What is THCA? Complete Overview of the Benefits, Side Effects and Uses

While THC is the most famous and well-researched cannabinoid due to its psychoactive properties, there would be no THC without THCA. So, what is THCA, and what does it do? This guide explains everything about THCA, including THCA meaning, benefits, side effects, and psychoactive potential.

What is THCA?

THCA is the non-psychoactive acidic precursor to THC found primarily in raw, unheated cannabis plants and flower. As a cannabis compound, THCA is known broadly as a cannabinoid.

Interestingly, cannabis plants primarily produce THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) instead of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) during their growth process. So THC would not exist if THCA didn’t come first.

Here’s how THCA forms in cannabis plants:

As cannabis plants grow, they naturally produce high THCA levels in the trichomes, resinous glands found on the surface of the flowers and leaves. THCA acts as the plant’s defense mechanism against pests, UV radiation, and environmental stressors.

Later on, heat exposure triggers an activation process called “decarboxylation,” transforming marijuana’s acidic cannabinoids like THCA into their non-acidic, active versions–THC.

In other words, lighting and smoking cannabis cause a chemical reaction that changes THCA’s molecular structure, converting it into THC, the psychoactive molecule that cannabis is known for.

THCA chemical structure

THCA is a tetrahydrocannabinol molecule like THC. The difference is THCA contains an extra carboxyl group consisting of a carbon atom attached to an oxygen atom and a hydroxyl group. This extra atomic group gives THCA a distinct shape and physiological effects. Notably, THCA can’t bind to brain receptors with the same strength as THC, which is required to produce marijuana’s intoxicating effects. 

So, when people ask, does THCA get you high? The answer is no.

THCA effects: Is THCA psychoactive?

Does THCA get you high?

THCA is not psychoactive in its natural form. However, heated THCA flower will definitely get you high. (Note: THC P, on the other hand, is a psychoactive cannabinoid with a stronger affinity for the CB1 receptor than Delta 9 THC or THCA.)

THCA research shows that the molecule isn't the right shape to bind well to the two major neural receptors responsible for making people feel high. So people who juice freshly harvested cannabis or consume cold-pressed extracts with high THCA levels will not experience psychoactive properties.

However, lighting and heating THCA transforms the acidic compound into THC through decarboxylation. Also known as “decarbing,” this conversion process removes THCA’s extra carboxyl ring, transforming it into THC and binding it to receptors in the brain that make people feel high.

Is THCA Safe? THCA Side Effects

THCA is generally well-tolerated and safe in raw cannabis forms, such as blended into smoothies or juices. Heated THCA converts to THC, so people who smoke or cook THCA flower will experience intoxicating effects. Most people have little to no adverse impacts and enjoy the experience. However, those sensitive to THC can experience THCA side effects from smoking THCA flower, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Cottonmouth
  • Fatigue
  • Red eyes
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Paranoia/Anxiety

These THCA side effects often occur when users take too much of the cannabinoid and usually only last a short time.

What does THCA do? THCA Benefits

what is thca

THCA possesses anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antioxidant properties. Scientists have also studied the cannabinoid for potential in pain relief, reducing nausea and vomiting, and inhibiting the growth of specific cancer cells.

Research provides promising pre-clinical evidence for several potential therapeutic benefits. 

THCA can also offer the same benefits as THC when people light and smoke the plant. Decarboxylated THCA, aka THC, exhibits promising therapeutic potential for various wellness concerns.

  • Stimulates the appetite
  • Can work as a sleep aid.
  • Contributes to pain relief

Further scientific investigation is needed to fully understand and validate these potential benefits.

    THCA Flower

    thca flower

    THCA flower is a new term for “hemp flower” created with high THCA levels for smoking or vaping. These hemp buds contain potent concentrations of THCA (around 20%.), while their Delta-9 THC levels do not exceed 0.3%.

    However, when users light and smoke the THCA flower, most of the THCA converts into psychoactive THC. For this reason, THCA flower will produce a reasonably strong buzz, similar to regular marijuana. The difference is that high-THCA flower is federally legal to consume because THCA is not a banned substance at the federal level in the United States.

    Check out QWIN's exclusive collection of THCA flowers for sale here.

    THCA vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

    THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) are two different chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. The most significant difference between THCA and THC is that THCA does not cause side effects due to its distinct molecular structure. Other key differences include chemical structure, consumption methods, and potential benefits.

    Natural potency

    THCA exists in large amounts in young cannabis plants, while THC exists in low quantities.


    THCA is non-psychoactive in its raw form, meaning it does not naturally produce side effects. However, THCA can become psychoactive through decarboxylation, which occurs when the cannabis plant material is exposed to heat, such as through smoking, vaporizing, or cooking. On the other hand, THC is naturally psychoactive and responsible for marijuana’s trademark "high."

