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THC vs THCA: Two Related Cannabinoids, Two Very Different Effects

If you’ve spent any time with cannabis, you’re familiar with THC: The cannabinoid responsible for the cannabis plant’s distinctive “high,” among many other effects. But THC is only one part of the plant’s fascinating and complex ecosystem. Allow us to introduce you to THCA. And while their names may look alike, they couldn’t be more different in terms of how they affect our bodies and our minds.

THC vs THCA Cannabinoid

THC vs THCA: Introduction to the Cannabinoids

Let’s start at the beginning: What are cannabinoids? They’re a family of some 150 natural compounds that occur in the cannabis plant. They interface with our bodies through a network called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). And while the ECS was only identified in the past several decades, it’s believed to be one of our body’s most important regulatory networks. And that’s in large part what makes the cannabinoids such powerful medicine.

You’re probably familiar with the two most common cannabinoids, THC and CBD. THC accounts for anywhere from 2% to over 25% of cannabis flower by weight, depending upon the strain and its specific THC levels.

As we mentioned earlier, THC is the cannabinoid that imparts the cannabis plant’s distinctive intoxicating effects in higher doses, but it does a lot more than just get us high. There’s much more to the story, of course. If you’d like to learn more about how cannabinoids with the ECS impart their medicinal effects, start here. Because right now, it’s time to introduce THC’s cannabinoid known as THCA.

THC vs THCA: Introduction to the Cannabinoids

THCA is the chemical precursor from which all THC derives, but very few of us actually know about it. Why? For one thing, THCA isn’t psychoactive until it’s converted to THC by heat.

Instead, the process known as decarboxylation—the natural chemical breakdown of THCA caused by light or heat—converts it instantly to THC. But that’s not to say that non-decarboxylated THCA doesn’t do anything. As research is beginning to show, this crucial compound may impart all sorts of beneficial effects on our bodies.

That’s a lot to chew on, we know. Let’s break down the emerging research in cells and animals bit by bit.

  • Anti-Inflammatory: In 2011, a study published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin found that THCA had a role to play in fighting inflammation. As we pointed out earlier, this places it firmly in the ballpark of other cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, which evidence shows may indirectly (and potentially directly) reduce inflammation.
  • Antiemetic: A recent study published in Psychopharmacology found that THCA was even more effective than a comparable THC dosage in reducing nausea and vomiting in rodent models. That’s welcome news for those undergoing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, the side effects of which are notoriously challenging. 
  • Neuroprotective: Several studies suggest that THCA can help protect us against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, for which there is currently no cure. One study published in 2017 found that THCA was more powerful than THC in this effort, while another report found that THCA helps protect certain brain cells from neurodegenerative diseases
  • Anti-Obesity: Lastly, a report in Biochemical Pharmacology noted that THCA appeared to reduce obesity and some of its comorbidity raising conditions, such as diabetes and fatty liver disease. 
Smokeable Flower

THC vs THCA: In Conclusion

As with nearly all topics in the cannabis world, clinicians warn that more research is needed before we can make definitive conclusions about what THCA can and can’t do. But with so many lines of inquiry open, you can bet we’ll be keeping our eye on this most fascinating and little-appreciated of the cannabinoids!

To turn some THCa into THC yourself with some smokable flower, medical patients in Maryland or New Mexico can find flower here!

Please note that qualifying conditions vary by state, and the information relating to qualifying conditions may not apply to cannabis patients in all states.

Product availability also varies based on state program restrictions and rules, so the products discussed may not be available in all states. Be sure to check with your local Green Goods location about the products available in your state!