Cannabis consumers who have read anything about marijuana must have come across THC. You might even have read about CBD, terpenes, potency, and other cannabis-related terms, but you may not know that THC comes from a compound known as THCA. But, what are the differences between THC vs THCA?
With two cannabinoids that sound so similar, it can be tough to understand how they contrast. However, understanding the differences between THC and THCA is key to having the best cannabis experience possible. So, let’s dive right in.
What is THCA?
THCA is short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. This mouthful of a term is simply the acidic form of THC.
Cannabis has hundreds of cannabinoids, and THCA is a significant cannabinoid because we won’t have THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid, without it. THC forms when you expose THCA to heat, so you could say that THCA is the primary ingredient in cooking THC. No THCA, no THC.
Does THCA get you high? While THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, THCA is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. So, no, it does not get you high.
Is THCA Legal?
THCA is one of those compounds where its law is not so clear. On the one hand, it is not psychoactive. On the other hand, it is derived from cannabis and will convert to THC when heated.
So, what’s the legal status of THCA?
In general, the 2018 Farm Bill states that hemp and hemp-derived products are legal for sale and consumption as long as they do not contain more than 0.3% THC. So, technically, your THCA product is federally legal if you follow these guidelines.
At the end of the day, though, legality depends on the regulations in your state. Some places do not allow any THC within their products, while other states have restrictions on certain cannabinoids. Make sure to check the cannabinoid regulations in your city and state to ensure you can purchase products with confidence.
THCA products are widely available on the internet and at cannabis retailers, but, again, this does not offer legal protection. Always double-check the marijuana laws in your state before making a purchase.
THC vs THCA
Are these cannabinoids the same? Do they have identical properties? What is the difference between THC and THCA?
They are not identical, but these cannabinoids have both similarities and differences. The most significant difference between these two compounds is that THCA does not have psychoactive properties.
THC and THCA share a similar molecular composition, but THCA has an extra molecular carboxyl ring. This additional carboxyl group prevents THCA from binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, that’s why it can’t get you high.
So if you’re wondering, does THCA get you high? Now you know why it does not.
Delta 8 THC vs THCA: Which One Should You Consume?
Is delta 8 THC the same as THCA? Not at all.
You get Delta 8 THC from THCA, but unlike THCA, delta 8 THC is not in an acidic form. Delta 8 THC is psychoactive while THCA is not.
For delta 8 THC vs THCA, stick with THCA if you don’t want to get high. But, if you’re okay with experiencing a gentle, supportive high, then delta 8 THC is a great option! D8 doesn’t have effects nearly as strong as delta 9.
What is THCA Powder?
THCA powder, also referred to as THCA isolate, is a pure extract of THCA made via a unique refinement process that removes terpenes from rosin, leaving only THCA behind. The resultant compound is further refined to produce THCA powder.
THCA powder contains a very high amount of cannabinoids compared to similar products, but you should not expect this cannabinoid-rich compound to get you high. As we’ve established, THCA is simply not psychoactive.
Additionally, because the terpene has been removed during the extraction process, you may not experience the same aroma and flavor as you would with cannabis flowers.
What are THCA Diamonds?
THCA diamonds are a crystalline form of THCA, but before you can understand THCA diamonds, you need to understand what a cannabis sauce is.
Sauce is a cannabis extract with a runny and sticky texture rich in terpenes. THCA diamonds are the crystals that form in the sauce. If the sauce is further refined, you get THCA powder.
How Does THCA Produce THC?
When THCA is heated, its molecular structure is altered, and it loses that extra carboxyl ring in a process known as decarboxylation. The resultant compound is THC which can bind with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system and cause you to feel high.
Decarboxylation can occur via exposure to sunlight, room temperature, or direct heat such as smoking or vaping. So, you won’t get high if you consume raw cannabis that has not gone through decarboxylation.
Cannabis Strains With High THCA Percentage
Cannabis strains with a high THC percentage are likely to have a high THCA percentage before decarboxylation since THC comes from THCA.
But you may ask, what is a high THCA percentage? The conversion of THCA to THC is not perfect, but you can use THC content to estimate the THCA percentage.
As a rule of thumb, any cannabis strain that contains THC above 15% is likely to have a high THCA percentage before decarboxylation.
Cannabis strains rich in THCA include:
- Gorilla Glue
- OG Kush
- Sour Diesel
- Lemon Kush
- Bruce Banner
- Death Star
- Blue Dream
All states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes require cannabis retailers to test their products at third-party laboratories as part of the compliance and safety process before the products hit the shelves. These tests determine the THCA and THC levels in the products.
The most common lab tests used are the Gas Chromatography (GC) and Liquid Chromatography (LC) tests.
THC vs THCA: Decarbing at Home
You already know the difference between THC and THCA. When applying heat, products with a high THCA number produce high THC levels. So, always check the THC number if you’re buying vapes, concentrates, or flowers.
If you want to decarboxylate raw cannabis at home, apply around 200-245ºF heat for 30-40 minutes in a conventional oven.
Note: You’ll burn off the cannabinoid content and produce poor-quality weed if the heat is too much or you cook it for too long.
Does THCA Have Health Benefits?
You may be wondering, what’s the point if it can’t get me high? Well, THCA may not get you high, but there’s plenty more in it to interest you.
