THC vs THCA: What's the Difference?

23 Sep, 2021Cannabinoids

As the stigma surrounding cannabis shrinks and legalization in U.S. states continues to grow, scientists and researchers have begun to study the plant even more profoundly to discover new medicinal benefits and uses.

Most cannabis consumers are familiar with the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD but are unfamiliar with THCA, a little-known cannabis compound that is considered a "precursor" to THC. While the name may sound very similar, THCA has a set of different properties, as well as plenty of potential as a plant-based medicine. 

This article will examine the difference between THC and THCA and show you how to use raw cannabis as a superfood!

What is THCA?

THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid by its long name, is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid acid found in raw and live cannabis plants.

It's sometimes assumed that THC cannabinoids are present in the plant throughout the entire growing process, but they're produced in an acid form first. They become converted to THC and CBD through the act of drying or heating. THCA has absolutely no psychoactive effects due to the size of its molecule, which is too large to bind to the CB1 receptors in our brain that are responsible for producing an intoxicating feeling.  

When you purchase cannabis from a dispensary and look at the label on the package, you may notice that the most abundant cannabinoid in your flower is THCA (typically around 10-20%), rather than Delta-9 THC. While this may seem confusing, THCA converts directly to THC the moment it is smoked or vaped.


How is THCA Converted into THC?

As stated above, THCA becomes converted into THC by being exposed to heat and light, a process scientifically known as decarboxylation. Adding heat removes the carboxylic group from the plant, changing the molecule's chemical structure to easily link with our endocannabinoid system and bind to our CB1 receptors, inducing a psychoactive high. 

Here are a few ways that cannabis can be "decarbed" and convert to THC:


Baking cannabis flower in the oven and infusing it in butter or oil will make cannabutter, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana edibles.


Applying fire to dried cannabis rapidly speeds up the heating process, giving the user a psychoactive high when smoked. 

Sunlight Exposure

Placing a cannabis plant in sunlight for an extended period converts the molecules into THC, but slower. 

Benefits of THCA

While the research surrounding THCA is still new, evidence has shown its potential to be adopted as a nutritional and dietary supplement as more and more people look to add cannabis to their wellness regimen. Here are a few medicinal benefits that consuming THCA, instead of THC, may offer:

  • Protection against neurodegenerative diseases
  • Like other cannabinoids, THCA offers anti-inflammatory properties that protect against fatty liver disease, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel issues. 
  • Antiemetic properties that can help induce appetite and decrease nausea
  • Reduced weight gain and inflammation associated with diet-induced obesity.

Often overlooked as a superfood, the raw cannabis plant contains high amounts of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and Vitamin C, giving you the benefits of cannabis as well as some added nutritional value! Potentially the most exciting aspect of THCA, however, is that it is non-psychoactive, making it an exciting opportunity for those looking to explore cannabis medicine but do not want any intoxicating feeling.


How to Consume THCA

THCA is a primary component of fresh, live cannabis plants, meaning it does not need to be smoked, vaped, or baked to be consumed medicinally. Any strain that is higher in THC and has not yet been decarboxylated will contain THCA, meaning all you need to do is eat the plant raw! Like many trending superfoods like chia seeds, avocado, kale, and seafood, raw cannabis is touted to improve health, ease chronic pain, and cure ailments.

Most people consume their cannabis like any other leafy green vegetable. It can be chopped up and added to salads and sauces or even put in a juicer to be pressed into liquid form, perfect for adding to your morning smoothie!

The Bottom Line

THCA is an incredible example of the massive potential that cannabis' 100+ different compounds have. While strides are being made, much more research is needed to better understand the plant and how it can be applied medicinally. By promoting the study of cannabis, we can unlock new and exciting ways to improve our health and well-being naturally. 

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