THC and THCa – aren’t they the same compound? If you are unaware of the differences, you are at the right place!
Most smokers know that unheated cannabis won’t get you high. However, there is a lingering misconception that you can use raw weed to get high. The answer to this riddle is simple; you can heat weed to increase its potency. However, some still believe that eating raw weed will deliver a high.
Newly harvested cannabis has many potential health benefits. Still, unless you plan to decarb raw cannabis, it won’t give you the euphoric high. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most famous cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Also, this compound is responsible for the signature weed high once the raw plant is decarboxylated.
On the other hand, living weed plants contain another compound instead of THC, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid THCa. THCa is closely related to THC but doesn’t offer the same high.
There is an ongoing debate, with many describing THCa as a precursor of delta-9 THC. These similar terms cause a lot of confusion, making a fact check about the two compounds even more critical.
So, if you have questions about why THC gets you high while THCa does not, how THCa converts into THC, and whether raw cannabis is a superfood, you’re in the right place. We’ll try to answer all this in the subsequent paragraphs. There are THC Products also available such as thc gummies, thc carts & thc vape pens.
What Is Delta-9 THC vs. THCa?
Regardless of the similarity in their abbreviated names, THC and THCa have many differences. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is an inactive compound in the trichomes of freshly harvested and living weed plants. On the other hand, THC is a psychotropic compound.
Notably, THC is the active version of THCa and is absent in freshly harvested cannabis. Although both THCa and THC have similar chemical composition, THCa has an additional carboxyl group. Therefore, you can think of THCa as the potential precursor of THC.
Unlike THC, THCa molecules cannot bind with CB1 or CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the human body. Due to the additional carboxyl group, THCa’s large three-dimensional shape does not correspond to the CB1 receptors.
For psychoactive effects, a cannabinoid must bond with the CB1 receptor. Due to the inability of THCa to do the same, THCa cannot get you high. Moreover, the most common misconception about weed is that there is a lot of THC cartridges present in the plants before harvesting. However, living plants only accumulate THCa. This THCa has to be converted into THC.
The Discovery Of THCa
Although THCa is the precursor of THC, scientists first discovered delta-9 THC in 1963. For some reason, it took researchers a little longer to discover THCa.
The early interest of researchers was to study hash and charas imported from Europe. Since THC acids slowly convert into THC during storage and processing, they could not discover the cannabidiolic acid earlier.
Nonetheless, THCa was discovered in 1965 by Professor Friefhelm Korte from the University of Bonn. He discovered this acid form of THC as a major constituent of hashish.
Recently, researchers have found that THCa amounts to 90% of the total THC content in cannabis extracts. When heated appropriately, about 70% of this acidic form changes into THC.
How Does THCa Become THC?
There is no natural THC in raw weed plants but only THCa. So, where does THC come from? Making THC requires its acidic form to undergo chemical conversion.
Converting THCa into THC is simple, involving the decarboxylation of THCa. Decarboxylation is a chemical process employing heat or light to remove carboxyl groups from the primary cannabinoid.
By decarbing the THCa crystalline, inactive cannabinoids can react with your endocannabinoid system. THCa converts to THC only if decarbing takes place. Moreover, without the process, no beneficial nutrients will reach your body despite many THCa benefits.
As stated before, there is an additional carbon atom in THCa, which is absent in THC. When THCa is processed and decarbed, that extra carboxyl group detaches from the molecule, converting THCa into THC.
THC works in our bodies because of its specific molecular structure, while THCa remains ineffective for the same reason. So, when THCa converts to THC, it gains that chemical structure our endocannabinoid receptors can use.
After converting into THC, the compound holds the perfect shape for the body’s CB1 receptors. You can only experience the euphoric effects of weed after this chemical bond is made.
The THCa Decarboxylation Process
THCa converts into THC once it is heated by boiling and drying. Hence, the preparation of marijuana for edibles includes the decarboxylation process. However, there are several techniques for carrying out this process. Let’s unpack some of the ways with which you can decarboxylate your raw weed.
Smoking weed is the most common decarboxylation method. Considerably, prolonged heating is not necessary to convert THCa into THC. Instead, a sudden rise in temperature sparks the rapid conversion of THCa to THC. You can also THC cigarettes online.
So, when you light a dried or cured bud, a quick chemical reaction produces THC using THCa. Nevertheless, all the THCa content of the bud does not convert into THC. Even though this is the most common way of enjoying THC benefits, it is not the most efficient.