Researchers still need to conduct more studies to confirm the benefits of THCA, but preliminary findings are promising.
Dr. William Courtney, a California-based physician, researcher, and expert in the effects and benefits of raw dietary cannabis, has this to say about the benefits of consuming raw cannabis: “My experience day in and day out is overwhelmingly positive with patients who are using it.”
He cites the positive experiences and satisfactory results of about 8000 patients. Courtney said the action of THCA on the body’s endocannabinoid system is one of its most outstanding therapeutic qualities.
“It’s clear that this plant is incredibly important for cell health, which at its best prevents disease,” Courtney said.
Potential Neuroprotective Qualities
In one study, THCA was said to display potential for neuroprotective activity. Thus, THCA may aid the recovery and regeneration of the cells, structure, and function of the nervous system.
The study concluded that this potential neuroprotective quality could help treat Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
According to one study, “THCA has been found to possess anticonvulsant activity.” It is sometimes used to treat seizures and is readily available and more affordable than CBD.
Helps Fight Obesity and Obesity-Related Illness
In 2020, a study researchers conducted on mice showed that THCA could reduce obesity and, by extension, prevent obesity–related diseases like diabetes and fatty liver disease. The study said THCA is “capable of substantially improving the symptoms of obesity-associated metabolic syndrome and inflammation.”
According to a study published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, THCA and other cannabinoids isolated from cannabis plants demonstrated anti–inflammatory properties.
This means THCA can inhibit prostaglandin production; prostaglandins are the chemical compounds that cause inflammation.
Eloise Theisen, the assistant chair for the Medical Cannabis Certificate Program at Pacific College of Health and Science, says some of her patients have experienced relief from inflammation and pain after using THCA.
She said: “Most patients notice a difference with daily use and after a few weeks once the THCA has had a chance to build up in the system and start to reduce the inflammation.”
Treatment for Liver Disease
A study conducted on mice showed that THCA helped alleviate the symptoms of liver fibrosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
The study concluded that the experiment’s results provide “a rationale for additional studies on the medicinal use of this cannabinoid, as well as cannabis preparations containing it, for the treatment of liver fibrosis and the management of NAFLD.”
Nausea Treatment and Appetite Improvement
Patients commonly use THC and CBD to treat nausea and improve appetite, but THCA may be more effective. This is according to a 2020 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
Treatment for Irritable Bowel Diseases
Irritable bowel diseases like colitis, Crohn’s disease, and IBS may benefit from THCA consumption. One study suggested that the anti-inflammatory properties of THCA may help soothe the epithelial cells of the large intestine and alleviate intestinal problems.
These reported effects are based on word-of-mouth reports from patients and inconclusive experiments; researchers need to conduct more studies to establish the therapeutic benefits of THCA.
How to Consume THCA
THCA is raw weed that has not been exposed to heat and has not undergone decarboxylation. One popular mode of consumption is eating raw weed, but some people prefer to incorporate the weed into their juices. If you grow your weed, you can juice all parts of the cannabis plant: leaves, bud, and stem.
Theisen says you can simply mix raw cannabis leaves with your usual juicing ingredients. You can also add it to your salad mix.
Additionally, you can use THCA products such as tinctures, topicals, or massage oil/cream after exercise.
Be sure to read the product label and certify that it lists THCA rather than THC. You don’t want to accidentally consume THC and take an unwanted trip.
How to Store Raw Weed
Remember that when you apply heat to raw weed, THCA is decarboxylated and converted to THC. You don’t have to smoke raw weed or vape it to decarboxylate it; sunlight and room temperature can do the job.
If you leave your raw weed lying around without special care, the THCA in it will likely undergo decarboxylation and produce THC.
If you want to consume raw weed for its therapeutic properties without the psychoactive effects of THC, make sure you store it in a cool and dark place where there’s no risk of decarboxylation.
Is THCA Completely Lost When You Heat Weed?
Now that you know the therapeutic benefits of THCA in raw weed, you may be worried you’re missing out on them when you smoke or vape your weed. Fortunately, all the THCA in raw weed is not decarboxylated and converted to THC when heat is applied.
Eloise Theisen says about 20% THCA remains in heated weed, but this depends on how long you apply heat and at what temperature.
However, researchers need to conduct more studies to understand if the amount of THCA left in heated weed is enough to provide the therapeutic benefits of the cannabinoid.
Risks and Side Effects of THCA
The main risk of THCA is unwitting conversion to THC, if you don’t store your raw weed properly, it may heat up, decarboxylate and release THC, and you won’t know it. So, instead of THCA, you could consume THC, and because you don’t know it is THC, you may consume too much.
Does THCA get you high? No, the risk of overdose happens when you convert THCA to THC, and this conversion could happen without your knowledge.
Theisen says: “The risks are always dose-related, so the more someone consumes, the more likely they are to have side effects or adverse effects.”
Nonetheless, the side effects of THC include the following:
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
- Increased heart rate
- Poor coordination
If you suspect you’ve consumed too much THC, contact your local poison center for help.
Which is Better: THC vs THCA
It depends on what you’re looking for! If you want the therapeutic benefits without the intoxicating effect, THCA is for you. If you want the double package of therapeutic benefits and psychoactive effects, you should go for THC.
LEARN MORE: CBD vs. THC: Which is Right For You?
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