What’s the Difference Between THCA and THC?

THCA vs THC product

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is a cannabinoid present in raw or live varieties of cannabis, including hemp and marijuana. THCA is also the precursor acid of THC and converts to THC via exposure to heat and light, also known as decarboxylation. 

THCA’s effects are different from THC. THCA doesn’t cause a high. THC, on the other hand, does cause a euphoric high. While the research is still somewhat limited, THCA is thought to be an appetite stimulator, anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, anticonvulsant, and neuroprotectant, many of which are similar to THC’s benefits.

THCA vs THC: The main differences 

THCA is non-intoxicating and won’t induce a high, THC (THCA exposed to heat and light) will make you high. Both are effective at treating epilepsy, vomiting, and inflammation.

Here are the main differences between THC and THCA:

  • THCA is the precursor acid of THC. It’s non-intoxicating and won’t get you high unless exposed to light and heat and converted to THC.
  • THC is the decarboxylated product of THCA when exposed to light and heat. It will cause intoxication, induce a euphoric high, and impair thinking.
  • THCA molecules are larger than THC molecules. This difference in size means THCA has a weak binding affinity at cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), meaning it won’t cause a high.
  • THC’s strong binding affinity with CB1 receptors is why you experience a high.

How does THCA work?

As mentioned, THCA is a unique precursor acid cannabinoid responsible for a range of benefits without causing a high (when consumed as raw, unheated cannabis). 

While THCA doesn’t directly bind with cannabinoid receptors, it does interact with other receptor sites and physiological regions within your body, most notably enzymes cyclooxygenase (COX-1 & COX-2) and cytokine interleukin 10 (IL-10). 

THCA’s interaction with COX-1 and COX-2 is inhibitory, meaning it suppresses the enzymes’ activity, resulting in anti-inflammation and pain relief. Dosing THCA and CBDA together could be more effective here. You can learn more about THCA here.

How does THC work? 

Unlike THCA, THC directly interacts with your endocannabinoid system via a strong binding affinity with CB1 receptors in the brain and central nervous system. THC’s binding at CB1 receptors not only causes a euphoric high but also helps alleviate pain, inflammation, depression, nausea, vomiting (in lower doses), and glaucoma. 

THC also binds to CB2 receptors located in your peripheral organs, gastrointestinal system, spleen, and immune cells. CB2 receptor activation can result in appetite stimulation, pain management, enhanced immune response, and anti-inflammation. You can learn more about THC here.

THCA vs CBD 

  • THCA and CBD are similar insofar as being non-intoxicating and not inducing a euphoric high when consumed 
  • They both have little affinity with CB1 and CB2 receptors, though CBD can act as a negative allosteric modulator of CB1 when THC binds to it. This modulatory behavior is thought to reduce THC’s effects 
  • THCA is an acidic precursor cannabinoid, while CBD is a non-acidic “pharmacological active” cannabinoid following the decarboxylation of cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) 

THCA vs THCV 

  • THCA and THCV both belong to the family of tetrahydrocannabinols, though THCA is an acidic precursor cannabinoid and THCV is the final byproduct of cannabigerovarin acid (CBGVA) synthesis via decarboxylation 
  • THCA doesn’t induce a high, while THCV is believed to be intoxicating in high doses. THCV intoxication is thought to be the result of CB1 activation 
  • While THCA stimulates appetite, THCV might do the opposite and suppress appetite

THCA vs CBDA

  • While CBDA and THCA are non-intoxicating in their natural acidic forms, CBDA won’t decarboxylate to THC. CBDA decarboxylates to CBD, which is also non-intoxicating and won’t induce a high
  • CBDA shares the same anti-inflammatory qualities as THCA. Both inhibit COX-2 enzymes, thus reducing inflammation and pain after injury or infection 
  • CBDA has anti-nausea qualities similar to THCA, though CBDA does this via serotonin receptor (5-HT1A) activation

What does the research say about THCA?

The research on THCA and its benefits is still somewhat unknown and difficult to analyze. According to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a leading Israeli cannabis researcher, studying THCA on a pharmacological level is almost impossible. He questions how anyone can experiment on THCA when it converts to THC so easily, even when it’s sitting at room temperature. 

Dr. John McPartland, who studied THCA in-depth back in 2017, believes THCA’s benefits often get misconstrued with THC’s benefits. Why? Because THCA doesn’t bind to CB receptors the same way THC does. This binding affinity is where many of the supposed benefits come from. 

THCA concentrate
THCA diamonds

So, when we think of THCA benefits, we could be looking at THC benefits instead. Here’s what we know about THCA’s benefits. 

THCA’s benefits

Anti Inflammatory 

THCA’s antiinflammatory qualities are well-documented. Researchers believe small quantities of THCA in cannabis extracts promote anti-inflammatory activity in your body. This activity is thought to be mediated by GPR55, a novel cannabinoid receptor expressed in many parts of the brain and central nervous system. THCA also reduces inflammation by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. These enzymes produce prostaglandin, a compound responsible for pain, swelling, and redness due to injury or infection. 

Nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss

In animal studies, THCA is a known antiemetic also capable of reducing nausea. Researchers injected rat test subjects with lithium chloride to induce nausea and vomiting. They discovered 0.5 mg/kg of THCA reduced conditioned gaping, a behavior in animals caused by nausea. This reduction is thought to be caused by CB1 receptor antagonism. In shrews, 0.05 and 0.5 mg/kg of THCA significantly reduced vomiting. The researchers believe THCA could be a more potent, non-intoxicating alternative to THC for nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss. 

Neuroprotectant 

THCA shows potent neuroprotective activity. Researchers believe THCA upregulates pro-inflammatory markers and protects the central nervous system, both of which are potentially useful against neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. 

Epilepsy 

THCA on its own isn’t known to reduce epilepsy and epilepsy-induced seizures. However, a recent study on retrospective data of 272 medical cannabis patients is promising. Over 80% of patients experienced reduced seizure episodes as a result of cannabis consumption. 10% experienced no seizure episodes. The majority consumed CBD-rich formulas with additional THCA and THC. Very few adverse effects were reported, indicating CBD, THC, and THCA-rich cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for epilepsy. 

What’s the best way to take THCA?

You can administer THCA in several ways. Some involve heat, while others don’t. When heated, THCA decarboxylates to THC, increasing the likelihood of a nice euphoric high. Consuming raw cannabis with no heat won’t decarboxylate THCA and cause a high. 

Using a THCA tincture

There’s no wrong way to administer THCA, per se. It all depends on what you’re using it for and if you want to experience an intoxicating high. 

We believe the three best ways to take THCA are vaping, smoking, or juicing. Here’s why. 

How to use THCA?

Vaping THCA (heated)

Vaping also causes THCA to convert into THC, causing a strong high depending on how much THCA is in your product. If you want a very intense and immediate high with all the natural benefits of THCA and THC, we recommend dabbing THCA concentrates using a dab pen or dab rig. Some concentrates carry up to 70-90% THCA, which then decarboxylates into THC. We recommend THCA concentrates to seasoned THC users. The potency is too high for beginner users. 

Smoking THCA (heated)

Similar to vaping, smoking causes THCA to THC conversion. Smoking THCA-rich cannabis flower isn’t quite as potent as vaping THCA concentrates. THC-rich flower carries upwards of 20% THCA, while THCA concentrates carry up to 90%. However, you still get all the immediate effects since inhalation occurs (usually within 15-30 minutes). 

Juicing (unheated) 

Ever heard of juicing THCA? You take 12-15 fresh cannabis leaves and 2-3 buds and place them in a blender with some additional ingredients such as apples, carrots, elderflower, or anything else that’s nutritious and valuable to your body. You can also use fruit or vegetable juice for better consistency. Once blended, you have THCA-rich juice ready to drink. You won’t feel high from drinking it either.

Types of THCA products and how they’re made

There are several types of THCA products available to you. 

Types of THCA products

THCA flower

THCA flower is made from hemp plants naturally carrying higher percentages of THCA, alongside CBD, THC (<0.3%), CBG, and terpenes. The way growers create THCA flower is through careful selective breeding and reproducing desired traits and characteristics of one or more strains (in this case high THCA). 

THCA tinctures

THCA tinctures are the most common type of THCA product. They’re made from cold-pressing fresh, raw hemp leaves and flowers. The resulting THCA-rich extract is then diluted in an oil or alcohol-based carrier. 

THCA crystalline

THCA crystalline, otherwise known as THCA diamonds, is a potent form of cannabis concentrate carrying up to 90-99% THCA. 

To make THCA diamonds, producers combine a high-quality hemp extract with acetic acid and hexane. This strips away all the plant compounds from the extract leaving an abundance of THCA. The extract is then put through a reactionary vessel using a specialized solvent. During this time, the THCA diamonds will bind, crystallize, and form into a solid substance. 

You can either place the THCA diamond under your tongue and allow the compounds to dissolve into your bloodstream. This won’t cause a high. You can also flash vaporize THCA diamonds using a dab pen. This will cause a significant euphoric high. 

Transdermal patches

Transdermal THCA patches are less common but no less effective. When you place a THCA patch on your skin, the THCA and other plant compounds quickly absorb into your skin and enter directly into your bloodstream (usually within 20-30 mins), offering almost immediate relief.

Closing thoughts: Should you start using THCA products?

While the research on THCA is still limited, we believe THCA products are a great way to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. No matter whether you consume it from raw, unheated cannabis via juicing or you inhale its goodness using the very best vaporizer kits, THCA is worth trying. 

Just remember, when you smoke or vape THCA, it does immediately convert into THC, causing a pretty outrageous high. If you prefer not experiencing a high, we recommend juicing raw cannabis instead.