Many stoners have been drying the weed plant using sunlight. Heat and light are the two primary elements responsible for the decarboxylation process.
THCa changes into THC when freshly harvested hemp plants get varying sunlight exposure. If you place the cannabis plant in the warm sun for a long time, the THCa content of the plant gradually converts into THC.
The conversion also occurs when you store weed at room temperature for an extended period. Over time, several variations of this method have developed to speed up the process.
One process involves submerging cannabis plants in olive oil. Within ten days, 22% THCa content will change into THC under a temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius.
Under the same environmental conditions, there will be a 67% conversion of THCa if dipped in ethanol. If stored with minimum light exposure without dipping in any liquid, 20% THCa will change into THC.
You should note that THCa is an unstable compound that can convert into delta-9 THC with a little effort.
Vaporizing is one of the most efficient methods of the conversion process. When you heat weed at a comparatively low temperature, other acids in the hemp also participate in the conversion process.
When you slowly and continuously increase the heat, the maximum THCa in the plant will change into THC. However, it is valid for only a limited time.
It means that at a specific temperature, THCa conversion will be optimum. After that, a further increase in temperature will result in burning, destroying the chemical structure of THCa in the plant.
This optimal vaporization temperature is 315 F or 157 C. Although the ideal temperature for terpenes and some cannabinoids lies beyond this value, it will not be suitable for THC.
Using Vape Pens
Using vape pens for vaping decarboxylated distillate is even more efficient than vaporizing flowers. Since the cannabis distillate or vape juice already contains THC molecules, further vaporization helps speed up the rest of the conversion.
Therefore, the vaporization of a preloaded delta 8 vape pens is far more effective in getting enough THC to your system. While too low a concentration would not be enough for a high, too much THC can produce side effects such as appetite loss to varying degrees. That’s why you should be wary of your dose while vaping distillates.
Most importantly, you should only buy legitimate vape pens from authentic and licensed brands and dispensaries. It will help you enjoy THC’s benefits without worrying about consuming harmful ingredients.
Like vaporization, dabbing is another method for converting THCa into THC active molecules. In the cannabis industry, the crystalline form of THCa is used chiefly for dabbing.
The dab waxes contain little to no aroma or flavor. It is because most of the flavonoids and terpenes content of the cannabis plant is stripped away during the extraction of cannabinoids. However, many manufacturers reincorporate these flavonoids and terpenes into the distillate to improve flavor profiles.
The addition of terpenes enhances the aromatic feature of the distillate. Also, these aromatic compounds work in conjunction with cannabinoids, producing an entourage effect. Together, all these compounds enhance the potency of cannabinoids for a better therapeutic effect.
Baking Freshly Harvested Cannabis
Baking is the best solution when you want the benefits of THC in your homemade edibles, and that is why weed brownies are so famous. To infuse your oil or butter with weed, you must decarboxylate the plant beforehand.
All you need to do is to grind your weed and evenly spread it over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then, bake it in the oven at 230 F or 110 C for 30-45 minutes. Once done, you will have weed powder with most of its THCa converted into delta-9 THC.
How to Consume THCa?
If you want the therapeutic benefits of THCa without the high of THC, there are plenty of ways. Since THCa is a compound in cannabis with high bioavailability, the number of ways to consume it only depends on your creativity.
You can eat the raw cannabis plant, like leafy green vegetables, by adding it to juices, salad dressings, salads, or sauces. However, as a beginner, you must not overly use the plant in your diet as doing so may have side effects.
Another popular method of consuming THCa is by drinking raw cannabis juice. Apparently, cannabis influencers are behind the raving trend of cannabis juices. All thanks to their influence, it is easy to find cannabis drinks on the menus of cannabis shops and cafes.
Nonetheless, it does not mean you cannot make it in your kitchen. It’s pretty straightforward to make raw cannabis juice. All you need to do is to follow the same process of making kale juice. However, the recipe needs to use cannabis leaves instead of traditional leafy greens.
Since the juicing process does not involve heat or light exposure, there is no conversion of THCa into THC. Therefore, cannabis consumers can savor THCa for medicinal purposes without the involvement of THC.
Raw Cannabis Tinctures
In addition to other methods, you can use raw cannabis tincture of edibles available on the market. These pre-made products contain high levels of THCa, including other cannabinoids.
Importantly, the main advantage of using these ready-made cannabis items is they have precise dosing information labeled on the product. Therefore, if you consume these products, you will know how much cannabinoids, THCa or THC, are getting into your body.
