The Complete Guide to THCA

5 Jul 2021

When it comes to cannabis, most of us focus on Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). At the same time, THC is well-known and produces the familiar cannabis high, far fewer people know about THCA. In the following article, you’ll learn all about THCA and how it compares to THC.

What is THCA?

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid – THCA – is a powerful cannabinoid that is often overlooked. 

THC-acid is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning that it does not produce the high that THC does. For those who are seeking a cannabis high, THCA is not where you’ll want to look. 

Instead, THC is the compound to focus on when it comes to psychoactivity. But, if you’re hoping to achieve the benefits of THC without psychoactivity, then THCA offers promise.

It is found in living cannabis plants and raw cannabis flower. Drying and curing cannabis buds lead to some conversion, although plenty of THCA remains by the end of this process. We’ll discuss how decarboxylation is needed to convert THC-acid into THC below.

THCA is an acidic precursor to THC.

In other words, THC-acid converts into THC. This conversion occurs during the curing phase most predominantly. 

Natural conversion occurs from sun and heat exposure but is sped up by drying cannabis flower. Heat is the primary driver of this process, which is called decarboxylation.

THC-acid contained inside raw cannabis or dried flower (bud) is converted to THC during decarboxylation. Decarboxylation is the process of removing a carboxyl ring from THC through heat. The best example is smoking a joint, although vaping and dabbing also get the job done!

Heating dried bud to make edibles is another good example. 

The large THC-acid content in bud is why eating raw cannabis won’t get you high. The THCA inside buds must undergo decarbing to produce the cannabis high. This is why edible recipes that call for fresh weed flowers usually require you to bake it in an oven beforehand or to use already decarboxylated AVB

THCA vs THC: What are the Differences?

thca vs thc

Both THC and THC-acid are created by cannabis plants. 

THCA converts to THC when exposed to heat and light. Freshly harvested cannabis and unheated buds contain far more THCA molecules than THC. This balance shifts from THC-acid to THC as heat is introduced and decarboxylation occurs. 

THC-acid is converted into THC to activate it. Both act on cannabinoid receptors like CB1 receptors, but not in the same way. Here’s how they differ! 

The Chemical Structure

The most specific difference between THC-acid and THC is their molecular structure. Both compounds contain a carboxylic acid group. 

Where they vary is the positioning of this carboxylic acid. While this may not seem like a big deal, it has a tremendous impact on how these cannabis compounds affect you.

Luckily, this is all you need to know about it. As you’ll see below, this one major change has a profound impact.

THCA is Non-Intoxicating

THC-acid does not produce the familiar cannabis ‘high.’ 

Both compounds do act upon cannabinoid receptors, including CB1 receptors. But, THC-acid does not cross the blood-brain barrier as THC does. 

At the very least, it appears that THCA may have more difficulty crossing that critical barrier. This consideration is also important for those seeking the effects of cannabinoids on the brain. 

In other words, THC-acid may not have any impact on neurodegenerative diseases, while THC and CBD might. 

THCA May Not Impact Drug Testing

While there are scientific ways to measure THCA levels, common drug tests may not detect it. 

For this reason, many people seek the therapeutic potential of THC-acid instead of THC when they expect drug testing. 

Unfortunately, the evidence is not conclusive. If a negative drug test is important for you, avoiding all cannabinoids, including raw THCA, is likely wise. 

Benefits of THCA

thca benefits

Numerous potential benefits arise from consuming THC-acid. Many of these benefits are shared with THC, but they come without the ‘high’ (AKA impairment). Getting the symptomatic relief we need while getting our work done is critical for so many people. Here are some of the best potential benefits of THCA:

Appetite Suppression

THC-acid appears to help suppress appetite. This is one of the effects that differ drastically from THC (a known appetite-enhancer). There is no evidence to support whether this property could help humans lose weight over any period of time. THCA could become a potential option for those attempting to regulate their appetite.

Neuroprotective Properties

When it comes to our brain and nervous system, it seems like THCA can act in a protective role. We do not yet know the extent of this ability and what conditions it may help treat. 

Whether we discuss dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or multiple sclerosis, many diseases involve neurological damage. THCA may help counter some of the damage associated with these conditions that produce such intense debilitation.


Like with THC, THCA has shown promise in reducing pain (called analgesia). Without the psychoactive high produced by THC, THCA may offer a non-impairing alternative. 

This can make a massive difference in the lives of people who require pain relief throughout the day – but who also need to stay functional. 

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

When it comes to inflammation, it looks like THCA may help to control this normal physiological function. 

While inflammation is good, too much of it can be truly detrimental. THCA can be a substance that individuals can use to control inflammation throughout the day while maintaining functionality.

Comparing THCA and CBD

Just like with CBD, THCA is non-impairing. Both of these substances differ from THC in this regard.

While there is some overlap between CBD and THCA, specific indications are better suited for one than the other. 

For example, CBD can help reduce anxiety, but THCA does not. Both substances have the potential to aid with getting good sleep and reducing nausea

Moreover, there are complex immune responses that appear similar between THCA and CBD. Further research will help us determine which conditions are better treated by CBD or THCA.

THCA vs THC – Ripe for Disruption

THCA is an understudied compound from the cannabis plant that is packed full of potential. 

Future research will help us determine precisely what therapeutic potential it has. 

What we do know is that this cannabinoid has the potential to be an appetite reducer and pain reliever with anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. What’s also incredible is that THCA provides these benefits with no psychoactive effects or intoxicating properties! 

With so many positives, it’s likely that we’ll see THCA products being offered alongside CBD products on dispensary store shelves in the near future!

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