Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) is a hemp cannabinoid that gained attention after studies found that it may block COVID-19.
While more research is needed on that subject, one thing’s for sure: without CBDa, CBD can’t exist.
CBDa is the acidic precursor to CBD, and is converted into CBD when heated.
This is what happens when people smoke hemp flower – all the acidic cannabinoids, like THCa and CBDa, are converted to their non-acidic “child” cannabinoids, like THC and CBD.
In edibles and oils, CBDa is converted to CBD before it’s put into products.
This conversion is necessary for you to experience the benefits of CBD. It also means you’ll (usually) never consume CBDa.
But maybe they should: this acidic cannabinoid is completely safe to consume, and it has a wide variety of therapeutic benefits. It may even be better than CBD for specific uses.
To help you better understand CBDa and how it compares to CBD, in this article, we’re giving you a full breakdown of the differences between these two cannabinoids, from the effects and benefits to their efficacy for certain conditions.
What is CBDa?
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid in the hemp/cannabis plant. CBDa is the acidic form of CBD, and it turns into CBD when heated.
CBDa has generally lived in the shadows of CBD because people normally don’t consume it, and therefore, many people aren’t aware of its benefits or effects.
However, CBDa gained some notoriety during the COVID–19 pandemic after research showed it may block the entry of the virus into cells.
But CBDa’s benefits extend far beyond potential antiviral uses: CBDa may have therapeutic potential for pain, anxiety, nausea, epilepsy, and more.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid in hemp. It’s a non-acidic cannabinoid that results from the conversion of CBDa.
CBD is very popular because it has many benefits. It’s even earned the nickname “The Swiss Army Knife of Cannabinoids” due to its wide range of therapeutic uses.
CBD is most commonly used for anxiety, stress, sleep, pain, and inflammation, but it’s also shown therapeutic potential for epilepsy, nausea, addiction, and more.
CBDa vs. CBD: Key Differences
There are three main areas in which CBDa and CBD differ: in their benefits, in their effects, and in the process by which they’re extracted. Here’s a bit about each:
Both CBDa and CBD have been researched as potential therapeutics for pain, nausea, stress-induced anxiety, and seizures.
However, research suggests that CBDa may be more effective than CBD for these conditions.
A study done in 2013 found that CBDa binds one hundred times better to certain serotonin receptors in the body, which are linked to anti-anxiety and anti-nausea effects, than CBD does.
More research on humans is needed to determine when CBDa may be a better choice than CBD, but these results show that it may sometimes be.
CBD also has unique benefits that distinguish it from CBDa. For one, CBD has been researched extensively for its sleep-supporting benefits; we don’t know if CBDa is as effective for this use.
Effect on THC
Whereas CBD tends to temper the inebriating effects and high feeling from THC, CBDa neither increases nor decreases the THC high.
This means that taking CBD and THC in combination is good if you want the physical effects of THC, but aren’t as crazy about the head high.
A CBDa-THC combination is better if you want the benefits of both cannabinoids while still feeling the full head effect from THC.
CBDa isn’t stronger than CBD from a mental effects standpoint, but it is more potent from a therapeutic standpoint.
Research shows that CBDa is absorbed up to 11 times better than CBD, indicating that it can render similar benefits at lower doses, or stronger benefits at the same dose.
Given that CBDa and CBD are different cannabinoids, a unique set of steps must be taken to extract each from the hemp plant.
Everything begins with CBGa (cannabigerolic acid).
Like CBD, CBGa has a nickname of its own: “The Mother of All Cannabinoids.” This is because CBGa is the cannabinoid from which all others are derived.
CBGa can either be turned into CBG, THCa, CBC, or CBDa. This one-step conversion can produce CBDa.
The CBD extraction process requires an additional step: CBDa has to be converted to CBD.
The CBDa-to-CBD conversion process is known as decarboxylation.
In decarboxylation, acidic cannabinoids are heated and lose their acidic carboxyl group (the “a”), turning them into their non-acidic forms.
Decarboxylation happens whenever the cannabinoids in inhalable products, such as vapes and joints, are heated. In pre rolls and joints, for example, the heating caused by burning the hemp flower converts the THCa and CBDa into THC and CBD.
So when you see a smokable product labeled “THC” or “CBD,” in reality, these products contain THCa or CBDa.
CBDa vs. CBD Effects: How Do They Make You Feel?
Neither CBDa nor CBD will get you high, and their mental effects don’t noticeably differ.
Rather than rendering strong, noticeable feelings as psychoactive cannabinoids do, CBDa and CBD render therapeutic support, but you won’t “feel” them working.
Most people characterize the mental effect of these cannabinoids as an absence of negative feelings, rather than a clear presence of uplifting ones.
However, as we discussed above, there is a difference in how CBDa and CBD interact with THC. CBDa won’t decrease the THC high, while CBD will.
Benefits of CBDa
Not many people consume raw CBDa, but maybe they should. CBDa has a variety of potential therapeutic uses:
CBDa may promote physical relaxation
CBDa may support a healthy, pain-free body.
Research done on mice has found that CBDa has anti-nociceptive effects: the ability to reduce pain sensations in response to harmful stimuli.
