THCA Guide: Effects, Benefits, and Products
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Most consumers know about delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the prevalent cannabinoid responsible for the cannabis’ psychoactive effects. Many are also familiar with exotic cannabinoids like delta-8 and delta-10. These THC analogs have exploded in popularity. But several states recently banned delta-8 and delta-10 due to their semi-synthetic attributes and psychoactive effects.
Hemp brands are marketing products as –THCA flower.
Here we review THCA, discussing benefits, uses, and product types and comparing THCA to THC and CBD.
What Is THCA?
THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid–specifically Delta-9 THCA, is a naturally occurring cannabinoid in hemp and cannabis (Cannabis sativa) plants. It is the acidic “precursor” to THC and exists primarily in young, freshly harvested cultivars. THCA is non-psychoactive until it converts to THC through non-enzymatic reactions when exposed to heat. Known as decarboxylation, this process activates cannabis’ psychoactive properties.
Does THCA make people high?
THCA does not possess psychoactive properties in its natural state. The molecular structure of THCA prevents it from binding to the brain receptors associated with producing a feeling of being high. However, this applies only when THCA is consumed raw, such as by juicing freshly harvested cannabis.
THCA vs. THC
Delta-9 THC and THCA are both tetrahydrocannabinol chemicals with a critical molecular distinction: THCA has a carboxylic acid group on a benzene ring, and THC doesn’t. The extra ring gives THCA a three-dimensional shape and a larger chemical structure incapable of binding to neural receptors to produce psychoactive effects. This also shape makes THCA a crystalline solid while THC is a liquid.
When THCA converts to THC, it loses that extra group and becomes the intoxicating compound consumers know and love.
THC’s unique shape allows it to bind well with CB1 and CB2 receptors located primarily throughout the brain, central nervous system, and immune system. This neural affinity affects mental perception, resulting in feelings of euphoria, cerebral creativity, and body-buzzing effects.
How THCA Converts to THC
Hemp and cannabis plants are low in Delta-9 THC and often very high in THCA before harvest. However, over time THCA converts to THC in a natural process called “decarboxylation,” a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide from the cannabinoid’s molecular structure.
Heat is an all-natural catalyst that decarboxylates THCA into THC, which happens during drying and storage. Applying heat to cook cannabis or smoke the plant also ignites decarboxylation, converting any remaining THCA into the psychoactive version, THC.
To account for this conversion process, The USDA requires laboratories to conduct hemp THC potency testing post-decarboxylation. (see section 5602 “Laboratory Testing” page 7)
THCA Therapeutic Effects
THCA shares many of THC’s therapeutic qualities. But the extra carboxyl group in THCA results in different interactions with the human body than THC. For instance, THCA displays some effects more in common with CBD, cannabis’ other widely known cannabinoid.
Research shows that THCA has promise for multiple health benefits and medical uses, including:
- Appetite loss and nausea relief for people with cancer or eating disorders
- Reducing pain and inflammation
- Reducing chronic pain and muscle spasms, particularly for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis
- Slowing the progression of cancer cells, specifically prostate cancer
- Brain health, such as protecting memory and coordination and being effective against Huntington’s disease and other neuroinflammatory diseases, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS
- Relaxation, potentially as a sleep aid and for insomnia
- Reducing seizures and spasms, such as for epilepsy and multiple sclerosis
What Is THCA Flower?
THCA flower is essentially smokable hemp with high THCA levels, up to 25%, and compliant THC levels, below 0.3%.
On paper, THCA flower looks a lot like hemp, but in practice, it functions exactly like federally illicit marijuana. That’s because once users light and smoke the plant, they convert the THCA content into THC, creating that psychoactive experience.
Consumers who want to experience the mind-altering effects of THCA flower should seek brands that publish safety, quality, and compliance tests. A couple of THCA flower brands include:
1. VIIA Hemp Company THCA Flower strains
VIIA hemp company sells various THCA flower strains containing 23 to 25% THCA and compliant Delta-9 THC levels to retailers and distributors. The brand boasts third-party testing, premium quality flower, and rich aromatic terpenes.
2. BudPop THCA Flower
BudPop sells various THCA flower strains with 19 to 25% THCA and Farm Bill-compliant THC levels (below 0.3%). The brand says it sources premium, USA-grown hemp and lab-tests all flower to guarantee compliance.
ACS Cannabinoids Guide
Other THCA product types
Consumers who prefer to experience THCA’s therapeutic benefits without getting high can consume hemp or cannabis flower raw without heating it by adding it to smoothies or sprinkling ground flower over a cold salad. Raw THCA can also be extracted and infused into oils, green juices, or smoothies.
Most edibles undergo heating during the cooking process, which converts THCA into psychoactive THC. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as cold-pressed beverages like raw cannabis juice, which may contain THCA.
Several online sources provide DIY cannabis juicing recipes. Interestingly, a company called Jade Nectar sells frozen raw cannabis juice cubes.
According to Jade Nectar, its process for pureeing and freezing leaves and flower into frozen cubes “allows people to experience the whole cannabis plant as a superfood.” Jade Nectar’s unheated cubes contain high THCA and CBDA levels for a non-psychoactive wellness experience.
Cannabis extracts, such as oils, tinctures, and concentrates, usually have high levels of THC. However, there are also THCA tinctures available that utilize raw cannabis extract for therapeutic purposes without inducing psychoactive effects.
One example is Papa & Barkley’s 1:1 THCa Releaf Oil 30mg from its Raw THCA Living Tincture line. With an even balance of CBD and THCA, Papa & Barkley’s THCA tinctures are made from cold-pressed, fresh frozen flower to preserve the natural terpenes and flavor profile. The brand markets this product for pain and inflammation.
THC and THCA can be found in topical products like creams, lotions, and salves. Consumers utilize these products to alleviate localized pain, reduce inflammation, and for skin care purposes.
CBX Sciences’ Intensive Salve is a unique topical combining CBG, THCA, CBD, calendula, white willow, and arnica in a non-psychoactive formula meant to penetrate deep into muscles and joints. The product is marketed toward relieving exercise-related pain like runner’s knee, tennis elbow, stiff joints, and sore muscles.
Natural THCA offers users many therapeutic benefits in line with CBD and THC without psychoactive effects.
ACS Laboratory tests all hemp flower according to USDA guidelines, ensuring safe, accurate results and product information for brands and end users.
On our Certificates of Analysis, we report as follows: Total Active THC = (THCA * .877) + Delta 9 THC.
FAQs about THCA
What are the benefits of THCA?
THCA exhibits neuroprotective effects, meaning it protects the brain. It also possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties, has the potential to slow down the growth of cancer cells, stimulates appetite, reduces nausea, and may provide relief for seizure disorders.
How does THCA differ from CBD?
CBD (cannabidiol) is another major cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp plants. Structurally, CBD and THCA are completely distinct compounds. However, THCA shares several similarities with CBD. Neither THCA nor CBD binds well with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, making them both non-psychoactive. Additionally, they both offer benefits for inflammation and seizure disorders.
Does THCA transform into THC when smoked?
Yes. Smoking provides sufficient heat to convert a significant portion of THCA in a product into regular THC.
How does THCA affect the brain?
THCA does not bind to brain receptors like THC unless it undergoes decarboxylation. However, THCA does exhibit neuroprotective properties that may have potential in the prevention and treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's.