Oct 22, 2023
A 50-Year-Old Rare Cannabis Find
In 1970, researchers at the University of Oxford were investigating a cannabis sample when they found a chemical that had never before been known to science. It wasn’t THC or CBD, the two most famous compounds created by cannabis plants. They called this new compound tetrahydrocannabivarin, a mouthful of a word usually shortened to THCV.
For the next 50 years, THCV quietly developed a mythical status among cannabis connoisseurs, earning nicknames like the “sports car of weed” or “weederall” because it was rare and allegedly had astonishing effects. The few people who experienced it claimed THCV pot kept them awake while reducing their hunger. Cannabis hunters traveled across the world and risked their lives looking for THCV, yet no one seemed to be able to find a consistent supply of it.
Now, that’s all changing.
THCV is becoming increasingly available, particularly in California, where the legal weed market has become one of the best places in the world to find this rare pot product. Adults in California can now buy THCV mints infused with matcha, THCV pre-rolled joints, THCV pills and espresso-flavored THCV shots.
The boon is thanks mostly to two sources. The federal legalization of hemp in 2018 has greatly expanded the amount of synthetic cannabinoids in America, making it possible for companies to buy lab-made THCV in bulk. Cannabis farming companies have also made rapid advances in growing pot plants that are naturally rich in THCV.
Elizabeth Rice, the sales director for Kiva, an edible company, said now that THCV is available, retailers are clamoring to order the new products. The cannabis industry has been excited about selling THCV for years, Rice told SFGATE, but only recently has there been a stable enough supply of the compound.
“I have had retailers going, ‘Can you preorder this? Can you order it now? ’ That never happens,” Rice said.
Kiva launched two THCV gummy products this month. The new candies contain THCV alongside THC and other ingredients you normally see in energy drinks, like B vitamins, L-theanine and caffeine. Named “Focus” and “Energy,” both products promise to give customers the stimulating effects THCV has long promised.
As with nearly all claims relating to cannabis, there is a major caveat: None of these products have been proved to have any specific effects, nor have they been evaluated in any Food and Drug Administration clinical trials. Without human testing on specific products, no one can definitively say what THCV does or does not do — but there’s enough evidence to make even scientists excited about THCV’s possibilities.
A brief overview of the science behind a “high”: Nearly all cannabis compounds act on a specific type of receptor that regulates physiological processes like metabolism, memory and pain and is heavily concentrated in our brains. THC, the most common cannabis compound, partially activates this receptor, thus often having the effect of dulling pain and increasing short-term forgetfulness.
THCV, however, can have the opposite effect on this receptor, effectively turning it down. That could be why the compound is associated with what sound like anti-weed effects, like keeping people awake instead of putting them to sleep and reducing hunger instead of giving people munchies. A very small clinical trial from 2016 that tried to evaluate THCV’s mental effects found that THCV appeared to reduce forgetfulness. Another clinical trial published last month found that the compound was associated with an increase in “energetic” feelings.
There are also potential health benefits related to metabolism. Studies using rodents have found that THCV can reduce appetite, body weight and resting glucose levels, all signs that it could be a candidate to treat metabolic disorders like diabetes. That research was further validated in one of the only placebo-controlled clinical trials on THCV: A clinical trial published in 2016 found that people with Type 2 diabetes who were given THCV had lower fasting glucose levels, which are a predictor of the disease.
It bears repeating: None of these studies prove that THCV or any product containing THCV has specific effects on humans. There have simply been too few studies with too small of sample sizes to provide conclusive results.
These early studies are why the pot industry is so excited about bringing THCV products to market — despite its high cost. Nicole Daryanani, a sales manager for Kiva, told SFGATE that THCV is the most expensive cannabis compound on the market, costing 10 times the price of conventional THC.
But at last, the supply is there. California is seeing a wave of THCV products largely thanks to Phylos Bioscience, a breeding company based in Oregon that developed cannabis plants that can test over 20% THCV by weight, according to test results shared with SFGATE by Phylos. That’s a previously unheard-of potency for THCV cannabis.
These new plants are one of Kiva’s THCV sources, according to Daryanani.
FILE: A cannabis plant grows outdoors in Calif.
Phylos CEO Ralph Risch told SFGATE that the company is working with a handful of cannabis companies in California to supply the market. Risch said Phylos is focusing on THCV because it appeals to consumers who are looking for energizing and motivating benefits from cannabis instead of just getting high. He added that the company is funding a clinical trial in California to test exactly how THCV affects humans, with results expected in early 2024.
“There are other benefits people want to get from cannabis, and this seemed to create a new category of consumption,” Risch said.
THCV has been intriguing scientists and connoisseurs for decades — even if still no one knows exactly what it does to people. Now that it’s becoming widely available, answers could finally be on the horizon in California.