THC vs. THCa: What are the differences and benefits?

Learn the key comparisons and benefits of THC and THCa.

THC vs. THCa: What are the differences and benefits?
minute read

Just when you thought you’d figured out the cannabis plant and its main compounds, there always seems to be something new waiting around the corner. Maybe you’ve learned about CBD and its non-psychoactive variants or learned the subtleties of THC’s delta structures. 

Now, it’s time to introduce something different to your ongoing cannabis education — tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, better known as THCa. This compound is often overlooked in the cannabis realm, but studies are promising with regard to therapeutic benefits and use cases. In essence, THCa should be part of your vocabulary when discussing and using cannabis, regardless of your starting point.

This article will be your go-to resource for learning about THCa and how it differs from its more familiar cousin, THC. We’ll cover the science behind THCa, learn its potential health benefits, and show you how to find products with THCa content you can trust. Let’s dive into this intriguing compound and see what we find.*

What is THC?

Even if you know nothing about THCa, you’ve definitely heard about tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is the primary psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, producing a range of psychoactive effects and some notable health benefits.*

Alongside CBD, THC is considered one of the two main cannabinoids in cannabis, both of which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. While CBD can support and balance the ECS through indirect means, THC molecules bind directly with CB1 and CB2 receptors, explaining its psychoactive properties.

Just as CBD has variations based on small chemical differences between compounds, THC analogs can also be found in the cannabis plant. Delta-9 THC is the most abundant and effective form of the compound, while delta-8 and delta-10 can produce unique effects in the brain and body. 

THC can also be consumed via a wide array of delivery methods. Not only can you smoke marijuana in its original cured flower format, but cannabis extracts and concentrates can also feature high concentrations of THC based on one’s preferences. From smokeable waxes to vapes, edibles, and oils, the variety of modern THC products is only growing.

In terms of legality, THC is still not on the same level as CBD due to its psychoactive components. Therefore, many states do not allow THC to be sold at concentrations higher than 0.3%. While the trends of legalization are largely positive, there are still some hurdles to overcome in terms of THC accessibility and acceptance.

What are the known benefits of THC?

The benefits of THC start with the endocannabinoid system, creating a chemical reaction that begins in the brain. THC binds with CB1 receptors, altering sensory perception of time, space, emotions, and more. Therefore, the signature “high” you get from THC can be attributed to the inner workings of the ECS and how THC triggers changes in your brain.

While many view THC as a purely recreational compound, there are considerable therapeutic benefits worth noting, as well. THC can relieve physical and mental discomfort, while also soothing tension and providing relief from stressors. 

Because THC is often consumed alongside CBD and other cannabinoids, this creates a synergy among cannabis compounds known as the entourage effect. You’re not just getting a THC high — you’re getting the holistic effects of the entire cannabis plant, complete with terpenes, flavonoids, and more.

Keep in mind that these benefits are more prevalent in whole-plant extracts that utilize the complete cannabis plant, from stalks and stems to trichome-dense flowers and leaves. Not all THC is created equal, and some products don’t take advantage of the cannabis plant as a whole.

Sunmed takes pride in creating plant-rich extracts that draw from every aspect of the hemp plant, delivering the fullest entourage effect in our oils, gummies, and topicals. Remember that THC is just one piece of the puzzle, and the entourage effect should not be overlooked when it comes to wellness value.

What is THCa?

It’s easy to understand why THC is such a popular cannabinoid, and why most people don’t investigate beyond this primary compound when exploring cannabis. However, THCa proves that there’s more to this substance than meets the eye, and recent research is a treasure trove of useful discoveries. 

The first thing to know about THCa is that it’s technically a precursor to THC and its analogs. That’s right — all forms of THC start out as THCa, when the cannabis plant is untouched and not treated by heating processes. 

But as studies are beginning to reveal, there is much value to be found in THCa before it changes to THC and other cannabinoids. That’s because THCa still shares many properties with THC, though it doesn’t produce the same intoxicating effects. For many users seeking the beneficial aspect of cannabis without the high, THCa is a preferable alternative and can be used in your daily routine.

The key difference between these two compounds is slight but significant. It lies in the carboxylic acid group that is still attached to THCa in its raw cannabis form. This simple chemical structure makes a profound difference in how the compound interacts with the endocannabinoid system. With a unique set of benefits and varied methods of delivery, THCa is here to stay in the natural wellness space. 

We’re happy to report that THCa can be consumed safely, consistently, and incorporated into your cannabis regimen without additional problems or risks. As we explore the benefits of THCa further and offer some recommendations, consider putting it on your lineup of wellness products moving forward. 

How does THCa convert into THC?

The grand mystery of THCa and THC is found in the conversion process, but science reveals the simplicity of this evolution. Through a process known as decarboxylation, the acidic components of the compound are removed, and THCa becomes THC in the blink of an eye.

By “decarbing” the acidic form of THC, the compound loses the THCa structure along with the unique effects of THCa. With the carboxyl group lost, the psychoactive effects of THC are unleashed. This proves that THCa is naturally abundant in the marijuana plant, but only through heating and burning are these THCa molecules converted. 

