Featured Cannabinoid: Tetrahydrocannabinol Acid (THCA)
One of the most recent cannabinoids to garner attention is tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA). This compound is closely related to THC, hence the name – tetrahydrocannabinol acid is the acidic precursor to THC.
You might be wondering what it means to be a precursor. In chemistry-speak, a precursor is a chemical compound that must participate in a chemical reaction to form another compound. THCA must be present during a decarboxylation reaction (more on this later) to form THC.
In short, all phytocannabinoids (cannabis plant cannabinoids) in cannabis begin as an acid as the plant grows and begins to flower. At this stage, the flower’s resinous trichomes begin producing cannabinoids, but these remain in their acid form until they are decarboxylated. For example, CBDA and THCA are present in a cannabis plant, but not CBD and THC.
Therefore, when a product states that it contains a certain THC percentage, it doesn’t contain THC, yet. The percentage is the amount of THC that can potentially be produced once decarboxylation occurs. In other words, if you were to consume raw, fresh, cannabis flower, you would primarily be consuming THCA and CBDA, not THC and CBD.
THCA, THC, and Decarboxylation
There are three primary ways for THCA to produce THC, but all involve a chemical process called decarboxylation, or decarbing for short. If you’ve ever made your own cannabutter or other edible cannabis product out of flower, you probably decarbed the flower first by placing it in the oven at about 220 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes (anything more will destroy cannabinoids). The heat creates a chemical reaction that forces the THCA to release a chemical group called a carboxyl – thus “decarboxylating" it. This new form of THC is known as delta-9-THC and is a psychoactive compound.
Another way cannabis patients commonly decarb THCA into THC is by using a lighter or vaporizer to apply heat directly to dried, cured, flower. Yes, smoking or vaping cannabis is a quick way to decarb and “activate” the THC. It's important to know that if you leave your cannabis exposed to light and ambient temperatures for a prolonged amount of time, the decarbing process will begin naturally. Over time, all acidic cannabinoids in raw bud will eventually convert to neutral cannabinoids and have psychoactive effects on anyone who consumes it.
When a strain is high in THCA, it will also be high in THC if decarbed, thus producing psychoactive effects. Concentrates like hash oil, hashish, and other stronger cannabis products have high levels of THCA initially, which is why they have harder-hitting effects when subjected to heat. THCA can only be consumed without psychoactive properties before decarboxylation takes place.
Cannabis use has been traced back to a common ancestor. These early plants may have been burned by humans as many as one million years ago amid the earliest evidence of campfires. Perhaps if pre-fire humankind had stored some fresh cannabis and consumed it at a later date to allow for natural decarbing to occur, they may have experienced the psychoactive properties of cannabis. But there is no evidence to date that this occurred.
Later, with access to fire, mankind may have either heated cannabis or ingested it as a fresh plant, depending on the symptom. They could have very well been using cannabis in a variety of forms to treat multiple ailments and health issues. It’s taken a while, but modern-day science is now catching on to the much-overlooked potential of THCA and other acidic cannabinoids.
THCA: An Overview
As more research is conducted on the multitude of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, scientists are discovering new information on the benefits of compounds beyond THC and CBD. So, why is it important to know about THCA? After all, acidic cannabinoids like THCA and CBDA occur in hemp and cannabis plants naturally, and when taken alone, they are non-psychoactive. That means you won’t get high if you consume THCA. Keep in mind that not everyone enjoys these psychoactive properties, but most people do desire the mental clarity, focus, and bodily relaxation THC can provide.
As a result, some cannabis patients who want the benefits of cannabis without the high are trying products with THCA. As a chemical precursor to THC, THCA may still provide the health benefits without the mind- and body-altering effects. Consuming THCA products is becoming a new way for users to experience the benefits of the compound without any unwanted psychoactive effects.
Potential Benefits of THCA
Research is still ongoing after being hampered by decades of legal red tape, but studies suggest there is reason to believe that before the decarb process occurs, THCA may have its own benefits to offer users. THCA may act in the following advantageous ways within the body:
- Anti-inflammatory in the colon
- Anti-inflammatory for the treatment of lupus and arthritis
- Analgesic to relieve pain
- Antispasmodic to subdue muscle spasms
- Antiemetic to reduce nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite with appetite-stimulating properties
- Anti-insomnia to help aid in sleep
- Anti-proliferative or anti-tumor to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, specifically prostate cancer cells
- Neuroprotective to decelerate nervous system and brain damage in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases
- Immunomodulatory to promote homeostasis of the immune system
- Prevention of metabolic disease
One study investigated the effects of THCA in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, the most common neurodegenerative disease. THCA, along with CBDA, according to the study, are capable of penetrating the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to exert direct effects on the brain. The study showed promising results, including neuroprotectivity and memory deficit rescue properties. Further potential benefits of THCA include the treatment of medical conditions such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, and others.
