We’ve all heard of delta 9 THC, or as it’s more simply referred to, THC. But what about THCa? What is it, how does it make you feel, and what are its benefits?
In this article, we’ll explain what THCa is and how it differs from THC (and how it becomes THC). Then, we’ll give you a full breakdown of the differences between these two cannabinoids.
What is THCa?
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is one of the 100-plus naturally occurring cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant.
THCa is the chemical precursor to delta 9 THC (THC). In other words, all THC is just a converted form of THCa.
How Is It Different From THC?
Apart from the chemical differences, the most pertinent difference between THCa and THC is that THCa won’t get you high, while THC will. There are also differences in the benefits that each cannabinoid renders.
The Conversion: How THCa Becomes THC
It’s well known THC is what makes cannabis flower (hemp or marijuana) psychoactive — THC is the component rendering the psychoactive effects.
However, live cannabis plants don’t contain any THC. Instead, they contain tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa).
And the THCa they already contain becomes THC through a process called decarboxylation.
In decarboxylation, THCa loses its acid group, becoming the neutralized version of itself, THC.
(A similar conversion also happens when CBDa becomes CBD.)
The decarboxylation process happens to a small degree during the storage of hemp. However, it primarily occurs whenever the cannabis plant is heated — this is how prerolls, vapes, and dab rigs work.
When heated, the THCa becomes THC, and its psychoactive properties are “activated.” So what you’re consuming when you smoke THCa flower is THC.
In products like edibles and drinks, the THCa is decarboxylated beforehand.
This step can also be skipped to keep the THCa as it is. In this way, THCa gummies, tinctures, and other non-psychoactive products can be made, and the THCa in them will stay as THCa upon consumption.
What is a Good THCa Percentage?
Some dispensaries classify flower by its THCa level, rather than its THC level. But since THCa becomes THC when burned, the THCa level is the THC level — minus a few percent to account for the conversion.
Good-quality, potent flower typically contains 15-25% THC, so look for strains with similar levels of THCa.
In general, be sure to ask the budtender (or the company if you’re buying online) how to read and understand the potency of the various strains of flowers for sale.
THCa vs. THC: Strength & Effects
THC is far more potent than THCa — it can be thought of as the “activated” form of THC. It’s psychoactive, while THCa isn’t.
THC promotes feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Some people also report heightened sensory perception, an altered perception of time, and an increase in appetite.
THCa, on the other hand, creates very few noticeable effects — you won’t really “feel” it if you use it in an edible or other product. However, some people have noted slight feelings of energy or drowsiness after using it, but these effects aren’t very consistent across users.
Instead, THCa contributes to physical and mental health in other ways, which we’ll cover in the benefits section.
THCa vs. THC: What Are the Side Effects?
Although THCa and THC both have many benefits, they may also cause some adverse effects.
Side Effects of THCa
THCa’s side effects aren’t well-researched. However, Anecdotal evidence suggests THCa may cause some people to feel drowsy or tired, while for others, THCa creates energizing effects.
Side Effects of THC
Potential side effects of THC include:
- Dry mouth
- Memory loss
- Difficulty thinking and speaking
- Red eyes
- Delayed reaction time
- Heart rate increases
- Increased appetite
Note that these side effects won’t be as pronounced if you dose THC properly — start small and slowly work your way up.
Benefits of THCa
Preliminary research indicates that THCa, despite having no psychoactive effects, may offer a variety of therapeutic benefits:
- Relaxation — THCa may promote mental calming and relaxation without the psychoactive effects that THC has.
- Irritable bowel diseases (IBD) — In this study, THCa was found to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects in patients with various inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Neuroprotective properties — This study found that THCa potentially has neuroprotective benefits, which indicates that it may be a promising treatment for Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory conditions.
- Seizures — Preliminary research shows THCa may have therapeutic potential for the reduction of seizures.
Benefits of THC – CLARIFY
THC’s effects and “high” are well known. However, it can do more than just get you high — THC has a variety of potential therapeutic uses:
- Relaxation — Since THC is so potent, many people enjoy using it to get high and relax. In places where marijuana is illegal for recreational use, hemp-derived THC provides many users with a legal alternative.
- Pain — Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that THC may help with pain due to its psychoactive effects.
- Nausea — A 2010 study found that a mix of THC and CBD provided protection against chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
- Sleep — Because of THC’s ability to induce drowsiness, many people find that it helps them get to sleep more quickly and stay asleep for longer.
- Low Appetite — THC’s ability to stimulate appetite is the origin of the term “munchies,” which refers to the hungry feeling you get after smoking marijuana. However, this effect may be beneficial for people with HIV, people in chemotherapy, and people with anorexia who struggle to maintain a healthy appetite.
