THC Vs. THCA | What Are The Key Differences Skip to content
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THC vs. THCA: What are the Differences and Benefits


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If you're someone who's interested in the world of cannabis, you've probably heard of THC. But have you heard of THCA?

These two compounds are often mentioned together but are not the same.

THC is a well-known psychoactive compound that gets you high, while THCA is a non-intoxicating compound that has its own potential health benefits.

Let's take a closer look at how THC vs. THCA stacks up against each other in terms of effects, product availability, and safety.

THC vs THCA molecules

Key Takeaways: THC Vs. THCA

  • The cannabis plant produces many other cannabinoids aside from CBD and THC, THCA is one of them found in freshly harvested cannabis.

  • THCA is the acidic, non-psychoactive form of THC found in raw, unheated cannabis, while THC is the psychoactive form of the compound that results from heating or aging cannabis.

  • THC is responsible for the characteristic "high" associated with marijuana use, while THCA does not have psychoactive effects.

  • THCA has been shown to have potential health benefits, such as supporting healthy inflammation and promoting relaxation, while THC has been studied for its pain relief, anti-nausea, and appetite-stimulating properties.

  • THC is typically consumed through smoking or vaping, which will convert THCA into THC. At the same time, THCA can be consumed by juicing or consuming raw cannabis for its non-psychoactive effects.

  • The legal status of THC and THCA varies depending on where you live, with THC being classified as a controlled substance in many places, while THCA is generally legal to possess and use.

Differences Between THC vs. THCA

THC vs THCA comparison

1. Chemical Structure And Properties

THC and THCA have slightly different chemical structures.

THCA is the precursor cannabinoid to THCA and has an extra carboxylic acid group, which breaks off when exposed to heat to create THC. Comparing the shape of the THCA vs. THC, we can see that the carboxylic group affects the psychoactive properties of the molecules.

2. Psychoactive Effects

THC is known for its psychoactive effects, which include altered mood, increased appetite, and reduced pain perception. These effects are what make THC popular for recreational use.

THCA molecules, on the other hand, do not produce the psychoactive effects of THC. However, it may have potential medical benefits such as anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.

3. Legal Status

The legal status of THC vs. THC can vary depending on where you live.

THC is a controlled substance in many countries and is only legal for medical or recreational use in certain states or countries.

THCA, on the other hand, is not typically regulated or controlled, as it does not produce the psychoactive effects of THC.

In many states, hemp-derived THCA products are the only way to have legal access to the psychoactive properties of cannabis, as it lives in a legal loophole. THCA is typically legal for purchase as a raw cannabis extract or hemp flower, but it can be converted to THC with a simple lighter.

How To Consume THC and THCA

1. Inhalation

The most common method of consuming THC and THCA is by smoking or vaporizing.

This method allows for quick onset of effects. However, smoking can be harsh on the lungs and may not be suitable for those with respiratory issues.

Keep in mind that if you are smoking THCA flower or THCA concentrates, the moment you apply heat to the cannabinoid acid, it will undergo decarboxylation, and transform into THC, producing pscyhaoctive effects.

2. Edibles

THC and THCA can be consumed in food or beverage form, such as baked goods, candies, and tinctures.

THC Edibles, including gummies and THC capsules take longer to take effect, typically 30 minutes to an hour, but the effects can last longer.

It's important to note that edibles can be difficult to dose accurately and may result in unexpected effects if consumed in excess.

While you can find THCA gummies and capsules available, made with the non-psychoactive acidic form of THC, the moment you expose it to heat, it will become THC and will become psychoactive.

If you wish to keep your THCA as the acidic form, consume the product raw.

3. Topicals

THCA and THC can also be applied topically in the form of creams, balms, and lotions.

Many people prefer this method for localized pain relief or skin conditions, as it does not produce psychoactive effects.

4. Sublingual

THC Oil and THCA Oil can be consumed sublingually, meaning they are placed under the tongue and absorbed into the bloodstream through the mucous membranes. Using THC sublingually allows for quick onset and accurate dosing.

