CBD, the non-psychoactive counterpart to THC, has become a household name for its ability to relieve inflammation and anxiety. THCA isn’t nearly as famous. But this abundant cannabinoid has made headlines recently for its powerful wellness benefits and non-psychoactive properties that many compare to CBD.
THCA shares many CBD qualities. Still, these therapeutic compounds are undeniably distinct. This article looks closer at THCA vs. CBD, explaining the differences and similarities in chemical structure, extraction methods, effects, legality, and more.
Treats seizure disorders
Helps with joint pain and arthritis
Helps with depression
Treats seizure disorders
Potential side effects
(from large doses)
Drowsiness and fatigue
Might interact with other medications, like blood thinners
Low heat methods, including solvent-based and cold-pressed extraction.
Low to high heat methods, including CO2, solvent-based, and olive oil.
Non-intoxicating, but will convert into psychoactive THC when heated
Non-intoxicating in all product forms
Federally legal and permissible in hemp products that contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.
Restricted in Idaho
THCA vs CBD: Overview
THCA, short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is typically found in raw cannabis plants and is not psychoactive in its natural state. When cannabis is heated or aged, THCA converts into THC, the compound responsible for marijuana’s trademark psychoactive effects.
THCA is not psychoactive like THC but shares many therapeutic effects, such as pain relief, nausea relief, and appetite enhancement. THCA also displays potential neuroprotective and cancer-fighting properties. Check out our complete guide on THCA vs THC to see other differences between these two components.
CBD (cannabidiol) is another cannabinoid plentiful in hemp and marijuana plants and is well-known for relieving anxiety, stress, and insomnia. CBD is not psychoactive. Many people take it as an over-the-counter supplement for mood and sleep. But CBD is also FDA-approved as a pharmaceutical to treat childhood seizures.
THCA and CBD Shared Qualities
All cannabinoids interact with receptors throughout the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce physiological effects. However, unlike THC, THCA and CBD do not bind directly with these receptors. Their core therapeutic mechanism lies in their ability to inhibit inflammatory enzymes, which reduces pain and promotes healing. Additionally, evidence indicates they may interact with serotonin receptors to regulate mood.
THCA vs CBD Extraction
Extracting THCA from hemp and marijuana plants requires cold temperatures to avoid decarboxylation and involves several steps. Standard methods manufacturers use for THCA extraction include:
Solvent Extraction: In this method, a solvent, such as ethanol, butane, or CO2, is used to dissolve the THCA from the marijuana plant material. The plant material is typically soaked or washed in the solvent, which extracts THCA and other cannabinoids, terpenes, and plant compounds. The solvent is then evaporated or purged, leaving a concentrate containing THCA.
Acid/Base Extraction: This method involves using a chemical process to convert THCA into a water-soluble form that can be separated from the plant material. Acidic or basic solutions extract THCA from the plant material, followed by neutralization and precipitation to obtain a THCA-rich concentrate.
Rosin Pressing: Rosin pressing is a solventless extraction method that involves applying heat and pressure to the marijuana plant material to extract the resin containing cannabinoids, including THCA. This method is typically used for smaller-scale extraction and can be done using a rosin press or a hair straightener.
Cold Extraction: This method uses cold, sub-zero temperatures to freeze and separate the trichomes from the marijuana plant material. Trichomes are the resinous glands that contain cannabinoids, including THCA. Once separated, the trichomes can be collected and processed to obtain THCA concentrate.
Manufacturers typically use several methods to extract cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp plants, including solvent-based and cold extraction. However, unlike THCA, some CBD extraction methods involve high heat. Common methods include:
CO2 Extraction: CO2 is a popular and widely used method for CBD extraction. The process typically involves passing CO2 through the plant material at high pressure and temperature. This allows it to act as a solvent to selectively extract CBD and other cannabinoids, terpenes, and plant compounds.
Steam Distillation: Steam distillation is a method that involves using steam to separate CBD from the hemp plant material. The plant material is heated with steam, which causes the CBD to vaporize along with it. The vapor is then condensed and collected, resulting in a CBD-rich distillate.
Olive Oil Extraction: Olive oil extraction is a simple and safe method but is less common in large-scale commercial production. It involves using olive oil as a solvent to extract CBD from hemp plant material. The plant material is heated in olive oil for a certain period, which allows the CBD to dissolve into the oil.
THCA vs CBD Chemical Structure
Both THCA and CBD have chemical structures similar to THC.
The main difference between THC and THCA is the presence or absence of a carboxylic acid group (-COOH) on the molecule. THCA has this carboxylic acid group, while THC does not. This carboxylic acid group makes THCA less bioavailable and less active than THC because it prevents it from quickly crossing the blood-brain barrier and interacting with the body's endocannabinoid receptors.
On the other hand, CBD has a much simpler chemical structure that consists of acyclohexene ring (A), a phenolic ring (B), and a pentyl side chain. It does not have a carboxylic acid group like THCA, which makes it more bioavailable and active than THCA.
CBD has the same molecular formula as THC. However, a slight difference in the arrangement accounts for CBD’s unique therapeutic mechanisms.
