Marijuana’s capability as an appetite stimulant is well-documented. And, no, we’re not talking about the “munchies.” We’re referring to its ability to kick-start appetite in potentially life-threatening situations.
Cancer, for instance, can induce adverse metabolic changes in patients, causing them to lose their appetites and tissue in the process, which results in a condition called “cachexia.” Chemotherapy treatment and anti-cancer drugs often exacerbate these effects, but research shows medical cannabis can boost appetite, mood, and caloric intake in cancer patients, while simultaneously battling cancer cells.
AIDS patients similarly suffer from wasting syndrome, in which someone loses more than 10% of their body weight. Multiple studies have reported increased appetite and lowered nausea symptoms for HIV-positive subjects who consumed marijuana when compared to those who took a placebo.
This positive effect on appetite is predominantly associated with THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Marijuana contains at least 113 cannabinoids and one of them has received newfound attention for its opposite effect — suppressing appetite and potentially improving energy levels.
It’s called THCV and it’s similar to THC. The two cannabinoids share psychoactive elements and molecular structure, but their differences have caused intrigue in the scientific community.
A 2018 Molecular Biology study described THCV as an “anomaly” of the cannabis plant and represents the only known phytocannabinoid to act as an antagonist in the CB1 receptors in your body’s endocannabinoid system. In fact, a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology reports that low doses of THCV can counteract some of THC’s mind-altering, intoxicating effects while potentiating others.
Most surprisingly, the study found THCV’s antagonist effect had the reverse impact on appetite than THC. The mechanism works like this: THCV triggers your brain, specifically the amygdala region, to associate types of food consumption with an unpleasant sensation. The more you ate, the less you’d enjoy it, the study found. This was found particularly true with greasy, fatty foods.
“By increasing the tendency on the part of appetitive regions to assess food as unpleasant, this effect may decrease time to satiety as food becomes unpleasant on repeated consumption, in turn reducing overall consumption,” the study’s authors wrote.
This has caused others to suggest THCV as a possible tool in fighting obesity, without possible side effects such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia present in current anti-obesity drugs.
The only problem? Most cannabis strains produce only trace amounts of THCV. Some firms have begun replicating the cannabinoid in labs for commercial use, though their product isn’t yet widely available.
Those looking to experiment with THCV now should fear not. Research shows THCV is most plentiful in sativas, typically those that come from Africa. At the dispensary, ask your budtender if they have any African hybrids. Other strains known to contain higher levels of THCV include Doug’s Varin, Girl Scout Cookies, and Durban Poison.