The Cannabis sativa plant is a treasure trove of phytochemicals, in fact researchers have already identified over 100 cannabinoids within the plant belonging to 10 sub-groups. Of course, the most famous of these are THC and CBD, which are generally the topic of any article on cannabis. However, what are the other 99 cannabinoids, and what secrets do they hold for human health and wellness?
The science of cannabinoids, even THC and CBD, is still in its infancy, but already many new and exciting prospects are being uncovered to indicate that the Cannabis sativa plant still has many secrets yet to be discovered. One such secret that is starting to come to light is the benefits of a previously overlooked cannabinoid known as cannabidivarin, or CBDV. This phytochemical was discovered in 1969 but was not widely recognized in science until 1971 and is closely related to CBboth in it structure and its effects on inflammation and immune health.
What is CBDV?
Cannabidvarin has been overlooked for decades, even in some of the most detailed papers on the cannabinoids found in cannabis from just a few years ago there is no mention of it. Then suddenly in 2012 GW Pharmaceuticals (the makers of CBD drug Epidioloex®) filed a patent for an epilepsy and autism drug based on CBDV. The fast rise to notoriety of the cannabinoid implies that it deserves more attention than it has been getting. The molecule CBDV is structurally similar to CBD, and so are its effects, but they are not identical. Both are non-psychoactive, and work primarily on the CB2 type receptors of the peripheral nervous system, immune system, and organs. As such, many of its benefits are similar to those of CBD.
CBDV is known as a propyl analogue of CBD, or essentially the CBD molecule with less methyl groups on the molecule. Like CBD, CBDV is generally found in higher proportions in low THC containing strains of cannabis, such as hemp. Most of the studies done so far note that in addition to being an antagonist of CB2 type receptors (as with CBD), they are also a partial agonist for CB1 receptors, and also acts on brain field potential through non-cannabinoid receptor mechanisms that are still not well understood. However, since the compound is not scheduled as a narcotic in any countries, we can expect that the science will start to develop quite quickly, unlike with THC and to some degree CBD.
What is the science on CBDV to date?
The first identification of CBDV was in 1969 by the German chemist L. Vollner in a sample of hashish from India. Later, in 1972 it was also identified in a sample of cannabis from Mississippi, along with another cannabinoid termed tetrahydrocannabivarin. For the next few years, the publications mainly related to extracting and separating out these new compounds from the plant so that work could actually get started on figuring out what each one actually does. The pursuit of the pharmacological actions of these cannabinoids would have to wait though, as throughout the 1970’s (under strict anti-drug laws) the reports are mainly identifying geographical locations where CBDV strains exist, as well as figuring out how they are synthesized both naturally in plants and through chemistry in the lab.
No publications where made during the 1980’s on CBDV, although it was mentioned in some other studies that were replicating those of the 1970’s in which the chemical constituents of cannabis were analyzed. The 1990’s was completely devoid of any research into Cannabidvarin, and it was hardly even mentioned in passing in the scientific literature. Although it was explored concerning the mechanisms of bone growth in 2007, it was not until 2009 that we see a resurgence of interest in CBDV with the publication on the anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, analgesic, anxiolytic and anti-cancer effects of non-psychoactive cannabinoids. Then, in 2011, a paper was published which showed the effects that cannabinoids have on transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, which, among other things, are implicated in epilepsy and seizures.
Just a year later the findings started to pour out, beginning with studies on its anti-convulsant activities in mice. This was first attributed to its role in being an agonist for the CB1 receptor but was later described to work through the TRP channels in 2014.Since then, CBDV has been studied for obsessive compulsive disorder and its effects at reducing inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. For gut health, the study found that, in mice, CBDV could reduce the inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis through both the TRP mechanism and by upregulating the diversity of gut biota. More recently, CBDV was also found to ameliorate autism-like symptoms in mice by restoring the hippocampal endocannabinoid system.
These various potential applications of CBDV are interesting. But the area that has shown the most promise, and rapid development, is in the areas of epileptic seizures, for which there are many publications starting from about 2013. Being quick to the table, cannabinoid focused pharmaceutical giant GW Pharmaceuticals submitted a patent to use CBDV to treat epilepsy in 2012, which was granted in August of 2020. In April of 2019, GW Pharmaceuticals partnered with the United States Department of Defense to conduct a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to test the efficacy of CBDV in treating childhood epilepsy. The randomized study will take 100 patients and compare various markers of epilepsy over a 12-week period. The study is expected to conclude in September of 2021.
While the anti-convulsant properties of CBDV seem to be the area where most researchers are currently focused, that is not the end of the secrets that this plant compound holds. Just this month, there was a report looking at cannabis oil produced from Chinese cannabis strains containing a large proportion of CBDV which where found to have strong anti-oxidant and anti-microbial properties, including against Candida albicans and methicillin‐resistant clinical strains of Staphylococcus aureus.
Where do we go next?
Although the cannabis plant has been used in traditional medicines within various cultures around the globe for thousands of years, its criminalization in the early 20th century led to an almost complete lack of scientific investigation for nearly 50 years. Only now, with the relaxation of prohibition, and the harsh penalties it brought, can researchers objectively evaluate the plant and its efficacy in maintaining or promoting human health. We have lost nearly half a century of time, but the pace is again quickening, and researchers from many countries around the globe are looking at cannabinoids for the novel treatment of various diseases and ailments for which they are currently only a limited number of drugs or therapeutics available, often with pronounced and long-lasting negative side effects.
The story of Cannabidvarin helps to highlight this need for investigation and innovation. Natural compounds such as this, which have been kept from science for religious or other reasons, for so long are finally being brought to the forefront. This is an exciting time for researchers as they move into this field, but it is even more so for the hundreds of millions of people around the globe who are suffering from diseases and ailments. Not only does it give them optimism and hope for new treatments, but it also gives justification to the millions who have been self-treating themselves with these herbs for so long. It is vital that such uses are no longer criminalized, and are instead explored with an objective and non-biased mind so that humanity as a whole can benefit.