THC vs. THC-A : What’s the Difference?

The main difference between Delta 9 THC and THC-A — besides the letter 'a' — is when each compound is present in cannabis. We know that THC is extremely present in dried flower. However, THC-A is the precursor to THC. This means that THC-A is the compound present in the plant as it ages. Virtually no THC is present in live or freshly harvested marijuana. THC-A only converts into THC after the plant is harvested and goes through the drying and curing process.

THC-A vs. THC Extraction

Extracting THC from the cannabis plant is relatively straightforward. The process requires drying and preserving fresh marijuana or hemp flowers to allow the THC-A compounds to convert into THC. This process, called decarboxylation, requires high heat and light for the THC-A compound to convert into THC. You are inherently altering the chemical structure of THC-A to remove the carboxyl group, resulting in a molecule that more readily interacts with the body. Outside of decarboxylation, THC-A can also convert into THC when the cannabis plant is exposed to sunlight or high room temperatures.

THC-A is the "precursor to THC" and can only be extracted before the plant goes through the decarboxylation process. THC-A is the compound naturally found in raw marijuana or hemp flowers. This compound is the purest isolate on the market compared to other cannabinoids like Delta-8 or CBN.

THC-A vs. THC Chemical Structure

You might wonder what the difference between THC and THC-A from a chemical structure is. While Delta 9 THC is psychotropic and THC-A is non-psychotropic, they share very similar chemical structures. The only difference between the two compounds is the number of carboxyl groups found in each cannabinoid. 

THC-A isn't psychoactive due to its 3-dimensional shape. Researchers have noted that this larger chemical structure indicates that THC-A does not bind CB1 or CB2 receptors. According to a Realm of Caring Foundation research study, it also may inhibit COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, potentially reducing pain and inflammation. The extra carboxyl group in THC-A results in very different interactions with the human body than THC.

In contrast, Delta 9's unique shape makes it incredibly easy to bind with your CB1 receptors. This cannabinoid is often linked to feelings of euphoria and body buzzing highs.

The Differences in Effect Profiles

When comparing the effects of Delta 9 THC versus THC-A, the question might come down to what is the difference in experiences of each. We love a good buzz. 

If you're wondering what gets you high, Delta 9 THC or THC-A, then keep reading... 

THC-A Effects

As a result of THC-A's chemical structure, this compound does not get you high. When THC-A is exposed to heat, it converts into THC. Crystalline or isolate THC-A is available in high concentrates, meaning that by applying heating methods to this compound, you can easily convert it to THC and experience its potent effects.

Ingesting THC-A can result in a much more potent high than other methods of consuming THC, such as smoking cannabis or vaping.


Delta 9 THC Effects

Delta 9 THC is the primary psychoactive compound found in both marijuana and hemp. Many individuals associate the experience of using Delta 9 products with feelings of calm and euphoria. Some say they feel a heady buzz and body melting sensation. At the same time, others may experience less-than-ideal side effects, like feeling slightly paranoid or brain fog.

Dosage Comparison

When trying to determine the potency of your hemp and marijuana products, it can become confusing quickly. THC-A can add another layer of confusion when calculating the total Delta 9 THC content of each cannabis strain. Unfortunately, there are only a few ways to determine a strain's true potency.

THC-A Dosage

Since THC-A is the precursor to Delta 9 THC, when calculating the potency of a cannabis strain, you should consider the milligrams of THC-A as that compound will convert into Delta 9 when heated. If a strain is high in THC-A, it can impact the potency of the cannabis.

A popular method for calculating a strain's potency is called gas chromatography; in this formula, you have to accurately determine the total THC content of a raw cannabis strain. The formula looks like this:

Delta 9 THC total = (% THCA) x [final mass/initial mass] + (%THC)

This formula can give you a good idea of the total THC present in marijuana or hemp. Typically not all of the THC-A will be converted into Delta 9 THC. However, a study found that anywhere between 30-70 percent of THCA in a strain may not be converted into THC during the smoking process. 

While including THC-A when measuring cannabis potency might be important to some. THC-A can be a valuable wellness compound found in raw cannabis. By consuming raw cannabis, you can absorb the cannabinoid acids and experience medicinal effects. It takes approximately 4-8 weeks for the THC-A to be absorbed into the body fat and stored.

Delta 9 THC Dosage

Since Delta 9 THC is the psychoactive version of THC-A, identifying your ideal dosage can ensure you have a pleasant experience. Your dosage comes down to your tolerance level, cannabis experience, and what type of effects you're looking to have. 2.5 to 5 mg of Delta 9 is enough for most novice users to feel the effects. But more experienced cannabis users may prefer a higher dose, like 10 to 25 mg. 

How long it takes to feel the effects depends on your method of consumption. If you're inhaling Delta 9 through vaping or an electronic dab rig, you should expect to feel the effects within 15 minutes. Edibles take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your body composition.

Differences in Legality and Availability

Understanding the legality of cannabinoids can be confusing to navigate. Always check your state's laws before purchasing any cannabinoid products to be safe. 

You can learn more about other cannabinoids' legality in our helpful guide.

THC-A

THC-A is not classified as a banned substance at the US federal level. However, THC-A's legality can be a bit of a grey area. Because it is the analog version of THC and can easily convert into THC, it can fall under the Federal Analogue Act. According to this act, you can be prosecuted for selling or possessing THC-A. But THC-A is likely legal in most states where THC is legal for recreational or medical use.

THC

After the Farm Bill passed in 2018, all hemp-derived delta-9-THC products became federally legal. Although these products are federally legal, many states have passed more specific laws around these hemp cannabinoids. Check out our complete guide on Delta 9 legality for more information.

Is THC-A Safe?

Humans have a unique set of receptors that are part of the Endocannabinoid System. The ECS is critical in maintaining the body's homeostasis, affecting the brain, immune system, and other systems. [Source] Both THC-A and Delta 9 THC affect the Endocannabinoid System differently. However, both cannabinoids naturally interact with your body's internal systems.

Several studies have found that THC-A has a number of health benefits: 

  1. Anti-inflammatory: In a 2011 study, researchers suggested that THC-A has anti-inflammatory properties. Another study conducted on mice in 2021 found that THC-A has great potential for treating fatty liver disease.
  2. Neuroprotective: According to a 2017 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, researchers found that THC-A could protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
  3. Anti-emetic: Researchers found that both THC-A and CBDA could effectively reduce nausea and vomiting — even more than Delta 9 THC and CBD. 

Research on these cannabinoids is still very early as cannabis has only become legalized in several states over the past few years. We expect to see more studies like these come out in the future.

Final Takeaways

With so many new cannabinoids on the market, it can be confusing to differentiate between them. Think of THC-A as the "mother of all cannabinoids." It's the precursor to THC and converts into THC when exposed to heat. Several studies have discovered the health benefits of consuming THC-A, such as reducing inflammation, helping with nausea, and protecting against neurodegenerative disease. Each cannabis product has its benefits, and much more research is needed to understand the full scope of what they may offer.