From this study, researchers concluded that CBDa has the potential to address discomfort from neurologic disorders.
More research on the use of CBDa for pain and inflammation is needed, but this study is an early indicator of CBDa’s physically supportive properties.
CBDa may promote mental relaxation
CBDa may support a healthy, balanced mind. Research has looked into its potential anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects.
A study that evaluated the anti-anxiety properties of CBD, THC, and CBDa found that CBDa may reduce the anxiety that occurs in response to a specific stressor.
Anecdotally, many people find CBDa beneficial for promoting mental calming and balance in face of anxiety and stress.
CBDa may have anti-nausea effects
A study on mice has found that CBDa may reduce the nausea response. It also found that CBDa may enhance the anti-nausea effects of other substances.
The researchers who did this study concluded by saying that CBDa may have the potential to help with nausea caused by chemotherapy, a cancer treatment.
CBDa may block COVID-19
In a study investigating the use of CBDa for COVID-19, CBDa and other acidic cannabinoids, such as CBGa and CBCa, were shown to block the entry of virus material into cells.
However, the study acknowledged that more inquiry is needed before we know whether CBDa is a viable treatment for COVID-19.
CBDa may be more effective than CBD for some uses
Research has found that the body absorbs CBDa 5-11x better than CBD. As a result, it may be more effective than CBD for some uses; less is needed to achieve the same benefit.
One study found CBDa to be 10 times more potent than CBD in a seizure model.
Another study found that CBDa was 100 times more potent in a model of inflammation and pain.
While more studies – especially human studies – are needed to further investigate this difference in strength, early research shows that CBDa may be more effective in some situations.
Benefits of CBD
CBD has a myriad of potential benefits for the body, mind, and beyond.
CBD may promote physical relaxation
Several studies and surveys suggest CBD may have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) effects.
In one clinical study, transdermal (topical) CBD significantly reduced joint swelling.
A research review examining a number of studies found that CBD may have beneficial effects for both chronic and acute pain.
In the realm of firsthand experiences, scientists conducted a survey of 253 CBD users to understand how effective CBD was for pain.
59.0% of survey respondents reported that CBD helped their pain and 67.6% said it allowed them to reduce the amount of pain medications they were taking.
CBD may promote restful sleep
Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that CBD may provide a viable natural alternative to melatonin and other sleep supplements.
One research review found that CBD may provide therapeutic support for insomnia.
Anecdotally, many people use CBD to supplement or replace Ambien and other sleep medications.
Unlike most sleep medications, CBD can support sleep from multiple angles. In addition to creating calm, relaxing sensations, it has therapeutic potential in other areas that allow it to promote comprehensive wellness.
CBD may promote mental balance and relaxation
Research suggests that CBD may work similarly to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of medications commonly prescribed for anxiety.
Whether it’s through this mechanism of action or another, many studies indicate CBD has calming benefits.
One study found that CBD reduced physiological and behavioral stress responses to anxiety and stress.
Another study found that CBD decreased negative feelings in people subjected to a public speaking test.
CBD has therapeutic potential for depression
In addition to anxiety, depression is another common reason that SSRI medications are prescribed. CBD may have benefits here as well.
CBD may have anti-seizure properties
CBD is FDA-approved as an anti-seizure medication for specific types of epilepsy, in the form of Epidiolex.
Epidiolex is CBD isolate. Clinical trials for this drug show that it may vastly reduce seizures for several forms of epilepsy, including Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome.
Research also indicates that artisanal CBD products (the type companies like us sell) may improve quality of life for epilepsy patients.
Anecdotally, many people use CBD as an alternative to Keppra, a common epilepsy prescription.
CBD may help with addiction
There is research indicating that CBD has the potential to help people break their addiction to opioids, cocaine, and psychostimulant drugs.
The above study also shows that CBD may help with cannabis and tobacco addiction in humans, though more research is needed.
How Do CBDa and CBD Work in the Body?
Cannabinoids primarily work by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a receptor system in your body that controls your vital functions, including your mood, pain and inflammatory response, sleep-wake cycle, and more.
The two main types of receptors in your ECS are CB1 and CB2 receptors. These are typically the main sites of action for cannabinoids.
However, neither CBDa nor CBD binds heavily to these receptors. Instead, they work in other ways.
For example, CBD may improve the transmission of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of calm, happiness, focus, and emotional stability. CBD also renders general support to your ECS, with research showing it may prevent endocannabinoid breakdown.
Through these mechanisms, CBD may promote mental and physical balance.
CBDa, on the other hand, works on different targets within the body, particularly the TRP receptors. CBDa increases TRPA1 and TRPV1, and reduces levels of TRPM8 – changes that all result in pain reduction.
Research also shows that CBDa reduces COX-2, a pro-inflammatory molecule.
CBDa and CBD interact comprehensively with your body, meaning, they maintain overall healthy bodily function, rather than acting on isolated bodily systems. This is why they have therapeutic potential in such a broad range of situations.
CBDa vs. CBD: Safety & Side Effects
Both CBDa and CBD are safe, well-tolerated substances. However, they may create some adverse side effects.
