What Is THCA?

Anthony Pellegrino
June 30, 2021

The information is provided for informational purposes only and does not relieve readers of their obligation to obtain qualified medical, legal or other professional advice.

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Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find someone who has not heard of marijuana and THC. However, the vast majority do not realize THC is actually found in its acidic form, THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), within the cannabis plant. Cannabis flower needs to be heated before THCA is changed into THC. 

What is THCA? It's the acidic form of THC. Image by Stanfordchem183, CC BY-SA 4.0 

What is THCA? THCA is actually a non-intoxicating compound that doesn't produce the psychoactive effects associated with THC, the compound THCA is converted into when heated. This means that if you were to, say, pick up a piece of marijuana flower that had not been heated and eat it raw, you would not feel high. At best, you would only consume a marginal amount of THC, but certainly not enough for you to feel psychoactive effects. 

THC vs THCA - The Conversion Process

The difference between THC and THCA is that THCA won't get you high unless you heat it. But when THC is indicated on a label, the number usually includes the amount of THCA in the plant, not just THC. If an eighth of cannabis flower is packaged with a THC content of 15%, for example, it's actually referring mostly to THCA content in the plant. So instead, you should view this number as more of an indication of potential THC since the compound technically exists as THCA until it is smoked or heated. 

THCA is formed inside the plant, along with several other cannabinoids. Image by Stanfordchem183, CC BY-SA 4.0 

This is not to say that these medical marijuana labels are lying to you. Not by any means. It is, of course, assumed that patients will smoke or otherwise heat the marijuana they procure. Ultimately, most of the THCA is converted into THC when the cannabis flower undergoes a process called decarboxylation. This occurs when the flower is heated when cooked, smoked, or vaped. The THCA then becomes THC which is the cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating effects, or 'high,' associated with marijuana use. 

If you have read our article about making pot brownies (or any other edible for that matter), you undoubtedly recognize this word. This same process is necessary before you can make any cannabutter, a fundamental ingredient of any edible. If decarboxylation is skipped, then the edibles will barely work because of the lack of THC! Cannabis flower also naturally decarboxylates as the plant is cut and dried. 

How Is THCA Made?

Now that we know what THCA is, let’s take a look at how it's made in the first place. THCA first came into being much like many of the other cannabinoids. THCA is produced from CBGA or cannabigerolic acid. CBGA is present in large quantities when cannabis plants are still growing. 

CBGA is converted into many different cannabinoids, including THCA and CBDA. Image by Madkamin, CC BY-SA 4.0 

After they begin to mature, CBGA is converted into many different cannabinoids, such as THCA and CBDA. This means that plants should not be harvested before they have the opportunity to mature. Otherwise, they will contain very little of the cannabinoids that people are seeking, especially THCA.

The Possible Benefits Of THCA

Before we can say anything further, it must be said: we still do not have any definitive knowledge regarding potential THCA benefits. Much more research is necessary before anyone can say for sure. However, there have been indications that it can provide patients with a variety of health benefits. There has been some research that connects THCA with many anti-inflammatory effects. It appears as if THCA, along with many other cannabinoids, resemble the body’s natural endocannabinoids responsible for calming inflammatory processes. This may suggest that, after additional research is conducted, anti-inflammatory treatments and medicines can be developed using THCA as an active ingredient. 

Initial studies need to be replicated, but THCA shows potential as an anti-inflammatory treatment. Image by Madkamin, CC BY-SA 4.0 

Similarly, there are indications of potential effectiveness in treating neurodegenerative diseases, nausea, appetite loss, and prostate cancer. Yet, many of these initial studies need to be replicated before anyone can say anything for sure. Nevertheless, there is an abundant amount of anecdotal evidence that claims THCA can help patients with insomnia, managing pain, relaxation, and more. But, of course, it must be said that anecdotal evidence alone is not very substantial proof. Ultimately, we cannot say anything else with certainty except that THCA may possibly have some beneficial medical potential. But, this must be explored further before we can say to what extent. 

How To Consume THCA

Indeed, there is currently no definitive understanding of THCA. But that does not mean it can't be purchased. It can be found at dispensaries and consumed if a patient wishes to do so. Nevertheless, no matter how it is used, it cannot be smoked or vaped. Otherwise, the THCA will be converted into THC.

Juicing fresh marijuana plant is one of the most popular ways to consume THCA.

With this in mind, the ways that most people use THCA are:

  • By juicing fresh leaves off a marijuana plant, 
  • Using oils or tinctures
  • With a transdermal patch,
  • Eating an edible.

No matter how THCA products are made, they cannot be heated to temperatures above 220° F. If they are, the cannabis will begin to decarboxylate. This will ensure that your THCA products will deliver a very different and psychoactive experience.

Where Can Patients Find THCA?

Usually, the cannabis you find for sale at dispensaries has been decarboxylated to some degree by the drying process. If a patient is looking for a THCA product without any THC, they may need to look to other cannabis products. For instance, a popular product is raw cannabis juice. If parts of a freshly cut marijuana plant are juiced before it begins to dry, it will be rich in THCA. Patients can make a variety of smoothies this way to enjoy THCA. 

There are also many specifically designed products patients can find at some dispensaries. These primarily consist of oils, tinctures, and transdermal patches. 

THCA is also available in a variety of products at the dispensary.

If you'd like to learn more about THCA and whether it's a good fit for your treatment plan, NuggMD's state-licensed physicians are always happy to help. They have doctors available for online appointments from 8AM till 10PM daily, including weekends.

Anthony Pellegrino
Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He is a content creator for several marketing agencies, brands, and tech startups. His writing is focused on content marketing, technology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, career planning, and of course, cannabis. Academically, Anthony is focused on A.I., Consciousness, Social Sciences, and Philosophy.

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