THCa vs. THC: How They Work in the Body
Cannabinoids such as THCa and THC work via your body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS), a receptor system responsible for regulating many vital functions, including sleep, mood, inflammatory response, and body temperature.
The ECS’s main purpose is to keep your mind and body in a state of balance.
There are two main receptor types in your ECS: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are responsible for regulating the effects cannabinoids have on the mind, while CB2 receptors are body-focused.
THC binds strongly to CB1 receptors, thereby rendering potent psychoactive effects. THCa doesn’t bind as intensely to these receptors, so it doesn’t produce the same “high” feeling.
Instead, it’s likely beneficial because it supports your ECS in other ways — more research on how THCa is necessary to fully understand its mechanism of action.
THCa vs. THC: Legality
The 2018 Farm Bill made all hemp-derived cannabinoids federally legal. Hemp is defined as cannabis containing 0.3% THC or less, by dry weight.
However, delta 9 THC has been made illegal in some states. The legality of THCa isn’t as clear, but if THC is illegal in your state, THCa likely is, too (and vice versa if THC is legal).
With this in mind, here are the states where THC is legal, as well as the states where it’s illegal or regulated:
States Where Delta-9 is Legal
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- Washington D.C.
States Where Delta-9 is Illegal or Contested
- North Dakota
- Kentucky (in dispute, still legal)
- Pennsylvania (in dispute, still legal)
- Vermont (in dispute, still legal)
How to Use THCa: Methods & Dosage
THCa is available in the same forms as THC is. Just remember that THCa flowers, vapes, and other smokable products are actually THC products.
Onset Time: About 1 hour
The most common type of edible is a gummy, although you’ll also find candy, brownies, and other options out there. The upside of edibles is that they taste great and offer a fixed dose.
Onset Time: About 1 hour
Capsules, like edibles, offer a fixed-dose consumption method for THCa.
Onset Time: 20-30 minutes
Oil is a very potent delivery method because it’s taken under the tongue and absorbed through the blood vessels in your mouth, rather than passing through the digestive system.
For therapeutic use, which THCa is primarily beneficial for, oils are also a great option because they allow you to customize your dose down to the drop.
Vapes & Flower
Onset Time: 10-20 minutes
Vapes and flower, like oils, are a higher-potency delivery method. They deliver cannabinoids to your body through the lungs, rather than the digestive system.
However, remember that THCa vapes and flower aren’t giving your body THCa — they’re giving your body THC. So this is not a true delivery method for THCa if you’re looking for the effects and benefits that it has to offer.
THCa vs THC on Drug Tests
Unfortunately, both THCa and THC will show up on drug tests.
THC is screened for due to its presence in marijuana, which is illegal in many states. THCa, on the other hand, is sometimes used as the target analyte for THC (meaning that the drug test looks for THCa to determine whether you’ve been consuming THC).
Therefore, if you have to undergo regular drug testing for work or other reasons, we recommend abstaining from using products containing either THCa and THC, and instead opting for a Broad Spectrum CBD or CBD Isolate product.
No weak, ineffective, or potentially dangerous products here. Only high-strength, American-made delta-9 products that have been 3rd-party lab tested.
Whether you were wondering why the dispensary keeps talking about THCa levels when they should be talking about THC levels, or you wanted to explore the largely untapped benefits of THCa, you now know the difference between these two cannabinoids!
If you want to learn more about THC, feel free to check out our article on delta 9 for pain, as well as our article about the difference between THC and THC-O.
THCa vs. THC: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions customers commonly ask us about the differences between THCa and THC.
What is the difference between THC and THCa?
THC and THCa are both cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that produces the high effects commonly associated with using marijuana, while THCa is the non-psychoactive precursor to THC that is converted to THC when heated (this process is known as decarboxylation).
What percent of THCa is high?
The conversion of THCa to THC is not exact, but generally, most of the THCa that exists in a plant before it’s decarboxylated is converted to THC, which produces the effects you want. Strains containing 15-25% THCa are generally considered to be high in THC.
What is different about THCa?
Essentially, THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) is the acidic version of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THCa will not create psychoactive effects by itself, but it is converted to THC when heated. THC will create the “high” effect. The difference between the two cannabinoids is the additional carboxyl ring in THCa.
What type of high is THCa?
Unlike THC, THCa will not produce a high when consumed in its raw form. Instead, THCa’s effects are mostly rendered in terms of physical benefits. THCa, whether consumed in raw cannabis flower or in an extract, will not produce the high commonly associated with smoking marijuana or hemp.
Is THCa as potent as THC?
Unlike THC, THCa is not potent and will not render any psychoactive effects. However, THCa is converted to THC when heated, as when THCa flower is smoked.