While THC and THCa share many similarities, they, in fact, are not the same thing. Learn the difference between THC vs THCa and why it matters in our latest guide.
You don’t have to be a cannabis connoisseur or aficionado to be familiar with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the only known intoxicating compound in the cannabis family of plants, which has given it a colorful past and well-known reputation. While THC is only present in low concentrations in hemp, it is present just the same.
Pretty much anyone could tell you something about THC, but most would be a bit confused if you brought up tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). So, what is THCA? Is THCA legal? Are there benefits of THCA?
Let’s take a closer look at the THC vs THCA topic to give you a better understanding of two related but very different compounds found in the cannabis family of plants.
A Brief Introduction to THC
When it comes to cannabis, THC is the one cannabinoid that really takes center stage in the minds of most people. Everyone has their own outlook about THC since it is considered the primary intoxicating compound, but even this cannabinoid may offer its own list of benefits. For example, a one-to-one ratio of THC and CBD (cannabidiol) may be helpful for the treatment of pain for certain medical conditions.
Even though THC is intoxicating and some marijuana strains are specifically, selectively bred to be potent with THC, there is a point you may find surprising. Did you know that you could grab a leaf from the highest-potency THC cannabis plant, chew it up, and eat it, and never feel anything at all?
Believe it or not, a raw cannabis plant has practically no THC in it, even if it is the most potent strain. How is that possible? Well, to understand the answer, let’s get you formally introduced to THCA.
So, what is THCA?
In the most general terms, THCA is like a precursor to THC. The many cannabinoids present in the cannabis family of plants come from one very-important cannabinoid. This one enzyme has even been given the name “The Mother of All Cannabinoids.” Its name: Cannbigerolic acid (CBGA).
When a seed sprouts and the cannabis plant matures, naturally present enzymes process the present CBGA into the major precursor cannabinoid compounds. The most prevalent of these compounds are cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabichromenic acid (CBCA), and, of course, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).
While the cannabis plant may have a higher concentration of THCA, the acid would not convert into THC until it was met with some kind of driving force like heat. When exposed to heat, THCA goes through a thermal process of decarboxylation, which breaks down the acidic components of the compound and leaves you with THC. So, if you were to eat fresh cannabis, you probably wouldn’t feel much if anything at all. Your internal body temperature isn’t even enough to break down the THCA into THC.
With all this in mind, it’s obvious the magic is in the conversion process. THCA must be heated to 100º C (212º F) for three hours to fully convert to THC. When the acid is stripped away from THCA, THC somehow becomes a most intoxicating compound at high enough concentrations. Pretty much all methods of using cannabis involve heat: vaping, smoking, making edibles. Even certain extraction methods are enough to transform THCA into THC, which is why some extracts have THC and not THCA.
Are there health benefits of THCA?
THC has been examined relatively extensively over the years, but THCA has not garnered quite so much attention. Nevertheless, a lot of preliminary research is surfacing about THCA and how it could prove to be beneficial for the human body. Obviously, THCA doesn’t appear to interact with CB1 receptors the same as THC does because it is not intoxicating. Just the same, and a lot like CBD, THCA may offer therapeutic advantages. Thus far, THCA has been found to have:
- Possible anti-inflammatory properties
- Potential anti-proliferative qualities
- Potential neuroprotective properties
Another interesting fact about THCA is it seems to work better when used in conjunction with other cannabinoids and terpenes; a phenomenon often referred to as the entourage effect. As interest grows about how non-intoxicating cannabinoids could prove valuable to general wellness and for disease treatment, THCA is bound to get even more attention.
Is THCA legal?
Even though THCA is the precursor to THC, it is not listed as a scheduled substance by the United States Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Of course, THCA could technically be deemed as a THC analog since heating it could cause decarboxylate actions to form THC. THC analogs could potentially be pushed as illegal. For example, in some weed-legal states, dispensaries sell powdered or concentrated forms of pure THCA that are meant to be smoked on a dab rig or other heating mechanisms to get a high THC experience. These could be deemed as federally illegal.
This is why it is important to make sure you are staying within the federal realms of legality by buying only hemp flower or hemp extracts with THCA and not another product. Hemp is naturally low in THC and must contain less than 0.3 percent to be legal, which means you won’t have to be concerned about breaking any laws to get THCA.
How can you get THCA?
THCA can only be derived from hemp or cannabis in ways that will preserve its full chemical makeup, acid, and all. The most typical way of extracting THCA without interrupting its profile is through cryogenic extraction methods. These methods don’t involve heat or chemical processes that would translate the THCA to THC. Therefore, some manufacturers do offer THCA extracts that can be taken as they are to reap the benefits.
Of course, raw hemp or cannabis flower also contains THCA. Even though these raw products have been dried or cured, they are not usually exposed to high enough levels of heat to break down all present THCA. For example, TIMBR ORGANICS Hawaiian Haze hemp flower contains 0.4 percent THCA. If you consume this flower as is without smoking it, you would be taking in THCA. Some people have even turned to use hemp flower in juices and smoothies to take advantage of the compounds without altering their profiles.
THCA vs THC: The Key Differences
- THCA is an acidic compound; THC is not
- THCA will not get you high and is not considered intoxicating; THC is intoxicating and will yield euphoric effects in certain concentrations
- THCA is gaining a lot of attention for potentially therapeutic properties; THC is most known for intoxicating effects
- THCA is only present in non-heat-processed cannabis or hemp
- THCA is not technically a scheduled substance; THC is only legal nationwide when below the 0.3% threshold
THCA may have formerly been hiding in the shadows of THC, but the new age of cannabinoid research is quickly bringing this element of hemp and cannabis plants to light.
If you’re looking to incorporate THCa into your health regime, we offer a wide selection of high-quality hemp products including hemp flower, hemp pre rolls, hemp vape pens, and even hemp cigarettes. Each of our products is available in a variety of strains and sizes. Explore our full selection of smokeable hemp products to find the best product for your lifestyle!
Thanks for reading our latest guide! We hope that it helped to inform you about the important differences between THC vs THCA!
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This article is not intended to serve as a substitute for advice or consultation from a certified doctor or health professional. Before trying CBD or hemp flower products, it is strongly advised to conduct your own research and consult with a licensed doctor. While the World Health Organization considers cannabidiol to be “generally well tolerated with a good safely profile,” more research is needed to properly evaluate the safety and efficacy of CBD for general use.