THCA taken in this format stays as THCA, so you don't have to worry about accidentally converting it into THC.

5. Suppositories

THC and THCA can also be consumed rectally or vaginally in the form of suppositories.

Some people may choose this method if they have difficulty consuming cannabis orally or through inhalation. It may also offer faster effects to direct areas of concern, and may produce longer-lasting effects.

What Is THCA?

THCA, short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in raw cannabis plants. This means that no matter how much THCA you consume from freshly harvested cannabis (unheated), you won't succumb to its intoxicating effects.

Unlike THC, THCA does not produce the euphoric "high" commonly associated with marijuana use.

THCA differs from THC in chemical structure and properties—namely, THCA molecules have a carboxylic acid group, which will affect how the molecule binds to different receptors in the body.

While THCA is the precursor to THC, it's converted into THC through a process called decarboxylation, which involves heating the cannabis buds. This chemical reaction effectively breaks off the carboxylic acid group, and you get THC.

What Is THC?

THC, short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis.

It's the chemical responsible for producing the euphoric "high" commonly associated with the marijuana plant.

When consumed, THC (like CBD and other cannabinoids) interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system, which regulates a variety of physiological processes such as mood, appetite, and pain sensation.

THC is unique because it binds to cannabinoid receptors (CB1) in the brain and other parts of the body, which can lead to various effects, such as altered mood, increased appetite, and reduced pain perception [1].

What Does The Research Say About The Suggested Benefits Of THCA?

  1. Potential for anti-inflammatory effects: Some preliminary research has suggested that THCA may have promising effects for supporting healthy inflammation, which seems to be a common property of many cannabis compounds [7].

  2. Potential for neuroprotective effects: Animal studies have shown that THCA may support the brain from damage, although more research is needed to confirm these findings [8].

  3. THCa may support healthy weight: A 2020 study found that THCa may aid in obesity-related diseases such as fatty liver disease and diabetes by supporting normal insulin levels [9]. While the research is fairly new, it shows some potential in this space.

What Does The Research Say About Suggested Benefits of THC?

  1. Potential for pain relief: Some studies have shown that THC may have the potential actions to relieve chronic pain, including neuropathic pain and pain associated with certain medical conditions [2].

  2. Potential for reducing nausea and vomiting: THC has promising effects for reducing nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy or other medical conditions, based on some limited clinical research [3].

  3. Potential for appetite stimulation: Cannabis consumers know the munchies all too well. This appetite-stimulating property could benefit people with certain medical conditions based on some limited clinical research [4].

  4. Potential for relaxation: THC shows promising potential for producing feelings of relaxation and euphoria, which may have some limited benefit for people with anxiety or depression, as found in some clinical research [5]. However, it can also produce the opposite effect in high doses.

  5. Potential for aiding sleep: THC may have potential as a sleep aid, as some limited clinical research suggests that it may promote body relaxation and reduce anxiety [6].

How is THCA Is Converted Into THC

How THCA is converted into THC

THCA is converted into THC through a process called decarboxylation, which involves heating or aging the cannabis plant.

When cannabis is harvested, it contains high levels of THCA and little to no THC.

However, when the cannabis plant is exposed to heat through smoking, baking, or vaping, the THCA molecule loses a carboxyl group and is converted into THC. This process activates the psychoactive effects of the compound, making it more potent and bioavailable.

Decarboxylation can also occur naturally over time as the cannabis plant ages and is exposed to sunlight. This is why some older cannabis products may have higher levels of THC than freshly harvested plants.

Overheating or burning cannabis can lead to the breakdown of THC into less desirable compounds, while underheating may result in lower THC levels and ineffective products.

Which Is Better between THC and THCA?

It's difficult to determine which cannabinoid comes out on top, between THCA vs THC as it depends on the individual's body chemistry and the desired effects they'd like from cannabis.

When it comes to the breadth of research, there's much more attention on the effects and safety of THC. However, THC may not be suitable for everyone, especially those sensitive to the psychoactive effects.

