What Is THCA? Everything You Need To Know
Posted on June 1st, 2021
What is THCA? Short for Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, THCA is one of the most abundant compounds created by raw cannabis plants. Now, you may already know that using cannabis extracts may be therapeutic. But, as it turns out, there are some surprising advantages to using raw plant material. And some of those have to do with THCA. Let’s take a closer look!
Inside the Cannabis Plant
Before we answer what is THCA exactly, we have to understand the plant as a whole. To start: when we talk about raw cannabis, we mean fresh cannabis leaves or flowers that haven’t been dried, heated, or cured. That last part is essential. Because, in its raw form, cannabis plants contain compounds known as cannabinoid acids. (These include non-psychoactive THCA and CBDA.) They are the non-psychoactive precursors to the cannabinoids THC and CBD, respectively. But they may disappear if you process cannabis to extract THC or CBD.
Remember, THCA only changes to the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with heat or age. But that doesn’t mean that THCA is an inactive cannabis compound. In fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because a growing body of evidence suggests that THCA might possess its own healing powers.
So, if you’re wondering: How is THCA different from other cannabinoids? How can you get the most out of it? And what exactly are acidic cannabinoids? Then just keep reading. Because, today, we’ll answer these questions and more!
What Are Acidic Cannabinoids? Are They Different from Regular Cannabinoids?
Put simply, acidic cannabinoids are cannabinoids that haven’t undergone a chemical reaction known as decarboxylation. (That’s the process of heating of raw cannabis for at least 30-60 minutes at a 212°F – 248°F temperature. Once complete, the plant’s THCA converts to THC.)
Now, if you heat cannabis for longer, you’ll provide stronger activation of its phytocannabinoids. As a result, you’ll get THC with a stronger psychoactive effect. Plus, it should offer a greater synergy with the hundreds of other cannabinoids in the plant. Meaning you’ll notice a greater entourage effect. But, before we explore the effects of THC, let’s gain a better understanding of how decarboxylation transforms THCA.
Heat and THCA: Understanding the Change
In their natural state, the cannabinoids inside raw cannabis are composed of a carboxyl group that attaches to the plant’s trichomes. But once you apply heat to the plant, that group releases. Which is when those cannabinoids transform from acids to active compounds. And it’s also when you can extract compounds such as THC or CBD.
Of course, we know that THC has psychoactive properties. And CBD does not. But what about THCA? Can taking raw cannabis alter your mental state? The answer is no! As of now, we believe that acidic cannabinoids do not cause any psychoactive effects.
But, how exactly do cannabinoid acids differ from ordinary cannabinoids? In other words, what is THCA compared to other cannabinoids? Well, here’s the deal.
Cannabinoids exist naturally throughout cannabis plants. Before processing, they’re usually found in their acidic form. Now, this means that they have a different molecular structure. (Which they owe to that carboxyl group we mentioned.) But remember, that group is volatility. And that’s why it vanishes with heat or degradation.
For instance, raw cannabis flower contain THCA, not THC. But if you pack these flowers in a joint and introduce a flame, the heat catalyzes that carboxyl group. Then, the inactive THCA becomes the mind-altering THC. And, in a nutshell, that’s the decarb process.
But what happens if you don’t transform THCA. Will it produce distinct effects in your body? We’ve got the answer coming up!
What Do Acidic Cannabinoids Do In Your Body?
Remember, plant’s grow and develop in stages. But, once cannabis matures, you’ll see large THCA build-ups on the plant’s leaves and flowers. That THCA has one main objective: to induce cellular death (necrosis) by forming a pathway through the cells’ mitochondrial membrane. What’s the purpose of that cell death? It’s to keep the plant healthy by forcefully getting rid of damaged, dying, or dead cells.
Now, this process isn’t unique to plants. In fact, humans share a similar mechanism (programmed cellular death.) We commonly use this term is commonly when we talk about cancer. That’s because mistakes in programmed cell death allow activity among your diseased cells. In the long run, they accumulate, leading to a cancer diagnosis. That’s why THCA may one day help fight cancer. Because, by encouraging cell death, it may discourage the growth of cancerous cells in your body. But further research is required to confirm this finding.
As of now, we know that cannabolic acids don’t interact with cannabinoid receptors. Instead, they seem to interact with your endocannabinoid system. And they do so by affecting the efficiency of four key functions: Interleukin-10 Release, TNF-Alpha Inhibition, COX-1 Release, and COX-2 Inhibition. This ultimately means that acidic cannabinoids may support your body’s ability to reduce pain levels. They could also boost your immune system and fight inflammation.
Already, several studies support THCA’s anti-inflammatory effects. In fact, a 2011 Swedish study evaluating several different acidic and active cannabinoids discovered that all the compounds impacted inflammatory processes. Particularly when it came to targeting colon cancer cell lines in a lab.