Cannabis juicing and raw eating trends have a drawback: you cannot estimate the concentration of cannabinoids you ingest using these methods.
How Does THCa Interact With The Human Body?
Humans and some animals have special receptors in their bodies in the endocannabinoid system. This system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the human body, which also impacts the central nervous system, immunity, and other critical systems.
Unlike THC, THCa is a non-psychoactive compound that does not produce intoxicating effects. It is because of the size and shape of the THCa molecule that it does not fit endocannabinoid receptors.
Studies show that THCa does not bind effectively to CB1 and CB2, the two primary ECS receptors. However, it does not reflect that THCa is useless in the body.
Notably, sublingual and oral consumption of THCa allows cannabis users to gain benefits without decarboxylation. Due to this, THCa enters the body without converting into THC.
According to researchers, there are some mechanisms by which cannabinoid acids work in the body.
CB1 is one of the two central receptors that trigger cannabis high upon activation. THCa can bind to CB1 receptors, but the affinity is relatively lower than THC. Therefore, it does not produce enough chemical transition to induce a high. Nonetheless, it still imparts therapeutic effects using the same mechanism.
Beta-caryophyllene, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, has an affinity for CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. THCa can also bind to the receptor site for reaction induction. However, the affinity between the receptor and THCa molecule is low again.
GPR55 are a part of the extended endocannabinoid system. The role of these receptors in the central nervous system is undistinguished. However, they are a key player in triggering the therapeutic actions of cannabinoids like THCa and THC.
Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) ion channels help transfer sensory input, including touch, vision, and taste. It is known that THCa directly interacts with multiple TRP channels. Hence, they either stimulate or desensitize them for sensory input.
The enzymes of the endocannabinoids system function to break down the natural cannabinoids produced in our body. By stopping these enzymes in their pathways, THCa may act as an agent to temporarily elevate the concentration of cannabinoids. Importantly, THCa works as an enzyme inhibitor for 2-AG, and anandamide is also known as the ‘bliss molecule.
Potential Benefits of THCa
There is not enough research on THCa as scientists are still studying the working and benefits of this cannabinoid. However, the research shows the promising benefits of THCa as a potential therapeutic compound.
Some of the strong and researched benefits of THCa are:
A 2011 research proved that THCa has great anti-inflammatory properties. According to the researchers, THCa has a role in inhibiting enzymes involved in inflammation and pain.
Moreover, in a 2021 study on mice, THCa demonstrated its potential for treating fatty liver disease due to its anti-inflammatory aspects.
Protect Against Neurodegenerative Diseases
A study on mice published in 2017 highlighted that THCa has the potential for neuroprotective function. It means consuming THCa can help safeguard your body against the damaging effects of neurodegenerative diseases.
THCa has the qualities of improving appetite and decreasing nausea. A 2020 study found that CBDA and THCa effectively lower nausea and vomiting in rats. Moreover, they recorded that the antiemetic effect of THCa is greater than THC and CBD.
According to a 2020 study on mice models, THCa has potential benefits in reducing obesity. Furthermore, it can act as an anti-obesity agent against diabetes and fatty liver disease.
Potential Benefits of THC
Since cannabis is federally illegal in the United States, there is limited ongoing research on THC. The clinical data is mostly anecdotal or stated by the practitioners in states where cannabis is legal.
However, there are some primary benefits of THC that one can experience after decarbing raw cannabis strain.
Sleep disturbance is common in people with certain health conditions like chronic pain. Studies in this section demonstrate that THC products help improve short-term sleep issues. Moreover, it is beneficial in reducing sleep disturbances, leading you to fall asleep in a shorter time. Still, the direct link between THC with sleep quality is unclear.
Reduce Muscle Spasm in Paraplegics
Research shows that THC has a modest impact on muscle spasms. Muscle spasms are a typical symptom that patients with Multiple Sclerosis and paraplegics experience.
According to the conclusion of a large systematic review, THC, in conjunction with other cannabinoids, promotes improvement in muscle spasms. However, the difference with the placebo was statistically insignificant.
Eliminate Nausea From Chemotherapy
Just like its precursor THCa, THC also has antiemetic properties. Most importantly, the research on chemotherapy patients shows that two THC-containing drugs, dronabinol, and nabilone, effectively reduce nausea.
A 2010 study concluded that chemo patients who took THC-based medicine with standard cancer treatment experienced a greater shield against nausea and vomiting.
Chronic pain relief is the most common reason why people use cannabis. A 2015 systematic review highlighted that THC enhances the chances of pain relief by almost 40%.