Another factor to consider is its accessibility.

THCA derived from hemp may be many people's only option for a THC product with the potential to use psychoactive effects in states where marijuana remains illegal.

The Takeaway: THC VS. THCA

THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psychoactive compound found in cannabis.

It's responsible for the "high" that people experience when using marijuana. THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a non-psychoactive compound found in raw, unheated cannabis.

It must be converted to THC through a process called decarboxylation before it becomes psychoactive.

As with any substance, it's important to do your own research and consult with a medical professional before using THC or THCA longterm. Everyone's body is different, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Additionally, the legal status of these compounds varies depending on where you live, so it's important to be aware of the laws in your area.

FAQs about THCa and THC

1. What is the difference between THC and THCA?

THC and THCA are two different chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.

THC is the psychoactive compound that produces the "high" associated with marijuana use, while THCA is a non-psychoactive precursor to THC that requires heat to convert into THC.

2. Can THCA get you high?

No, THCA is a non-psychoactive compound and does not produce a "high" on its own.

It must be heated, such as through smoking or vaporization, to convert THCA into THC and produce psychoactive effects.

3. Is THC legal?

The legality of THC depends on the laws of the specific country or state. In some places, THC is legal for medical or recreational use, while in others it is illegal.

It is possible to have access to federally legal delta-9 THC products as long as the cannabinoid is hemp derived and maintains a concentration of less than 0.3% by dried weight basis in the final product, as per a loose interpretation of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp and its derivatives.

4. Is THCA legal?

THCA is legal in most countries and states, as it is non-psychoactive and does not produce the "high" associated with marijuana use.

It's also mostly legal as long as it's derived from industrial hemp plants. However, some states have banned all forms of THC, so it's important that you check with your local laws before purchasing THCa.

5. THCa vs. THCv?

THCa is a non-psychoactive precursor to THC, offering potential anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective benefits, while THCv is a less common variant of THC that may reduce appetite and stimulate bone growth.

6. THCa vs. THCo?

THCa is a raw, unheated form of THC, offering potential wellness benefits without the high, while THCo is a synthesized version of THC, reportedly delivering a more intense, longer-lasting psychoactive effect.

Resources:

  1. Sim-Selley, L. J. (2003). Regulation of cannabinoid CB1 receptors in the central nervous system by chronic cannabinoids. Critical Reviews™ in Neurobiology, 15(2).

  2. Russo, E. B. (2008). Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Therapeutics and clinical risk management, 4(1), 245-259.

  3. Musty, R. E., & Rossi, R. (2001). Effects of smoked cannabis and oral Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol on nausea and emesis after cancer chemotherapy: a review of state clinical trials. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, 1(1), 29-56.

  4. Berry, E. M., & Mechoulam, R. (2002). Tetrahydrocannabinol and endocannabinoids in feeding and appetite. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 95(2), 185-190.

  5. Kamal, B. S., Kamal, F., & Lantela, D. E. (2018). Cannabis and the anxiety of fragmentation—a systems approach for finding an anxiolytic cannabis chemotype. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 730.

  6. Kaul, M., Zee, P. C., & Sahni, A. S. (2021). Effects of cannabinoids on sleep and their therapeutic potential for sleep disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 18, 217-227.

  7. Carmona-Hidalgo, B., González-Mariscal, I., García-Martín, A., Prados, M. E., Ruiz-Pino, F., Appendino, G., ... & Muñoz, E. (2021). Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid markedly alleviates liver fibrosis and inflammation in mice. Phytomedicine, 81, 153426.

  8. Maroon, J., & Bost, J. (2018). Review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids. Surgical neurology international, 9.

BY
Jan Brandrup

M.Eng Electrical & Mechanical Jan Brandrup is a Denmark born leader who has actualized multiple of his entrepreneurial businesses to success. Committed to excellent standards of functional craftsmanship, his work spans globally from Scandinavia to South Africa, Turkey, Russia, the Middle Eas...


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