The Differences in Effect Profiles
THCA and CBD are non-psychoactive, so they won’t cause users to feel “high.” However, research on THCA vs. CBD for pain or CBD vs. THCA for anxiety shows different results.
THCA in its raw form shows excellent promise for multiple health benefits and medical uses, including:
Brain Health: According to 2012 and 2017 studies, THCa has neuroprotective properties that could protect memory and coordination as people age, fighting against Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and dementia.
Relieving Nausea: A 2020 study found THCA could be more effective than THC in helping with vomiting and nausea.
Fighting Cancer: THCA displays anti-tumor properties and could slow the progression of cancer cells, specifically prostate cancer.
Anti-Obesity: THCA’s anti-inflammatory effects could help stop fat cells from accumulating, helping prevent metabolic disease and obesity.
Anti-Seizure: THCA displays anticonvulsant activity and could effectively treat seizure disorders like epilepsy.
Raw cannabis forms, such as juiced, are the best ways to enjoy THCA in its pure form. THCA supplements and tinctures are also options. Once users light and smoke a THCA product, it converts to psychoactive THC and loses its unique benefits. Learn more about THCA benefits, effects and side effects in our complete guide.
CBD is one of the most studied cannabinoids to date. Its benefits include:
Anxiety Relief: CBD at high concentrations directly activates serotonin receptors, having an anti-anxiety effect.
Reducing Inflammation: CBD binds to receptors known to mediate pain perception, inflammation, and body temperature, which help it work as an anti-inflammatory and reduce oxidative stress.
Relieving Depression: CBD's positive effect on serotonin receptors also helps with depression, and a 2019 animal study found that CBD has a fast and sustained antidepressant-like effect.
Stress Relief: A 2018 review of existing studies found that CBD has anti-stress effects.
Improving Sleep:Studies show that high CBD doses increase sleep duration.
Anti-Seizure:Studies show CBD is effective in treating different forms of epilepsy, especially in those resistant to conventional anti-epileptic drugs.
THCA vs CBD Dosage Comparison
THCA and CBD dosages, usually shown in milligrams (mg), largely depend on the conditions and symptoms a person intends to treat, their weight, and their tolerance. With both compounds, users should start small and gradually increase the dose to a level that gives the desired therapeutic effect.
One of the most significant features of THCA is its ability to work at very low doses, meaning consumers can consume less while getting more relief.
Sulak, Goldstein, and Dr. Russel Saneto recently published four case reports of patients who used THCA with CBD and conventional antiepileptic drugs. Patients received small doses of THCA, ranging from 0.1-1 mg/kg/day, corresponding to 0.01 to 0.1% of their body weight in THCA.
Some resources indicate a maximum of 5-50 mg of THCA daily is safe and effective. But limited research exists regarding THCA dosages.
One scientific review showed that participants well-tolerated taking up to 1,500 mg daily and showed no adverse effects. A few CBD dose ranges for various conditions include:
Anxiety: 300-600 mg per day
Epilepsy: 2.5 mg/kg of body weight per day
Sleep: up to 160 mg
Joint swelling or arthritis: 10-25 mg twice per day (50-100 mg for topical products)
Differences in Legality and Availability
The US government considers all hemp products legal under the 2018 Farm Bill as long as they contain no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight. As a result, hemp-based CBD and THCA products are federally legal. However, there are some nuances.
THCA is not included in the DEA’s Controlled Substances list, likely due to its non-psychoactive nature. As a result, THCA is federally legal.
Furthermore, the USDA's Farm Bill legalizes THCA derived from hemp that contains less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight. Farmers must test pre-harvest hemp samples with verified third-party laboratories, taking into account total THC content after heating the samples. Samples that pass are compliant.
Compliant hemp plants and products that contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC are legal nationwide, allowing hemp companies to produce products with elevated THCA levels.
Still, some state hemp laws are stricter than the Farm Bill, restricting THCA products in some areas. Read our THCA legality guide to learn more.
Under federal law, consumers can purchase CBD products across all 50 states if they are hemp-derived and the formula contains less than 0.3% THC.
Idaho is the only state that restricts the sale and use of CBD hemp products to those with 0% THC.
THCA vs CBD Safety Levels
THCA is generally well-tolerated and safe in raw cannabis forms, such as blended into smoothies or juice. Heated THCA converts into THC, so marijuana and hemp users might experience similar mild side effects, such as:
Too much CBD can also cause side effects, including:
Most negative effects from THCA and CBD are mild and temporary, and users can manage them by lowering the dose.
Mixing CBD and THCA: What will happen?
Mixing CBD and THCA can have varying effects depending on the specific ratios and dosages used and individual differences in tolerance and sensitivity to cannabinoids.
Some people may use CBD and THCA together for a potential synergistic effect. This is because cannabinoids are thought to work together in the "entourage effect." In the entourage effect, different cannabinoids interact to produce a combined effect that may be greater than the sum of their individual effects. However, further research is needed to understand the interactions between CBD and THCA fully.