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Cannabis 101

THC vs THCa: What is Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid?

06.14.22 - 4 min read

If you have some experience with cannabis, you’re probably already familiar with THC, one of the two most common cannabinoids in marijuana (the other one being CBD).  

However “what is THCa?” is a question that we hear quite often from both cannabis enthusiasts and newcomers to marijuana. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about this acidic cannabinoid. 

THCa, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is one of the hundreds of cannabinoids found in cannabis plants that are believed to offer several therapeutic benefits, although research into its potential benefits is ongoing. 

While its name and chemical composition is very similar to THC, THCA has very different properties from the latter. Unlike THC, THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. [Source] 

As a matter of fact, THCA is THCs predecessor and converts to tetrahydrocannabinol as the cannabis plant is subjected to light and heat. Therefore, THCA products are extracted from raw cannabis plants. 

Keep reading to learn more about THCA, and why it is growing in popularity as research uncovers more of its unique properties. 

What is THCa? 

THCA is often referred to as the precursor to THC. It is a cannabinoid acid found in the fresh cannabis plant.  

When cannabis plants are growing, they produce a range of cannabinoids depending on the specific strain of the plant. Almost all of these cannabinoids begin as carboxylic acids such as THCA, then convert into non-acidic compounds through the process of decarboxylation or “decarbing.” The acidic version of each cannabinoid typically has different effects from its decarboxylated form. 

Other cannabinoid acids you may encounter are 

  • CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid) 
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid) 
  • CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid) 
  • CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid) 
  • THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid) 
  • CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid) 
  • CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid) 
what-is-thc

How does THCa interact with the human body? 

The human body (and some animals) contains a unique set of receptors that are part of the Endocannabinoid System. This system was discovered relatively recently by Raphael Mechoulam. ECS has a critical role in maintaining the homeostasis of the human body, which affects our brain, immune and other systems. [Source] 

Unlike THC, THCA is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid. In other words, it does not produce the intoxicating effect that is commonly associated with cannabis and THC. 

This is a result of the size of the THCA molecule. This is a large molecule that does not bind to cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. 

Current research suggests that THCA does not bind much to either CB1 or CB2 receptors, the two major cannabinoid receptors. 

This does not mean that THCA has no effects on your system, however. 

Recent research has suggested that marijuana extracts comprised primarily of THCA may have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties for some people. It has also been suggested by some studies to reduce nausea and vomiting. 

what-is-decarb

Potential benefits & effects of THCa 

Recreational and medical cannabis has only recently become legal in a number of states. As a result of its history as an illegal substance, and in most parts of the world its continued criminalization, research into the effects and potential uses of the many chemicals it contains remains extremely limited. 

Research into the effects and potential therapeutic uses for THCA is still very much in its infancy, and scientist are still hopeful about the ways THCa can be used  & how effective it may be.

However, preliminary research and anecdotal evidence of individual people’s experiences suggest that THCA could become a significant component of cannabis-derived treatments in the future as researchers learn more about cannabinoids and their effects.

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How THCa becomes THC? 

Heat and light initiate the process of decarboxylation. In this process, a carboxylic acid group is removed from the THCA molecules, altering their chemical structure to become THC.  

Unlike THCA, THC molecules are the right shape to fit into the CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system that runs throughout the central nervous systems, creating the intoxicating effects of THC. 

Most methods of consuming cannabis, such as smoking, vaping, or cooking, involve heating or burning marijuana. As a result, the majority of the THCA in cannabis will have been decarboxylated into THC by the time it enters your system.  

In other words, smoking or vaping a high-THCA cannabis product will not necessarily mean a higher THCA intake, as smoking or vaping turns the THCA into THC. Because of this, alternative methods of consuming cannabis or extracting cannabinoids that avoid heating or curing cannabis flowers must be used to preserve its THCA content. 

THCa vs THC 

As previously discussed, THCA and THC are different cannabinoid compounds that interact with your body in different ways, among other distinctions. These are the key differences between THCA and THC: 

Potency 

THCa itself is not thought of as potent at all, having limited to no psychoactive effects. However, heating it via cooking, smoking, vaping, or other methods, turns it into THC. As crystalline THCA can be sold in very high concentrates, applying one of these methods to THCA to convert it to THC can have very potent effects.  