Potential side effects of CBDa include:
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
- Mild mood changes
Potential side effects of CBD include:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
CBDa vs. CBD for Anxiety
Both CBDa and CBD have been researched for anxiety, but there are more studies looking at CBD.
Additionally, the research on CBDa for anxiety is all on rodents, whereas we have clinical studies demonstrating CBD’s potential benefits for anxiety.
Based on this, CBD is the more research-backed option.
However, CBDa has an advantage over CBD when it comes to potency. As we mentioned earlier, research shows it may be significantly more effective than CBD for anxiety at the same dose.
It’s likely that CBDa is more effective, given its large potency difference, however, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
CBDa vs. CBD for Pain
CBDa and CBD both have benefits for pain and inflammation, but they work differently.
Research suggests that CBDa can act as an inhibitor to COX-2, a pro-inflammatory enzyme, thereby reducing pain and inflammation. In this way, CBDa acts similarly to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
CBD has also been shown to be a mild COX-2 inhibitor, but not to the degree that CBDa is.
Given that research has shown CBDa to be 100x as potent as CBD in a pain and inflammation model, CBDa may have an edge over CBD for pain. However, studies on humans are needed to confirm this.
CBDa vs. CBD for Sleep
Currently, CBDa hasn’t been researched for sleep support. In fact, early research suggests that one form of CBDa may actually promote wakefulness.
As such, we’re not yet sure if CBDa has therapeutic potential for sleep support.
CBD, on the other hand, has been researched multiple times for its sleep supporting benefits. CBD may support sleep from multiple angles – both by rendering physical support and by creating mental calming and relaxation.
As a result, based on what we know right now, CBD is better than CBDa for sleep support.
How to Use CBDa and CBD
How should you go about consuming CBDa and CBD? We discuss available product options and recommended doses.
- Oils/tinctures – Sublingual (under-the-tongue) oils are one of the most potent ways you can consume CBDa or CBD. Cannabinoids placed under the tongue can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream by the blood vessels in your mouth. Consequently, oils are generally more potent and faster-acting than edibles: you’ll feel the effects in just 10-15 minutes. CBDa or CBD oils are ideal for therapeutic use because you can measure very precise amounts using the dropper.
- Edibles and drinks – Edibles and drinks are a great CBDa or CBD delivery method if you don’t like hemp-infused oil. Edibles, such as gummies, offer fixed-dose consumption, so they’re handy if you’re trying to build a routine where you consistently take the same amount. However, edibles and drinks aren’t as potent as oils and take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to begin working. This is because they must be digested.
- Capsules – CBDa or CBD capsules offer an alternative to edibles. They’re fixed-dose, but they’re quick and tasteless. Like edibles, they begin working in 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Topicals – Topicals are products that you apply to your skin, rather than consume orally. They allow you to deliver CBDa or CBD to specific locations on the body to promote physical support. However, due to their nature, topicals won’t put cannabinoids in the bloodstream, so you won’t feel any of the mental or internal benefits of CBDa or CBD if you use this method. Topicals begin rendering relaxation in 10-15 minutes.
- Smokeables and vapes — Inhalation is the most potent consumption method, since it delivers cannabinoids straight to your lungs, rather than passing them through your digestive tract. Inhalable products begin working in 5-10 minutes. However, remember that you can only inhale CBD; when raw CBDa is heated, it turns into CBD.
Although CBDa is more potent than CBD, there isn’t much guidance on how you should adjust your normal dosage to account for this potency.
However, CBDa is not psychoactive, so if you take more than you need, you likely won’t feel many side effects (unless you overshoot your dose by a lot).
Because of this, you can start by using the same dose of CBDa as you would of CBD.
We recommend using the following formula to calculate a weight-based dose:
(0.1) x (your body weight in lbs.) = your daily CBDa or CBD dosage in mg.
Once you take your dosage for about 1 week, gradually adjust it based on how it’s working for you.
Conclusion: Which Cannabinoid is Right for You?
So, which is the better option for you: CBDa or CBD?
If you’re already taking CBD for anxiety, nausea, pain, or seizures, CBDa may be worth a look because research indicates it’s more effective for these uses at the same dose.
However, if you’re looking for sleep support or want to go with a more proven option, CBD is still the way to go.
CBDA vs. CBD: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions our customers frequently ask us about the differences between CBDa and CBD.
What are the effects of CBDa?
CBDa does not render appreciable mental effects. Rather, its effect is characterized as balance – the absence of any extreme feelings.
Which is better for sleep, CBDa or CBD?
As of right now, there is more research to suggest CBD has sleep-supportive effects than there is to show similar benefits exists with CBDa. In fact, one study found that CBDa may promote wakefulness.
What is the healthiest form of CBD?
All types of CBD themselves (full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate) are healthy, they just render different benefits. In terms of CBD products, oils and capsules are generally the healthiest, as they rarely contain added sweeteners or colors.
Can you take CBD and CBDa together?
CBD and CBDa can be safely taken together, and doing so may be beneficial if you want the strong potential benefits of CBDa at night, but don’t want its wakefulness promoting effects – CBD can temper these effects and help you relax.