Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)
ˈte-trə-ˌhī-drə-kə-ˈna-bə-ˌnȯl-ik ˈa-səd | Noun
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid. It turns into the psychotropic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) when exposed to heat — a process known as decarboxylation. This cannabinoid is the most common in raw marijuana plants. According to research, it displays potential anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects and prevents nausea and vomiting.
“Eating raw cannabis plants won’t get you high because raw plants are rich in THCA, which needs to be heated to convert to THC.”
“THCA is the most common cannabinoid in raw marijuana plants.”
What’s Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid?
It’s a cannabinoid produced in the trichomes of the cannabis plant. Trichomes are the tiny glandular hairs sprinkled on the surface of the cannabis plant that give its “frosty” appearance. They contain resin glands that are responsible for the production of all cannabinoids and terpenes, including THCA.
Trichomes produce cannabinoids through the process of biosynthesis. Biosynthesis is a multi-step process where enzymes trigger a series of chemical reactions that turn simpler molecules into more complex ones.
The enzymes involved in the creation of cannabinoids are cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) synthase, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) synthase, and cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) synthase. The mother of all cannabinoids or the central precursor for the biosynthesis of these chemical compounds is cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). So, THCA synthase takes CBGA and turns it into THCA.
THCA vs. THC
THC is one of the main components that make cannabis a unique plant. This plant produces hundreds of cannabinoids, but only a few exhibit potent effects. None of all cannabinoids comes close to the euphoric high unique to cannabis, produced by THC.
The main difference between THC and THCA is their ability to induce a euphoric or “high” feeling. This means that you can eat or drink the raw cannabis plant but not feel any intoxicating effects. The reason for that is that THCA doesn’t fit into the brain’s cannabinoid receptors because it has an extra carboxyl group attached to it. This carboxyl group makes THCA an acid.
THCA converts to THC when exposed to heat or dryness over a prolonged period of time. Exposing the cannabis plant to heat is known as decarboxylation because, during that process, it loses a carboxyl group. This process is crucial because it allows cannabinoids to interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the body.
The same goes for most cannabinoids, including CBDA, CBGA, and THCVA. They are present in the plant in their acidic form, so when the plant is harvested and dried, they start to transform into the cannabinoids we know (CBD, CBG, and THCV).
So, when you check the label of cannabis products you’ve purchased in a dispensary, you might wonder how a cannabis flower that hasn’t been decarboxylated is tested for its THC levels. Well, the THC amount displayed on the label is a measurement of the potential decarboxylated THCA.
Is It Legal?
This cannabinoid is not a Scheduled Substance at a federal level, so it stands in a grey legal area. But, it could be considered an analog of THC, which makes it illegal. It’s important to mention that the cannabis plant contains mostly THCA and is not considered legal. Also, drug tests may detect this cannabinoid in urine, which may have legal implications on the person if they live in a state where cannabis is illegal.
Uses and Benefits of THCA
This cannabinoid offers various useful medicinal applications that have been somewhat overlooked in favor of THC and CBD. THCA displays potential anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, immunoregulatory, and anti-nausea effects.
The research on this cannabinoid is limited. One 2011 study found that THCA exhibits similar anti-inflammatory properties to other cannabinoids. Another 2017 study revealed that it might be better medicine for irritable bowel syndrome than CBD.
One 2012 study found that THCA exhibits neuroprotective properties that may help in the treatment of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Research also found that this cannabinoid is more potent than THC in the treatment of nausea and vomiting.
Mechanisms of Action
This cannabinoid has minimal affinity for the CB1 receptor and doesn’t produce the intoxicating effect of cannabis. When exposed to decarboxylation, THCA’s shape changes and transforms into THC, which then fits the binding pocket of CB1 receptors.
These receptors are widely located in the central nervous system, where they regulate a variety of brain and bodily functions, like intoxication and pain-relief triggered by THC. This compound is highly unstable and interacts with several receptor pathways in the body, other than CB1 and CB2.
Where Can You Find It?
Raw Cannabis Flower
The number one source of this compound is raw cannabis flower. It’s more present in marijuana than hemp, so if you want to consume it raw, make sure it’s legal in your state. Raw cannabis is starting to get a lot of traction due to its potential as a superfood alongside kale and avocados. Consumers are looking for recipes and are creating new ways to include cannabis in its raw, non-intoxicating form. This allows them to enjoy THCA’s medicinal benefits.
Topicals and Tea
Have you ever heard about cannabis tea? It’s a popular way to consume non-activated cannabis into the body. Cannabis tea is not heated at a high temperature for THCA to decarboxylate into THC and produce intoxicating effects. This makes cannabis tea a mildly- to a non-intoxicating product that will appeal to everyone in need of a hot drink with tons of medicinal benefits.
Cannabis topicals are infused with THCA, THC, CBD, and other beneficial cannabinoids. Users apply these products directly to the skin and let the cannabinoids absorb into the bloodstream. Topicals are absorbed at a slower rate than smoked or eaten cannabis and are an excellent choice for people who need relief without the intoxicating effects.
Can topicals make you high? Topicals that include THC may be mildly intoxicating if the component reaches the bloodstream. Even then, it happens so slowly that the person doesn’t detect any psychotropic action. As we mentioned, topicals with THCA don’t produce a euphoric high because they are non-intoxicating.
This cannabinoid is also available as an oil and can be consumed in a variety of ways. You should know that THCA oil becomes THC over time unless you keep it stored at a very cold temperature. Processors extract this cannabinoid at room temperature to make sure it doesn’t convert into THC. This product can be used to ease inflammation, pain, stimulate appetite, and induce relaxation. You can apply the THCA tincture under the tongue or use it as a spray.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is a cannabis compound that plays a significant role in the formation of THC. It offers many potential benefits and is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, meaning it won’t get you high.