What is THCA?

Discover everything you should know about THCA, including its effects and health benefits. 

What is THCA?
minute read

If you’re familiar with the world of cannabis products, you may have heard of THCA—but you might not know exactly what it is or how it works. THCA is one of many chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, and today we’re taking a closer look at its duties.

What is THCA?

All cannabinoids start as one cannabinoid, called cannabigerolic acid. Cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, is called the mother cannabinoid. The plant converts CBGA into other cannabinoids as needed. Many cannabis strains are specially cultivated for their tendency to produce cannabinoids in a specific balance.* 

Almost every cannabinoid within the hemp plant begins in an acidic form. CBD (cannabidiol) begins as CBDA (cannabidiolic acid). THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) begins as THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid.) These cannabinoids are the precursors to the cannabinoids used in wellness products.*

Precursor cannabinoids have a group of plant acids attached, called carboxylic acids, while they’re still in their acidic form. This group of acids is removed using heat in a process called decarboxylation, or decarbing. Decarboxylation converts THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD.* 

How are THC and THCA different?

Although THCA is the precursor to THC, the effects of THCA are very different from the effects of THC. It’s like the difference between an apple seed and an entire apple tree—THCA is only the seed.

The THCA molecule found in raw cannabis still has the carboxylic acid group attached. This changes the molecule's shape, which changes how THCA can interact with your cannabinoid receptors.* 

When the acid group is removed, the cannabinoid becomes THC. THC can easily bind to the cannabinoid receptors in your brain. When it binds, its psychoactive properties cause you to feel intoxicated. THCA, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive. THCA can still bind to the receptors in your brain, but its molecular structure prevents the THCA molecule from binding to your cannabinoid receptors with the same intensity as THC.*

THC is a tightly regulated and controlled cannabinoid. Hemp can only legally contain a maximum of 0.3% THC, which is technically THCA while it still exists in the plant. Although the legality seems a bit confusing on the surface, THCA is not a restricted cannabinoid. As long as it remains THCA and is not converted to THC, it’s considered legal.* 

How does THCA work in the body?

THCA binds to and activates cannabinoid receptors in your brain. It interacts with your endocannabinoid system and provides holistic support. THCA may support appetite, similar to THC, and it also may possess antioxidant properties that support brain health.* 

THCA doesn’t change the way your body works. It provides holistic support to the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a massive amount of receptors that exist within many other systems of the body. When THCA stimulates the receptors of this system, it encourages them to “kick on” and perform their natural functions. 

It often takes a while for cannabinoid research to catch up with areas of interest. Scientists work very hard, but federal restrictions make it very difficult to obtain funding to study cannabinoids. THCA is still being studied for potential benefits, uses, and applications. It could be a while before THCA is fully understood.

How does THCA make you feel?

Many people use cannabinoids to modulate the way they feel. Many cannabinoids can provide mood support, mental clarity, increased focus, or enhanced creativity. You can usually feel the effects of a cannabinoid, even if they’re very subtle—but not all cannabinoids have these capabilities.

THCA doesn’t usually have substantial effects on the way you feel, as it’s used more as an antioxidant and a wellness tool. When you eat a salad and drink green juice for lunch, you may feel a little healthier, feel a litter better, yet won’t necessarily impact your mood or produce certain effects to make healthier choices. THCA works very similarly.*

THCA probably won’t change how you feel. You may not experience any noticeable effects as a direct result of using THCA. There won't be a moment where you’ll feel like THCA is kicking in or beginning to work.*

Does THCA have side effects?

THCA doesn’t have any known side effects unless you’re allergic to derivatives of cannabis plants or hemp products. THCA’s ability to impact your body is very limited, so it’s very unlikely that you would have a bad experience with THCA.*

Everyone is different, and it’s possible that you may experience mild side effects when using THCA. The most common side effects people experience when trying new supplements are headaches and nausea. 

Is THCA psychoactive?

THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid—it won’t make you feel high, groggy, drowsy, or elevated. It is theoretically possible that body heat may slowly decarboxylate THCA, turning some of it into THC by the time it reaches the gut. If this happens, it’s unlikely that enough THCA will decarboxylate to produce any noticeable psychoactive effects.*

If you apply heat to THCA for an extended period of time, it may decarboxylate and turn into THC. When converted, THCA will become THC, which causes psychoactive effects. You should store THCA products in a cool, dark place to avoid conversion. Don’t add THCA products to hot foods or drinks.

