What is THCa and How Does it Differ from Psychoactive THC?

what is thca

Posted on December 7th, 2020

Information around the medical properties of hemp plant extracts is always growing. Scientists are working hard to demystify the myths around these chemical compounds. Meanwhile, people just want to know what works for their ailments and what natural options are available. One of the most common cannabinoids for various health concerns is CBD. However, this is not the only beneficial compound from the hemp plant. There are many others, one of which is THCa. What is THCa, you ask? In this piece, we will explain what it is and why you should be aware of it.

Understanding Cannabinoids

The cannabis plant has many useful compounds that may trigger natural healing patterns in the body. These compounds are called cannabinoids, and they work by interacting with the Endocannabinoid system in our bodies. Two cannabinoids are more prominent than the others, namely Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The ECS is responsible for ensuring homeostasis in the body, which is the balance we have when everything is right.

When our moods dampen, the balance tilts, and the natural cannabinoids in the body (endocannabinoids) work to restore this balance. However, several factors can cause issues that limit the effects of the natural cannabinoids. This way, it is common for them to take longer than usual when trying to restore this balance. The cannabinoids derived from the hemp plant (phytocannabinoids) come in handy here as they supplement the endocannabinoids and help to regain balance. 

Both THC and CBD can help do this, but there is a caveat with the former. It has an intoxicating effect and will make you feel “high”. This is why CBD is legal in most states, and you can buy it in different forms from many retailers. The requirement is that commercial CBD should contain negligible traces of THC, specifically less than 0.3% per unit. Again, CBD is only one of many useful hemp compounds. Let’s look at one of the less famous ones.

What is THCa?

THCa is the abbreviation of Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid. This is a precursor to the psychoactive compound THC. THC does have many potential health benefits but is still illegal in many places because of the “high” it causes. But recently scientists have found a loophole in the discovery of THCa.

First, understand that a few conditions surround how THC is present in the marijuana plant. Did you know that this compound only exists in minute quantities in raw marijuana? It is actually very unlikely to become intoxicated if you ingest raw marijuana. This is not the case when you smoke it. 

THCa and THC are almost identical in terms of their chemical composition. THCa is the precursor acid to THC. In simple terms, THCa undergoes a chemical process that forms THC. The slight molecular differences between the two account for the radical psychoactive effects THCa does not have any intoxicating effects, and this explains why raw marijuana buds might not get you high at all.

Besides the psychoactive part, THCa has most of the same effects THC has on the human body. It can interact with the ECS to produce a host of therapeutic effects, without the caveat of making you high. These effects include analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties, among others.


Just like with all other cannabinoids, THCa comes from CBGA. CBGA, short for cannabigerolic acid, is the mother of all phytocannabinoids. No cannabinoid would exist without it. It is the building block in the hemp plant and starts a cascade of reactions that produce all cannabinoid lines.

THC and THCa have similar molecules, but what makes them different is the shape. THCa has a 3D shape that makes it too big to fit into the cannabinoid receptors, specifically the CB1 ones. This explains why THC will intoxicate you while THCa won’t.

However, THCa converts to THC when it is heated to a certain temperature. Sunlight is one thing that can potentially cause this reaction, called decarboxylation, while the plant is still growing. If the plant grows in a climate where it is exposed to sunlight for a long time, its THCa molecules will slowly transform to THC. Otherwise, if the dried bud is exposed to heat for a long time, the molecules will change to THC. Note that THCa can also convert to THC when stored at room temperature for a long time.

These critical differences between THCa and THC are what prompted experts to find a way to leverage the benefits of THC without the high. Now let us dive into some of the ways it is used.

What is THCa: Health Benefits

While most studies of THCa are still in their early stages, there is already some exciting information. However, most of the health benefits are tied to THC, with very few differences. Here are some of the potential uses of THCa:


Like some other phytocannabinoids, THCa replicates the effects of endocannabinoids to potentially help reduce inflammatory responses. This way, THCa may produce a safe and natural solution to inflammation caused by various medical conditions or physical activity. Studies have discovered that THCa can inhibit the COX-2 enzyme that causes pain and inflammation. This is the same enzyme that drugs like Advil inhibit.


Scientists recently published a study that indicated that THCa could be used in combination with CBD on patients with epilepsy. Patients found more relief with the THCa combination, especially when administered in small doses. This alluded to the fact that only small amounts of THCa yielded the same effects as large doses of THC, which is a plus.

Neuroprotective Properties

While this has not been confirmed yet, initial research has indicated that THCa may have many neuroprotective properties. The studies focused on brain cell degeneration and Parkinson’s disease. In these circumstances, THCa, among other cannabinoids, demonstrated its ability to improve cell count and safeguard the brain’s neurons. A parallel study indicated that THCa showed potent neuroprotective activity. This could potentially make it helpful for Huntington’s disease, among other neurodegenerative diseases.

Prevents Nausea

Nausea is a common side effect associated with many treatments, and it can significantly inhibit the effects of specific medications. Nausea is intrinsically severe with certain types of treatments such as chemotherapy. THCa is being touted as an option to help alleviate nausea and vomiting without the psychoactive effects of THC.

Other potential benefits include;

  • Helps with insomnia
  • Helps to reduce muscle spasms
  • Improves immune system functions

Does CBD Oil Expire?What is THCa: Products

The biggest challenge with creating THCa products is that they can turn into THC relatively easily. Regulating and maintaining a low enough temperature can be difficult, but is very important. Some of the common forms of THCa you will find today include:

THCa Isolate

This is the purest form of THCa. It’s sometimes called THCa crystalline, and some of them will be as pure as 99%. This is about the purest and most potent extract of THCa you will come across in the market today. You can eat it without decarboxylating it, which allows you to get all the effects of THCa without feeling high.

THCa Topicals

This form is suitable for those who want to reduce inflammation and pains in different body parts. Rather than ingesting the THCa and waiting for the effects to kick in, topicals offer a quicker way of calming pain. This is because of the myriad of CB2 receptors in the skin. Topical THCa is one of the guaranteed ways of using this compound without the risk of getting high.

Edible THCa

You know now that THCa might become THC from simple sunshine. Or the harvesting process might expose the leaves to significant heat. This increases the chances of you finding significant amounts of THC in your product. Therefore, the best way to get the most THCa is from fresh uncured marijuana leaves. Since it is hard to find these in the stores that sell marijuana products, you could try growing your own. Once you trim the flowers and leaves from the plant, you can eat them like any other leaf. Obviously you should make sure that growing marijuana or hemp plants is legal where you live.

So What is THCa? Why Should You Care?

For a long time, the undesirable effects of THC have impeded its medical potential. Now that we have isolated THCa, we can make use of its benefits without worrying about intoxication. And since cannabinoids tend to work better in tandem, this only increases the power of other hemp products. Tanasi strongly believes in the power of this entourage effect and thus includes every possible cannabinoid in its products. If you want to experience the full potential of hemp-extracts, Tanasi’s formulas are a great way to ensure you are maximizing what hemp has to offer! 


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