It’s really that simple: the act of heating up cannabis plant material triggers the decarboxylation process, and the shift occurs from THCa to THC. Therefore, to preserve THCa in its pure form and reap its benefits, THCa products must remain in an unheated state so that decarbing does not take place.

The challenge is extracting THCa from the cannabis plant without stripping it of its acidic group and retaining its unique properties. Thankfully, modern extraction methods are able to preserve THCa in higher concentrations, allowing manufacturers to deliver non-psychoactive products that won’t induce a high when consumed.*

What are the potential benefits of THCa?

The chemical structure of THCa is what separates it from THC and other cannabinoids, but what exactly does THCa offer in terms of benefits?

Research on the benefits of THCa is still in the works, but preliminary studies show that it’s a powerful antioxidant, meaning it may protect the body from free radicals associated with minor sickness and health occurrences.*

By reducing the number of free radicals in the body, THCa can support overall brain health, limit the effects of toxins, and help you make the most of a juicing cleanse or another rejuvenating wellness effort. THCa may also spark an appetite in people having trouble eating when bouncing back from illness or trying to put on healthy weight. 

Finally, THCa may have subtle effects in soothing tension and reducing discomfort in the body and mind. This reflects the overarching benefits of the cannabis plant and its effects on the ECS.

Once again, THCa still needs a lot more research to fully unveil its properties and potential. But with initial studies showing promise, there’s plenty of THCa benefits to look forward to. 

How do the effects of THC and THCa differ?

Analyzing the structure of THC and THCa would suggest the two compounds are almost identical. However, the decarbing process dramatically alters the effects when cannabis is smoked, vaped, or otherwise heated to a certain temperature.

The main distinction here has to do with psychoactive properties. While THC produces the familiar high of marijuana, the effects of THCa are far more subtle and more similar to a broad spectrum CBD product.

Ideally, you will be able to get the benefits of THC, THCa, CBD, and other cannabinoids throughout your daily routine. Remember that even a small amount of THC can go a long way in creating the entourage effect and providing soothing support to the body.

Sunmed’s collection of modern wellness formulas aims to mimic the true-plant ratios of hemp cannabinoids, from CBD and THCa to delta variations of THC, and so much more.

How can you consume THCa and THC?

Consuming cannabis can be done in countless ways, but what should you know about taking THCa and THC? 

When consuming THCa, the key is to avoid the decarboxylation process, which means that the compounds cannot be burned, heated, or converted to their non-acidic format. Luckily, you can take THCa in an oil or tincture format, eat a THCa gummy, or use it in recipes that don’t involve heating or cooking (think juices and dressings).*

THC, on the other hand, offers a lot more variety in terms of consumption options. You can smoke traditional marijuana flower, vape a concentrate or distillate, eat a THC gummy or take a tincture as you would with other product formats. While your options are more limited when it comes to THCa, there are still plenty of ways to get the amount you want for desired effects. 

Which consumption method is best for retaining benefits?

When creating your cannabis protocol, consumption method matters. It ensures you stay consistent with your routine and don’t sacrifice comfort and convenience when getting the most from your favorite cannabis products.

With THCa, we suggest trying a whole-plant tincture that still contains the compound in relatively high concentrations. Just be sure to choose a tincture that hasn’t been prepared with a decarbing process, as this will ensure the THCa molecules remain intact.*

This point reiterates the importance of buying THCa products from a company that prioritizes transparency, quality, and third-party testing. Any company can throw a label on a product and call it THCa, but a third-party certificate of analysis will show you exactly what’s in store.

At Sunmed, we provide COA reports for all of our products, batch by batch. You never have to second-guess what’s really contained in the products you buy, whether you’re in search of THCa or one of the many alternative hemp compounds.* 

How can you choose between THC and THCa based on needs?

We recommend taking THCa if you’re looking for baseline support for your endocannabinoid system without the intoxicating effects. THCa can be a useful aid in supporting appetite, providing antioxidants, and offering some soothing relief while still helping you stay focused and productive.

On the flip side, THC’s psychoactive properties put it in another category altogether. Many users like to keep THC products as an evening option rather than a part of their work routine or when going about their day. It’s all about finding your comfort level and timing your hemp use in a timely, responsible way.* 

As always, caution and experimentation are encouraged when using hemp products. Track your feelings and ease yourself into a sustainable lifestyle in which cannabis can bring about routine well-being.

The bottom line 

THCa and THC are closely linked for obvious reasons, both in name and structure. But the subtle differences between the two make them entirely unique and should be approached with the right methods and precautions.

We’re confident that you can find a way to make the most of both THCa and THC, structuring your routine with intelligent planning and delivery methods that support your desired results. The more you test the waters of THCa and THC, the closer you’ll get to a balanced, sustainable routine that fits your needs.

Our collection of CBD products is loaded with options that suit any lifestyle, and resources to help guide you every step of the way.*


The tetrahydrocannabinol and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid content of cannabis products | NIH

Affinity and Efficacy Studies of Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid A at Cannabinoid Receptor Types One and Two | NIH

Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules | Frontiers

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid | ScienceDirect

Decarboxylation Study of Acidic Cannabinoids | NIH