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THCV: The Next Diabetes Drug Is Being Made From Cannabis

By on July 19, 2013
GW Pharmaceuticals grows cannabis at an undisclosed location in southeast England

GW Pharmaceuticals grows cannabis at an undisclosed location in southeast England. The company is testing a new diabetes drug made from a cannabis compound called THCV.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is just one of over 60 chemicals found in cannabis, but its unique activity has led GW Pharmaceuticals to believe that THCV could be the future of diabetes therapy.

On Friday, the company – who also manufacturers the cannabis spray Sativex – told Bloomberg about their new drug, which showed promising results in a mid-stage clinical study, helping improve insulin production and lowering blood sugar levels, among other things, in patients with Type 2 diabetes. GW plans to publish the results later this year.

GW has been funding research on THCV since 2005 and has already filed a patent on its use in the protection of pancreatic islet cells, which are the cells that produce insulin. At least 50% of these cells are lost by the time Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed.

THCV is produced naturally by the cannabis plant, but the amount varies by strain.

THCV is produced naturally by the cannabis plant, but the amount varies by strain.

What makes this compound different from others found in marijuana is how it interacts with receptors in the human body. While THC activates cannabinoid receptors, THCV works in the opposite way by blocking receptors from being activated. Since most strains tend to have much higher levels of THC, the effects of THCV are usually not achieved by using cannabis in its natural form.

On the other hand, Roger Pertwee, a neuropharmacologist at Aberdeen University who conducted one of the first studies on THCV, told The Guardian that some strains can have high levels of this cannabinoid:

“There is a large amount of THCV in Pakistani cannabis, which is the one used to make a medicine called ‘tincture of cannabis’. That contained about equal amounts of THC and THCV.”

Animal studies show that THCV can improve metabolic symptoms in diabetic mice, but won't help them lose weight.

Animal studies show that THCV can improve metabolic symptoms in diabetic mice, but won’t help them lose weight.

Earlier studies found that THCV could protect insulin-producing cells in animal models of diabetes, resulting in improvements in blood sugar and insulin levels. It was also believed that THCV could reduce appetite and weight gain, but later studies failed to confirm this.

Interestingly, THCV seems to have slightly different effects than Rimonabant – a synthetic compound that was marketed for the treatment of obesity before being pulled due to side effects of suicide and depression – despite the fact that both compounds work by blocking cannabinoid activity. What’s more, research on the role of cannabinoids in diabetes is conflicted, with some studies showing that THC and CBD may also offer benefits.

Dr. Wright joined GW in 2004 and has been involved in the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years.

Dr. Wright joined GW in 2004 and has been involved with the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years.

GW’s research director Steven Wright, MD says a follow-up trial is planned for later this year with the hope of eventually getting approval on their new drug – temporarily known as GWP42004. Of course, GW is sure to come up with a more consumer friendly name for this cannabis-based pharmaceutical before it reaches the public.

Something along the line of Sativex might do. GW’s cannabis spray is quickly gaining worldwide recognition and – after being launched in Italy earlier this month – is now available in 21 different countries.

  • noname

    GWP420 will be a fine name!

  • Azzaam Abdul-Hakeem

    Studies abroad show THCv and CBN to be psychoactive and due to their low levels in the plant it is not of focus like Delta 9 THC which, when eaten becomes Delta 11 THC in the liver some 50 times more potent then d9 THC. I think GW need to learn from abroad that have lots more experience, only good thing GW has done is standardise Cannabis, similar to the Dutch with its 4 strains of medicinal Cannabis.