Neural effects of cannabinoid CB1 neutral antagonist tetrahydrocannabivarin on food reward and aversion in healthy volunteers

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Dec 25;18(6):pyu094. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyu094.


Background: Disturbances in the regulation of reward and aversion in the brain may underlie disorders such as obesity and eating disorders. We previously showed that the cannabis receptor subtype (CB1) inverse agonist rimonabant, an antiobesity drug withdrawn due to depressogenic side effects, diminished neural reward responses yet increased aversive responses (Horder et al., 2010). Unlike rimonabant, tetrahydrocannabivarin is a neutral CB1 receptor antagonist (Pertwee, 2005) and may therefore produce different modulations of the neural reward system. We hypothesized that tetrahydrocannabivarin would, unlike rimonabant, leave intact neural reward responses but augment aversive responses.

Methods: We used a within-subject, double-blind design. Twenty healthy volunteers received a single dose of tetrahydrocannabivarin (10mg) and placebo in randomized order on 2 separate occasions. We measured the neural response to rewarding (sight and/or flavor of chocolate) and aversive stimuli (picture of moldy strawberries and/or a less pleasant strawberry taste) using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Volunteers rated pleasantness, intensity, and wanting for each stimulus.

Results: There were no significant differences between groups in subjective ratings. However, tetrahydrocannabivarin increased responses to chocolate stimuli in the midbrain, anterior cingulate cortex, caudate, and putamen. Tetrahydrocannabivarin also increased responses to aversive stimuli in the amygdala, insula, mid orbitofrontal cortex, caudate, and putamen.

Conclusions: Our findings are the first to show that treatment with the CB1 neutral antagonist tetrahydrocannabivarin increases neural responding to rewarding and aversive stimuli. This effect profile suggests therapeutic activity in obesity, perhaps with a lowered risk of depressive side effects.

Keywords: THCv; cannabinoid; fMRI; obesity; reward.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / adverse effects
  • Avoidance Learning / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cacao
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists / administration & dosage*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects
  • Dronabinol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Fragaria / microbiology
  • Fruit / microbiology
  • Fungi
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Reward*
  • Taste
  • Taste Perception
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • CNR1 protein, human
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • tetrahydrocannabivarin 9
  • Dronabinol