Due to the potentially much higher concentration of THC being produced through this process, this can be more potent than other methods of taking in THC such as smoking cannabis flowers. 

Benefits 

As mentioned above, the potential health benefits of consuming THCA may include: 

  • Reduced inflammation 
  • Reduced nausea, and improved appetite 
  • THCA has the additional benefit that all of its effects can be enjoyed without becoming intoxicated 

The potential benefits of THC could include: 

  • A state-altering effect’ that many people find pleasurable, elevating, energizing, or relaxing 
  • Pain management 
  • Improved sleep 
  • Reducing nausea caused by chemotherapy 
  • Reduction in muscle spasms caused by Multiple Sclerosis and paraplegia 

[Source] 

Learn-More-Endocannabinoid

Usage 

It is very simple to intake THC from cannabis or cannabis extracts. All of the usual ingestion methods associated with marijuana such as smoking, vaping, or cooking edibles, will deliver varying amounts of THC into your system. 

Getting THCA into your body is a little more complex. Any of the above methods will convert THCA into THC through decarboxylation.  

In fact, even a warm room or sunlight will kickstart this process. [Source] 

Instead, isolated THCA extracts can be purchased or you can consume raw, freshly harvested cannabis plant material. The plant must be freshly harvested and kept in a cool, dark place to prevent decarboxylation from starting. 

With either of these options, applying heat will still create THC, so you can’t cook it. THCA users often blend it into a juice smoothie or use other methods to prepare the THCA extract or cannabis plant for eating without using heat.  

Of course, you can always just eat the raw plant like any green vegetable, however, this may not be very appetizing as it allegedly has a bitter taste. 

Legality 

The legality of THCA is a bit of a grey area in the US. It is not classed as a banned substance on a federal level. However, THCA could be considered an analog of THC, since it can turn into THC so easily and many people use it for that exact purpose. Because of this THCa can fall under the  Federal Analogue Act. 

 Furthermore, most THCA extracts will also contain at least some amount of THC. 

To be safe, always check the laws of your state before purchasing marijuana products. You can find more info in our state-by-state guide on cannabis laws. 

what-is-thca

THCa vs THCV 

THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, is a cannabinoid that offers a range of effects that set it apart from other cannabinoids like THC and CBD. THCV is believed to have properties that assist weight loss. [Source] 

THCV can also create psychoactive effects depending on the dosage and the strain, with only very high dosages resulting in an intoxicated feeling.  

THCV is mostly found in low concentrations, however, some strains have higher THCV concentrations than others. These strains often also have higher THC content than average. 

FAQ 

THCA is not banned at the federal level in the US, but sales or possession could be prosecuted under the Federal Analogue Act. By the rule of thumb, THCa is likely legal in the states that have also legalized marijuana/THC for recreational and medical uses. But always check the laws in your state before purchasing any marijuana product. 

Why does THC get you elevated and THCA doesn’t? 

THCA molecules are of different shape and sizes than THC molecules. While THC molecules can fit into CB1 cannabinoid receptors, THCA molecules cannot. The interaction between THC molecules and those cannabinoid receptors is the primary cause of the elevating effects associated with cannabis. 

Although the cannabis plant produces many hundreds of cannabinoids, the chemical compounds that are responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis are few in number. 

Is THCa intoxicating? 

THCA is not intoxicating as it does not have a high affinity to bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors. [Source]  

However, it is easily converted into a potent form of THC, which is intoxicating. 

Will THCa make me fail a drug test? 

However, it enters your system, THCA can be metabolized by your body into THC-COOH. THC also metabolizes into the same compound. Most drug tests screen for the presence of THC-COOH as an indicator of cannabis use, and cannot distinguish between THCA and THC use. As a result, THCA may cause you to fail a drug test that screens for cannabis use. However, most drug tests, including all drug tests used by federal workplaces, prevent trace amounts of THC-COOH from causing a positive result on a drug test. 

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Sources:

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