What is THCA? Natural Cannabinoids Discovered
It seems like new cannabinoids come on the market every week, but THCA is one of the original cannabinoids, and you just didnt know it.
With the explosion of new hemp products on the market, many new derivative cannabinoids have been created, but THCA is not one of them. It exists in very small quantities in hemp plants, and is most abundant in the marijuana plant, and most known for it conversion to THC.
But on its own THCA may have unique health benefits, and new research is showing that it can interact with the endocannabinoid system.
- THCA converts to THC when exposed to heat, but THCA itself is a non psychoactive cannabinoid
- THCA does not appear to interact with the two major cannabinoid receptors, CB1 or CB2
- THCA is the primary cannabinoid acid in the marijuana plant, with only a minimal amount in the hemp plant
- What is THCA and what are acidic cannabinoids?
- THC vs THCA, whats the difference?
- Effects and benefits of THCA
- How to use THCA
- Will THCA show up on a drug test?
- Is THCA legal?
What is THCA and what are acidic cannabinoids?
All cannabis sativa plants, whether hemp or marijuana, produce cannabinoids in only one form, the “acidic form”. There are many different acidic cannabinoids, over 100, but some of the most common ones are:
- CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) – precursor to CBD (cannabidiol)
- THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) – precursor to delta 9 THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)
- CBGA (cannabigerolic acid) – precursor to CBG (cannabigerol)
- CBCA (cannabichromenic acid) – precursor to CBC (cannabichromene)
The acidic term comes from the presence of a carboxylic acid group (-COOH) located on the different cannabinoids.
How is THCA made?
All cannabinoids come from the mother cannabinoid CBGA, which is created by the olivetolate geranyltransferase. CBGA is then converted to THCA by the THCA synthase enzyme.
In the marijuana plant, the flower produces high levels of the THCA synthase enzyme leading to high amounts of THCA, unlike the hemp plant which produces high levels of the CBDA synthase enzyme leading to high amounts of CBDA.
The preference between these two enzymes is the technical difference between the marijuana and hemp plant.
How is THC made?
THC, like CBD, is a natural byproduct of acidic cannabinoids but is not directly made by the cannabis plant. To convert THCA to THC requires heat exposure, which decarboxylates the acidic form to its neutral form.
Isolation of THCA and other cannabinoids in the acidic form has been difficult at scale, and only recently have new products been developed with these type of cannabinoids.
Conventional curing and processing of raw cannabis flower introduce heat at many steps which convert THCA to THC:
- Curing the cannabis plant: raw cannabis flower contains around 50% moisture, and most extraction processes require that the flower be at around 10% moisture levels. This also helps extend the lifespan of the biomass since it prevents growth of mold and other microbials. During this time, some THCA converts to THC due to low levels of heat exposure over long periods of time.
- Extraction: many extraction methods to separate the cannabinoids from the flower require removal of the solvent afterwards. This means heat needs to be added to boil off the solvent and leave the remaining cannabinoids, terpenes, and other plant compounds. The heat in this step can also convert THCA to THC.
- Purification: After extraction, the remaining mixture is termed a crude, and is usually only 50-70% pure for cannabinoids. Conventional purification of cannabinoids from crude uses a short path distillation method, which boils off the cannabinoids under vacuum. This step has the highest amount of THCA to THC conversion.
New acidic form purifications
Scientists at Natural Dos have created a new purification process that isolates only the acidic cannabinoids from the hemp plant.
For the first time time, this allows products to be made using high amounts of CBDA, THCA or CBGA!
Whats the difference between THCA and THC
While significant amounts of THCA are found in the flower, there is typically only a small amount of THC. When consumers purchase medical marijuana flower in state where it is legal, most of the cannabinoids are still in the acidic form.
Does THCA get you high?
If you find an isolated tincture or edible, and the certificate of analysis shows that all the THC is in the THCA form, you will not get a high from it.
However, this is often rare. The process of making edibles usually involves heat, and some amount of THCA will turn into the psychoactive THC.
THCA products for smoking will get you high
If you have a vape with THCA juice, smoking it will convert the THCA to THC and you will get psychoactive properties.
The same hold true for cannabis flowers that are high in THCA, any smoking will convert it to THC since the heat will always decarboxylate the vast majority of acidic cannabinoids.
Is THCA similar to delta-8 and delta-9
THCA by itself is molecularly similar to delta 8 and delta 9 THC, but does not have the psychoactive effects.
When heated via smoking or vaping, THCA will have similar effects to delta 9 THC since it is converted. Delta 8 THC also has similar effects to delta 9 THC, but is considered to have slightly less psychoactive effects, sometimes referred to as “THC light”.
