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THC and THCA – Whats the difference?

treat depression with cannabis

THCA has been compared to THC, but should be seen as the precursor to THC. While it’s easy to get the two confused, it’s important to know they produce very different effects when consumed. THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) precursor that’s been treated as an inactive cannabis compound. Although most cannabis research studies have focused mainly on THC up until now, there is growing evidence that THCA may also hold significant medical properties. Unlike THC, THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the fresh, undried cannabis plant, that has also not been heated. As the plant dries out, THCA slowly turns into THC. Heat and light accelerate this transformation process in what is known as decarboxylation, which is what happens when you smoke or vape flowers, thereby obtaining THCA’s psychoactive form, i.e. THC.


Here are the most common ways Cannabis flower is decarboxylated:


Sunlight: THCA converts to THC in varying degrees through exposure to heat or light. If a cannabis plant sits in the warm sun for an extended period of time, its THCA molecules will slowly convert to THC.

Room temperature conversion: THCA also converts to THC when stored at room temperature for a long enough time. In olive oil, 22 percent of THCA will convert over the course of 10 days at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, or 25 degrees Celsius. Under the same conditions, 67 percent will convert in an ethanol extraction. And over time, cannabis stored at room temperature and with little light exposure, will convert 20 percent of its THCA into THC.

Smoking: When a flame is used to smoke dried, cured flower, a high degree of heat is applied in a short amount of time, resulting in the rapid conversion of THCA to THC. However, not all THCA will convert and, though smoking is the most common way to enjoy THC’s effects, it’s not the most efficient.

Vaporizing: This is perhaps the most efficient way of decarboxylating ground cannabis. When heated at a low temperature, the cannabinoids are converted and released. Continuing to increase the heat with each pull will make sure that the prime amount of THCA is converted into THC and binds to CB1 receptors.

Vape pens: Even more efficient than vaporizing is the use of already decarboxylated cannabis distillate found in preloaded vape pens. Since the THCA is already mostly converted to THC and the following vaporization takes care of even more, this is a good, efficient method of taking in intoxicating cannabis.  Be sure you’re using a reliable brand of vape pen, for safety’s sake, and do your best to purchase products that are recyclable.



Medical Uses for THCA:


The non-psychoactive effects of THCA are a big part of the reason that fresh, raw, unheated cannabis is a superfood. You may have heard of juicing cannabis or adding raw cannabis to smoothies for health enhancement. Here’s what we know so far.

Like other superfoods, including avocados, kale, Greek yogurt, green tea, and garlic, raw cannabis has potential to ease arthritis, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and other ailments.

THCA is believed to offer an assortment of medicinal benefits, and is commonly used as a nutritional supplement and dietary enhancement. Its been know to have:

  • Anti-inflammatory properties  — A 2011 study published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin suggested that, along with other cannabinoids, THCA demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Anti-proliferative properties — A 2013 study that analyzed cell cultures and animal models concluded that THCA could prevent the spread of prostate cancer cells.
  • Neuroprotective properties — In a 2012 preclinical study published in Phytomedicine, researchers found that THCA showed the ability to help protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Antiemetic properties (increasing appetite and decreasing nausea) — A  2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario found that both THCA and CBDA were effective in reducing nausea and vomiting in rat models, even moreso than THC and CBD, respectively.

How to Consume THCA

THCA needs to be consumed in the absence of excess heat. Pure crystalline extracts are one of the best ways to take the cannabinoid. They can easily be added to cool foods and drinks, or mixed with oils and tinctures.

Cannabis users also juice raw cannabis flowers to obtain THCA. Cold-pressed juices work the best, exposing the plant material to less heat.

Where to Get THCA

The best source of THCA is your own cannabis flowers! These resinous buds are packed with the cannabinoid before you hit them in a joint or bong. Fire up your juicer instead to feel the effects of this molecule.

Those lucky enough to live somewhere with a legal recreational cannabis market ( Like Canada) will also be able to pick up THCA crystals from certain dispensaries.


The Future of THCA


It seems like we are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to Cannabis and all of its compounds and medicinal properties. Hopefully with the huge step of legalization in Canada, and the potential for future funding, and research, we can dive even further into this topic. And the potential for use in the medical, and other fields looks almost endless.