Of course, we’re still discovering THCA (and other acidic compounds’) full potential. But what we’re starting to learn about the potential medical benefits of THCA, specifically inflammation and cancer, is promising. Which means that one day, we’ll see THCA, CBDA and other acidic compounds become accepted medical compounds.
What Is THCA?
Finally, we’re ready to explain: what is THCA? Well, the THCA molecule develops from another acid: cannabigerolic acid. Now, we’ve already touched on THCA’s potential medicinal qualities. But it’s also got important jobs to do for the cannabis plant. In fact, some studies suggest that THCA protects cannabis leaves from dangerous UV-B light radiation.
Other research suggests that THCA creates cell death in cannabis leaves, as we mentioned earlier. Since it’s mostly found in the trichome resin glands on cannabis flowers and leaves, this role makes a lot of sense. After all, cannabis plants can easily release this substance into their leaves, making the cells die (necrosis.) In this way, THCA acts as an external immune system, helping cannabis plants self-prune and even recycle nutrients to enhance nourishment.
What does that mean for people? Well, when you take THCA, you are ingesting a substance that acts as a natural pharmacy. So, in the same way that THCA helps defend and heal cannabis plants, it may do the same for you.
Will THCA Get Me High?
Have you wanted to try raw cannabis, but you’re worried that chewing leaves is like smoking weed? Well, stop worrying! Most people vape or smoke fresh cannabis female cannabis flowers so they can experience THC’s wide range of physical and mental effects. But swallowing a small bud won’t get you high. because there’s no heat involved that transforms it to THC!
Don’t forget: THCA is the non-psychoactive (potentially therapeutic) compound that does it’s own thing in your body. It only becomes THC when heated through cooking, vaping or smoking. Now, if you properly store harvested cannabis, some THCA gradually turns to THC. And that’s why many growers place their plants in a curation process instead of selling fresh buds to dispensaries. But, on its own, raw leaves don’t have enough THC to get you high.
Plus, there’s other reasons why raw weed won’t give you that “high” feeling. Mainly, it’s because THC has enter your bloodstream to engage your ECS receptors. But our bodies have a hard time processing marijuana. Because of this, when we consume raw flowers, most of the trace THC content gets released via our digestive system. So it never reaches the bloodstream.
Now you know that ingesting marijuana won’t make you stoned. But you should always remember that raw cannabis and hemp seeds have other nutritional benefits. In fact, historically, hemp seeds were an essential food source. And, to this day, they remain a rich source of vitamins, cannabinoid acids, and essential oils. All of which may help regulate basic cell functions.
Best THCA Sources
Unlike CBD, THCA is in a gray legal area. Although it isn’t as a federally controlled substance federally, it is a THC precursor, so it may be regarded as an analog. Because of this, it’s hard to find THCA products presently available on the market.
In areas where THC is legal, there’s an increasing market for 99% pure THCA extract. (They’re called diamonds, “terp sauce”, “diamond sauce”, or “sauce”.) You can dab or vape these products in a range of ways.
But there’s a simpler solution. THCA might be present in freshly harvested, raw cannabis. As a result, consuming raw weed is a growing trend. Try nabbing your THCA dose by including green cannabis in your juices, raw sauces, smoothies, steamed vegetables, raw salads, or even salad dressings.
Not excited about munching weed leaves? No problem. Just look for raw cannabis tinctures or transdermal patches to source your THCA. Or, grab certain full-spectrum CBD products, which may contain THCA. (Although usually in trace amounts.)
Finally, THCA may be available in concentrates. After isolating the plant’s THCA content, the crystalline THCA may be derived and taken in pure form. And, the resulting product will have minimal flavor or aroma, since flavonoids and terpenes often get lost when you cannabinoids. But don’t worry about losing those potentially beneficial terpenes. Most manufacturers reintroduce terpene blends in these concentrates. In that way, they enhance flavor–and the “entourage effect,” ultimately boosting marijuana’s therapeutic potential.
Final Thoughts on THCA
In raw form, cannabis offers substantial THCA concentrations. After decarboxylation, THCA converts into THC, which is the compound with an intoxicating high. Now, when it comes to molecular structure, there is little difference between THCA and THC. Nevertheless, they cause significantly different effects. And, most importantly, THCA doesn’t cause intoxication.
In fact, raw marijuana proponents answer the question “what is THCA?” by highlighting its many possible health advantages. Want to try this form of weed? First, avoid heating raw cannabis if you plan to use it as a leafy green or to create raw weed juice. Or, explore Tanasi’s new line, Tanasi Gold. These products contain small amounts of THCA, as well as CBDA and other cannabis compounds. So that, with a few drops, you can easily explore the effects of cannabolic acids and all active cannabinoids!