Both these preliminary studies and anecdotal evidence based on personal observations perceived in a non-systematic manner suggest that THCA will play a pivotal role in medicinal cannabis research. In the future, we expect THCA to be used for the treatment of medical conditions and in providing health and lifestyle benefits to patients.
Forms of THCA
When available and allowed by law, products aimed at offering THCA benefits solely are sold in the form of edibles, infused oils, tinctures, juices, topicals, and other products. These products can be used or consumed in a variety of ways, much like the ways other cannabis products are used. It is important to remember that adding heat to THCA will initiate the decarboxylation process, which can cause psychoactive effects to occur when it’s consumed. This goes for making homemade edibles too, so when experimenting with THCA in the kitchen, keep in mind that cold products that do not require heat are the best way to consume this cannabinoid.
THCA levels are particularly high in freshly harvested or live cannabis plants. That’s why one of the simplest ways to consume THCA is to cold-press fresh cannabis leaves, cut cannabis plants, and/or undried buds in a cold-press juicing machine. Then, you can blend it with a vegetable juice or fruit juice of your choice. Another option is to add the juice to a daily smoothie to reap the benefits of a THCA regimen.
THCA juice products are also available to purchase already in cold-press form. Consuming THCA in juice form preserves the plant’s integrity, delivering the most potent form of its properties.
THCA powder is extracted using a mechanical solventless process that removes terpenes from the rosin and leaves behind only the THCA. It is then refined even further into a powder through a micro-plane process. It should be noted that THCA powder is often combined with smokable products, such as atop a bowl of flower or in a pre-roll.
Again, heating THCA powder decarbs the acidic cannabinoids. That means in this form, it will cause psychotropic effects, along with those of other cannabis products such as the flower. This can cause the regular psychoactive effects to be intensified compared to smoking flower alone. Consuming THCA in this way should be done with caution, especially if you are not looking for more intensified effects.
Still, THCA powder can be ingested orally if you don’t want to experience any psychoactive properties. You can also place it under the tongue as you would a tincture, for absorption into the blood vessels there.
You can also brew tea using raw cannabis or other cannabis products that contain THCA, such as THCA powder. Make sure to cool the tea or hot water to well below 195 degrees Fahrenheit before adding THCA powder or fresh-cut cannabis leaves to prevent decarboxylation from occurring. Since this is almost boiling, it’s worth it to note that decarb begins at boiling temperatures.
You can also add fresh-cut cannabis leaves to your favorite flavored tea, once cooled, as a sprig of flavor like you would a mint leaf. Either way, the tea will absorb the THCA and administer the benefits without the psychoactive effects.
The Legality of THCA
The 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law by former President Trump in December 2018. It has significance because it legalized the cultivation of hemp, as well as the sale of hemp products and hemp-derived products like CBD and THCA. Under the bill, hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act, which opened up a new market for hemp-derived products including THCA oils, tinctures, and edibles.
The sale and possession of products that are produced solely for their THCA value and do not include delta-9-THC are sold legally in many states, including some states where recreational cannabis is still deemed illegal. During this time of great progression across the United States as governments legalize and define regulations for the sale and consumption of cannabis products, laws are constantly changing, and new laws are being introduced across the country. It is important to stay current on the shifting legal scope of the cannabis market in your local regional and state governments to ensure you are up to date on new considerations regarding cannabis products.
Even though raw cannabis cannot get you high and is not considered to be a scheduled substance, state laws can still apply to excessive amounts of THCA-based products, especially in states where cannabis regulations are non-existent. Furthermore, even though THCA does not get you high, it will show up on a drug test. THCA is a target analyte in marijuana testing in many drug tests. If you are going to be tested for marijuana use, and you are aiming for a negative test result, do not use or eat THCA products.
The first time you use THCA or other acidic cannabinoids, it is recommended that you start with a range between 5 mg. and 20 mg. Consume THCA no more than three times daily for the first two weeks so you can assess the benefits of your beginning dose. You can then increase or decrease the amount by small amounts as needed thereafter.
Top THCA FAQs
Learn more with answers to our most commonly asked THCA questions.
Get More Information About the Benefits of Cannabinoids
The progression of exploration that covers the vast scope of cannabinoid science is happening at a faster rate than ever before. With each new development that is explored, more of the bigger picture is revealed. What scientists are discovering in unearthing the cannabis plant, in all its glory, is that the landscape is even vaster than was originally thought. This means there is more to the story, and more research, studies, and experimentations are necessary. Fortunately, that’s what we’re getting.
It may be decades before we know all there is to know about cannabis, determine all its benefits, and discover all the ailments it has the power to treat. We’ve learned, though, that cannabis can take on many forms and evolve into many things we never even dreamed of. It will ultimately take on many roles in the healing and treatment of many people in the future, and THCA is only just the beginning. To learn more, find a MÜV near you today.
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Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.