What is THCA?

Hear the letters “THCA” and you might automatically start thinking about the effects of cannabis – The dry mouth, the munchies, the giggle fits and the like. But THCA is very different from THC, which is what you’re actually picturing when you imagine your last smoke session.

A precursor to the more recognizable & famous THC, THCA is the raw form of THC contained inside the raw, freshly harvested cannabis plant. This means – surprise – cannabis in it’s natural state actually has very little THC inside. Instead the THCA is converted into THC as it is exposed to heat, typically in the form of a direct flame (IE: smoking weed).

On it’s own, THCA will not get you high, hence why most people consider eating raw, un”cooked” cannabis to be a terrible idea (and it mostly is). But that doesn’t leave THCA without benefits of its own, and as techniques & machinery continue to advance in the medical marijuana industry this intriguing molecule is now getting it’s own time to shine in the spotlight.

In our article below we’ll go over the finer details of THCA – How to take it, what it can accomplish, and how to differentiate it from it’s similar (but very different) THC cousin. Let’s dive in.

THCA and THC: Similar But Different

As mentioned above, THCA (or “tetrahydrocannabinolic acid”) is the non-psychoactive precursor to THC that is naturally found in cannabis. We talk about the differences between these two cannabinoids in our related article “THCA vs. THC“, but we’ll recap here as quickly as we can.

THCA differs from THC due to the presence of additional molecules in it’s group, a chain of carboxylic acid. When THCA is exposed to either heat or light it begins a process called decarboxylation, wherein this acid chain is removed from the rest of the molecule – It’s this “decarbing” process that turns THCA into THC.

THC vs THCA: Explained
Decarboxylation 101 & 3 Ways How to Decarb Your Weed

THC Binds, THCA Doesn’t

When THC passes through our blood-brain barrier it binds to the cannabinoid receptors attached to our brain cells (AKA our “CB1 receptors”). This interaction is what causes the effects we typically refer to as “getting high”. Due to the presence of the extra carboxylic acid attached to THCA, though, it simply won’t fit into our CB1 receptors, meaning there’s no chance it can get someone high.

But if applying heat to THCA turns it into THC, how can it be smoked without it getting you high? Well, it can’t, and for some that’s the point entirely.

THCA: The Customized High

Products such as “THCA diamonds” and “THCA powder” are essentially ultra-pure (usually upwards of 90%+) concentrations of THCA. Cannabis plants carry a wide variety of terpenes and other cannabinoids that, in their unique combinations, give different strains of weed different sensations and effects.

Pure THCA contains none of that, and is essentially a concentrated amount of THC-in-waiting. When a THCA crystal is smoked (most likely dabbed or vaporized) the resulting inhale is going to be almost pure, 100% THC.

While this may sound great in theory, many who have tried smoking nothing but THCA concentrates on their own report them somewhat lacking, providing a strong but somewhat “featureless” high. To alleviate this, many companies who produce THCA concentrates also sell accompanying jars of terpenes and other cannabinoids (referred to as “sauce”).

This separation of THCA from sauce enables the end smoker to create a custom-tailored smoking experience, allowing them to play with the ratio of THCA-to-terpenes and even mix and match as they see fit. For someone interested in the ultimate weed smoking experience, custom designed THCA+sauce mixtures may be the pinnacle of the art.

But does THCA have to be smoked? Well, outside of decarbing it in an oven at home and adding it to an edible, if you want it to get you high? Yes. Until the carboxylic acid chain is removed from THCA it will not get you blazed. End of story. But if you’re not interested in getting high, and instead you’re looking to THCA as a potential (and potentially potent) medical aid, then THCA doesn’t have to be smoked at all.

The Medical Use of THCA

Again, THCA is found naturally in the raw, unheated cannabis plant, so if you’re looking to take THCA as a medical treatment… well, you can chew down on a fresh bud of marijuana if you’d like but we recommend investing in a batch of toothpicks and breath mints first.

Instead, other products such as the aforementioned powder or even THCA tinctures and THCA oil can be used for oral dosing. But be aware: THCA can be broken down into THC in the digestive system, essentially providing the same potential for getting someone high as if they’d eaten a cannabis edible.

To mitigate this, it’s often recommended to take THCA either by holding it in the mouth (against the gum line or under the tongue), or as a suppository; while the amount of THCA converted over to THC when ingested is likely negligible, for some any chance is too much, leaving non-oral administration as the only 100% safe route.

THCA’s Promising Medical Effects

So why take THCA if it’s non-psychoactive? Though studies and scientific research into THCA’s effects and direct mechanisms are still somewhat slim, early reports show many of the same therapeutic benefits as CBD and regular THC. Studies have shown THCA to have great anti-inflammatory properties (potentially even higher than CBD), as well as having promise as a remedy for nausea and appetite loss.

Equally as important, THCA has been shown to have strong neuroprotective properties, offering potential benefits in treating a wide variety of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases by aiding against memory loss, seizures, and other common symptoms. THCA even works in inhibiting the growth rate of cancer cells, showing significant promise as a treatment in studies of prostate cancer.

thc diamond up close
Image: oleumextracts.com

Where Can I Buy THCA?

THCA is still a relative newcomer on the cannabis product scene, and though not federally illegal it does fall into a grey enough area that finding it outside of legalized states is fairly unlikely. And though a somewhat recent entry into the world of marketable cannabis, new products are being developed at a rapid pace.

For those living somewhere that has legalized either medical or recreational marijuana usage, your local dispensary should carry some THCA-based products; given THCA’s notable potential for medicinal use states with a focus on marijuana as a medical aid will likely carry THCA products alongside their other wares.

If looking to avoid the psychoactive properties of THC make sure your product is clearly listed as containing “THCA”, and does not contain “activated” THC inside. Most products will clearly state whether or not they contain THC, but always make sure to check the label carefully if avoiding a buzz is one of your concerns.

Wrapping Up

Though similar THCA is very different from THC, CBD and other cannabinoids, and one that could be a massive source of aid and relief for many seeking relief from serious ailments. We hope our write up about this unique molecule has given you a bit more insight into the spectrum of cannabinoids and how they effect us in their own unique ways. And remember: Just because THCA won’t get you high that doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful, and if you do want to get high? THCA can definitely get you there when smoked. Enjoy!

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