What does THCA do: effects and benefits of THCA
One of the unique benefits of cannabinoid acids is their superior absorption.
Recent studies show that THCA is almost 200% better absorbed than its neutral form THC. This is not unusual.
Other studies that show CBDA absorption is over 450% better than CBD.
THCA and cannabinoid receptors
The effects of cannabinoids are well studied for their interactions with the endocannabinoid system, and specifically, their interactions with different cannabinoid receptors.
Active THC is known to bind to the CB1 receptor, which is predominantly located on nerve cells the central nervous system. It is this interaction that gives THC its unique intoxicating effects.
THCA does not interact with the CB2 receptor, a target for CBD and CBDA, but does have weak interactions with the CB1 receptor. However, these interactions with the CB1 receptor are not strong enough to produce intoxicating effects like THC.
In summary, current research indicates that THCA itself does not interact much with the major cannabinoid receptors.
THCA, mitochondria and metabolism
A number of research studies have found that acidic cannabinoids can have metabolic properties, and THCA is not exception.
For example, THCA metabolic effects were found to induce mitochondrial biogenesis through the PPAR-gamma transcription factor pathway. This PPAR dependent activation is a primary target for anti-diabetic drugs like rosiglitazone, that increase insulin sensitivity.
How to take THCA
If you are interested in consuming THCA molecules themselves, and not decarboxylating to THC, then you will need to find a tincture or edible that is sourced from a cannabinoid acid only purification process.
Most of the THCA focused products will be in the smokable form, since the vast majority of users are looking for the psychoactive effects of THC itself.
What is a high THCA percentage?
Most cannabis consumers when looking at raw cannabis plants, such as medical marijuana, are interested in the THCA content. The amount of THCA in the flower will determine how much THC is consumed since the product is typically smoked.
A high THCA cannabis plant produces in the range of 20% or over for THCA.
Look for a certificate of analysis on the product to determine the amount of THCA in the flower or vape.
Is a high THCA cannabis plant the best?
We bring up this point because many people consuming THCA in high amounts find the intoxicating effects to be too extreme. This is for two reasons:
- The intoxicating effects of high amounts of THC from a high THCA cannabis plant can overwhelm many people, and lead to anxiety and stress. Over activation of the CB1 receptor is often unpleasant, and is a well reported phenomena.
- THC products can now be found in many formulations with CBD or CBDA, and often in a 1:1 ratio. The reason is that simulataneous activation of the CB1 and CB2 receptor create a more pleasant experience for users without the intoxicating effect that pure THC can have. This is important in high THCA cannabis plants that are bred for THCA because they tend to produce very little CBDA.
- Special note to home growers: for freshly harvested cannabis plants, the THCA flower content will be much lower than anticipated. This is because the THC content is based on the total weight of the flower, and almost all flower sold is dried. To get an estimate of the amount of THCA in raw plant material, multiply the THCA% by 1.6 to get a final estimate after curing. Note, this assumes you lose around 40% of the total cannabis plant weight after drying.
Where to find THCA products
Almost all the THCA products sold on the market in either in the flower form, or sometimes as vape juice. Also, since THCA is only found in the marijuana plant to any substantial degree, it can only be bought in states that have recreational or medical marijuana laws.
For more information on why you may or may not see “hemp derived THCA”, see the legal section below.
Does THCA show up on drug tests screen?
Yes. Sort of….
- It is going to be very difficult to find THCA products that you can ingest that dont have any THC in them. Even sunlight conversion of THCA to THC can happen to your edible or tincture, meaning that if you get a drug test, then you will always run a risk of showing up positive.
- Not all drug tests are made equal. While it is easy to determine the difference between THCA and THC on a test that uses mass spectrometry, many drug tests use a simply antibody detection strip that may easily classify THCA as THC.
Side effects of THCA
There is not enough studies on the side effects of THCA itself. For THC, there are a significant number of side effects that should be considered:
- Dry mouth and dry eyes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- Increased appetite
If you are new to THCA and THC, we recommend starting with a lower amount, around 5mg dose, before trying a higher amount. This can help reduce anxiety side effects of THC, along with taking CBD or CBDA at the same time.
Is THCA legal?
The legality of THCA is a bit of a grey area since the 2018 federal farm bill. The federal guidelines state only mention a legal limit of 0.3% delta 9 THC. However, many states include THCA in their calculation of total THC in a hemp plant or final hemp product.
While the THCA molecule itself may be federally legal, most state hemp programs will not allow a product to have over 0.3%. Because of this, almost all THCA products can only be found in states that have legal medical or recreational marijuana laws.