Even though THCA isn’t psychoactive, it’s similar enough to THC that it may cause a false drug test result for cannabis use. You need to keep this in mind if your life circumstances dictate that you must pass a drug test. 

What are the benefits of THCA?

THCA takes a very subtle approach to holistic wellness enhancement. It doesn’t have robust and noticeable benefits like CBD, but it can still play a role in your wellness routine. Its effects and benefits are similar to the effects of whole plant foods.*

General wellness support

THCA acts primarily as an antioxidant, and antioxidants provide general wellness support. Antioxidants work by supporting your body against the effects of free radicals and environmental pollution.*

Free radicals are volatile molecules floating in the air. Your body can also create free radicals as a natural result of the digestive process. 

Free radicals are missing at least one electron that they need to survive. They may attempt to take electrons from other cells in an effort to stay alive.

Free radicals often take electronics from healthy cells, damaging or destroying them. Antioxidants act as a buffer, and can support your cell health during exposure to free radicals.* 

Plants are the primary source of antioxidants. Naturally occurring pigments like beta-carotene (which gives carrots their orange color) and anthocyanins (the source of “blue” in blueberries) have natural antioxidant properties. Phytonutrients and plant-based compounds like cannabinoids also have significant antioxidant activity. 

May support cognitive health

The same antioxidant properties that provide general wellness support may also give THCA neuroprotective properties. A neuroprotective substance is anything that can work to support and protect cell function within the brain and the central nervous system. 

THCA interacts with receptors in the brain, and while it's there, it may help to support your brain cell health. This can support cognitive health by preserving healthy brain cells. Blueberries, nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, and olive oil also have similar neuroprotective properties.*

May help ease feelings of discomfort

THCA can modulate systems in the body that respond to tension or discomfort. This may help the body to naturally manage its response to discomfort. 

THCA’s potential to reduce discomfort isn’t as significant as THC’s, but there’s a little bit of a tradeoff. THCA may be relieving without producing psychoactive effects, which some people may prefer to avoid.* 

How can you use THCA?

THCA is often used in the form of raw cannabis. People eat whole cannabis flowers or use them for juicing. Preferences are subjective, but a lot of people find that raw cannabis doesn’t taste very good or is an acquired taste. Cannabis flower is often blended with sweet fruits to disguise its earthy flavor. 

There is a widespread myth that eating raw cannabis can cause psychoactive effects. It cannot. Cannabis needs to be exposed to heat in order to decarboxylate. Cannabis edibles are made from cannabis that was decarboxylated prior to cooking. 

The cannabinoids in raw cannabis remain in their acid form unless they’re exposed to heat. Eating raw cannabis without cooking it won’t impart intoxicating effects. If you use cannabis flower in a hot food or a hot drink, like coffee, the cannabis will begin to decarboxylate as it sits. This can lead to psychoactive effects that you may want to avoid. Stick to cold or room-temperature foods or drinks if you're looking to incorporate THCA.

There are THCA products like tinctures, enhanced CBD oils, gummies, and THCA concentrates. These are better options for people who want to use THCA in their wellness routine without having to eat raw cannabis flower. 

Some people use topical THCA to address localized discomfort from sore muscles after a workout. Topical cannabinoid lotions and balms don’t work the same way as the cannabinoids you ingest. They only interact with the cannabinoid receptors on the surface of your skin. The only cannabinoids that reach your endocannabinoid system through your skin are nano cannabinoid particles through transdermal delivery systems, like special patches.

The bottom line

THCA may have some wellness benefits, but its benefits and effects aren’t much different from the benefits and effects of antioxidant-rich foods. It doesn’t have the soothing properties of CBD, the appetite suppressant qualities of THCV, the sleep support benefits of CBN, or the holistic tension-relieving benefits of CBG.* You can use THCA safely, but you likely won’t find that it makes a significant difference in your wellness routine.*

Sunmed focuses on cannabinoids that provide noticeable support to the mind and body. Our curated selection of cannabinoids and cannabinoid blend products are designed to produce noticeable wellness effects and provide holistic support to your body. Shop the collection here.


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