Consuming Cannabis – Raw Strain
Generally, raw cannabis works much differently than decarbed one. The cannabinoid acids like THCa are stored in the adipose tissues of our body. Mainly, adipose tissues are known as body fat that is present in different organs.
So, when you consume raw cannabis, the THCa in the plant takes four to eight weeks for full saturation in body fat. Once adipose tissues completely absorb all the cannabinoid acids from your meal, you will experience full medicinal effects. Therefore, consuming cannabis juices can increase the daily intake of cannabinoids without fearing the high of THC.
What Is a “Good” THCa Percentage?
It is common for budding cannabis enthusiasts to get overwhelmed with the potency calculation. Basically, one cannot determine the potency of a product or meal just by looking at the percentage of THCa in it.
Unfortunately, no single standardized method is available to cannabis consumers in the industry yet. Therefore, manufacturers do not have a clear method for presenting testing data to consumers. Hence, reading lab reports and even product labels becomes tricky.
Nevertheless, two main methods are used in the THCa potency testing. These are liquid chromatography (LC) and gas chromatography (GC).
In a simplified manner, we’ll say that each method gives a varied potency value even for the same sample of cannabis. Generally, both these techniques involve the use of different amounts of heat, which affects the decarboxylation of cannabis.
Since gas chromatography employs high temperatures, most of the THCa content in the raw cannabis converts into THC. Whereas, unlike GC, liquid chromatography does not demand high temperatures for testing THCa levels.
Consequently, these testing techniques show diversified potency values for the same strain and sample amount of cannabis. We suggest you talk with your dispensary staff to learn how the potency of specific products will impact your THCa experience.
THCa And Potency
THCa, a precursor to THC, makes it crucial for cannabis consumers to calculate the potency before consumption. Although THCa is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, considering the strain’s potency will help you control its dose.
As we have mentioned earlier, gas chromatography is the only method that uses high temperatures for decarboxylation, unlike liquid chromatography. Even though it effectively decarb the sample, constant heating and decarboxylation lead to a significant loss in sample weight.
Therefore, one needs to consider the weight loss factor while measuring the total THCa content and potency. Generally, we have this formula:
THC Total = (%THCa) x [Final mass/Initial mass] + (%THC)
Using this formula, you can better understand how much THC is present in your sample, product, or dose of raw cannabis strain. Also, it sometimes refers to the maximum THC concentration under usual smoking conditions.
Although the true amount of THC is difficult to estimate, research suggests that 30 to 70 percent of THCa in the plant may not change during smoking.
Does THCa Add to the Total THC?
No, THCa does not add to the total THC content in the specific strain or products of cannabis plants. Only about 70% of the 90% of THCa is converted into THC upon appropriate heating. Therefore, it depends on the method you choose for decarbing your cannabis, which ultimately decides its total THC content.
Does THCa Make Living Cannabis a Potential Superfood?
Many people consider raw cannabis an effective superfood because of the high THCa content in live plants. Since the research has revealed the beneficial compounds of cannabis, budding cannabis chefs are incorporating live cannabis leaves and buds for culinary purposes.
Besides huge levels of THCa, raw cannabis contains a wealth of nutrients, including minerals, enzymes, vitamins, and healthy fatty acids. Therefore, cannabis juicing is a worthwhile consideration for many cannabis enthusiasts around the globe.
THCa is a part of a hot trend of becoming the desired cannabinoid for great recreational pleasures. Moreover, the emergence of this cannabinoid in medicinal fields and culinary circles is hyping its worth as a versatile marijuana phytochemical.
Conclusion: What Is THCa & THC?
Eating raw weed will not get you high because it does not have active THC. This brings to question, why would anyone ever want to eat raw weed? You can use THC detox methods to flush out weed out of your system.
There are many reasons someone may want to consume marijuana fresh from the plant. These include preserving its cannabinoid content, for example, or use in any food or drink recipes – but the biggest reason is the THCa molecules.
However, if you heat or decarboxylate cannabis, you will get a euphoric high due to the conversion of THCa into THC. Still, whether you are smoking cannabis, eating, vaping, or consuming raw juice, you must understand the plant’s properties.
We have stated many differences in this THCa vs. THC post. We have tried to explain how they are related to each other, how one converts into another, and what benefits you can reap.
In conclusion, you must understand that out of hundreds of compounds; only a few cannabinoids are essential to human health. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of all these cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid chemicals demands more research. Only then can cannabis consumers uncover the potential of any intoxicating cannabis strain at its fullest.