org, “Greer GR [and colleagues Grob CS and Halberstadt AL] performed a review–based study of 80 patients with PTSD participating in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. The total CAPS score (a test that measures PTSD severity) for reexperiencing, avoidance–numbing, and hyperarousal symptoms were significantly reduced (p < 0.0001) when patients were using cannabis relative to scores obtained under the no-cannabis condition. Overall, patients reported more than 75% reductions in all three areas of PTSD symptoms while using cannabis.”
But as the authors at CannabisClinicians.org point out, these positive studies have some holes that critics will use to discredit the benefits, “While this study sheds some light on the possibility of medical cannabis being an effective treatment for PTSD, it lacked a control sample of PTSD sufferers with no prior experience with cannabis and involved a large potential and motives for bias.”
Sue Sisley, M.D. is one of the leading doctors in the United States studying cannabis and its benefits for patients with PTSD. Dr. Sisley and her colleagues, Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., Marcel Bonn-Miller, Ph.D., and Paula Riggs, M.D., have recently been approved to conduct a historical placebo-controlled, triple-blind, randomized crossover, pilot study of the safety and efficacy of four different potencies of smoked marijuana in 76 veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. Unlike previous studies of cannabis use for PTSD, participants in this study must be diagnosed with PTSD that has not improved after trying other medication or psychotherapy. The study was awarded a $2.1 million grant from the Colorado State Department of Public Health and Environment to conduct this ground-breaking research.
Where can you find THCV?
While none of these studies analyze the use of THCV specifically, many medical marijuana patients have found long-sought relief by utilizing cannabis with a presence of THCV, even if that presence is minimal. THCV is often found in Sativa-dominant strains such as Black Beauty (aka Pineapple Purps), Doug’s Varin, Ace of Spades, Durban Poison, Jack the Ripper, Agent Orange, Tangie, Girl Scout Cookies, Hawaiian Dutch, and Pie Face OG.
THC vs. THCV: What’s the Difference?
On a molecular level, THCV has very slight differences to its cousin THC. THC has a pentyl (5-carbon) molecular tail whereas THCV has a propyl (3-carbon) tail. Don’t let this minimal molecular difference fool you, THCV is an entirely different beast than THC. Dr. Bonni Goldstein, in her new book Cannabis Revealed, explains how THCV works in the brain. At low doses, THCV binds to the cannabinoid receptor without causing a direct effect; it does, however, block other compounds from binding to the receptor. At higher doses, it binds to the receptor, giving THC-like effects. Interestingly enough, Steep Hill reports that “THCV is more strongly psychoactive than THC, but only has about half the duration of THC.” They found that THCV can actually modify the effects of THC, making the energetic effect stronger and more pronounced in a shorter amount of time. It’s important to note, that while THCV might provide a potent cerebral punch, it also calms any anxiety related with too much THC consumption.
More research is needed on cannabis treatment for PTSD but the personal experiences and scientific evidence gathered so far are very promising for those that are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.
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Cover photo courtesy of Roxana Gonzalez