    Chemical Structure

    THCA and THC have similar molecular structures but differ in the presence of a carboxyl group. THCA has an additional carboxyl group (-COOH) attached to its molecular structure, whereas THC does not. This extra group means THCA cannot induce the same mind-altering effects.

    Consumption Methods

    Consuming raw cannabis flower or leaves will primarily introduce THCA into the body. Raw cannabis does not undergo decarboxylation, so the THCA remains non-psychoactive. Some of the best ways to consume raw flower include adding it to salads, juices, or smoothies. Other methods include cold-pressed whole-plant extracts.

    To convert THCA into THC and experience its psychoactive effects, users must apply heat like they would when consuming regular cannabis. Smoking, vaporizing, or baking cannabis flower or concentrates at a certain temperature triggers the decarboxylation process, transforming THCA into THC.

    Potential Benefits

    THC is known for its psychoactive, pain-relieving, and appetite-inducing properties, while THCA is being studied for unique therapeutic benefits. Research suggests that THCA may possess anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antioxidant properties. Scientists are also investigating potential use in pain management, nausea reduction, and other medical applications.

    Is THCA Illegal, and Can I Buy It Online?

    THCA is federally legal because it does not appear on the DEA’s controlled substances list. Additionally, high-THCA hemp flower is federally legal as long as it contains less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight, according to the 2018 Farm Bill. As a result, hemp products with 20% (or more) THCA and up to .29% Delta-9 THC are lawful to buy online. You can check out our “Is Delta 9 legal?” guide for a complete overview of the hemp-derived delta 9 legality from state to state within the US.

    However, possessing THCA products, including THCA-infused oils, tinctures, and edibles, is still subject to local and state laws. And high THCA hemp flower is not legal in every state. Some states have “total THC” testing laws, which consider THCA quantities in determining whether products comply with mandates THC limits.

    Additionally, some people theorize that THCA sales or possession could be considered illegal under the Federal Analogue Act, a section of the United States Controlled Substances Act passed in 1986 that says any chemical “substantially similar” to a controlled substance listed can also be considered illegal. However, law enforcement has not yet prosecuted anyone under this precedent.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that THCA is only federally legal if it comes from hemp, like QWIN’s line of THCA products. On the other hand, marijuana strains with high THCA levels are only allowed in adult-use states and are federally banned.

    How to Use THCA

    People can use THCA in two broadly different ways.

    1. Consuming raw cannabis to experience THCA’s non-psychoactive therapeutic benefits.
    2. Heating THCA flower as a conduit to reap the psychoactive wellness benefits of THC.

    Consuming raw cannabis is a popular way to get the benefits from THCA without the high from smoking or vaping the plant. Most people prefer incorporating raw cannabis into a juicing routine for better taste. THCA tinctures and topicals are also available for users to work into their regimen, such as THCA supplements or topical products.

    Heating and smoking THCA flower is another standard consumption route. This method activates a chemical conversion process that transforms THCA into psychoactive THC. Smoking, dabbing, vaping, or ingesting cooked edibles gets people high while providing reported benefits like pain relief, appetite stimulation, nausea reduction, and better sleep.

    Should I dab THCA?

    Dabbing is another way to activate THCA into psychoactive THC. However, it requires the right equipment and product. 

    First, you must gather the necessary tools and formula, including a dab rig, a dabber tool, a heat source like a torch, and THCA concentrate. Then, prepare the dab rig by filling the water chamber with a small amount of water for filtration. Afterward, heat the nail or banger using the torch until it reaches the desired temperature, usually lower than for other concentrates. 

    After a brief cooling period, use the dabber tool to apply a small amount of THCA concentrate onto the hot surface, instantly vaporizing upon contact. Placing the dome or carb cap over the nail captures the vapor, allowing you to inhale gently, rotating the dabber tool to ensure complete vaporization. 

    It is important to start with a small dose, gradually increasing as needed, while taking necessary safety precautions and being mindful of personal tolerance levels.

    THCA Potency

    Flower, vape cartridges, and concentrates all require decarboxylation, aka THCA activation by heat, to transform their THCA into THC. Users smoking, cooking, dabbing, or vaping cannabis want to look for products with a high THCA concentration (around 20%) to produce the desired euphoric effects and health benefits.

    However, some products have already undergone a heat conversion. For example, it would be best to focus only on THC content when buying premade edibles.

    Common Questions about THCA

    What is a high THCA percentage?

    A high THCA percentage is around 20% or more. Users who smoke high-THCA strains will experience an intense buzz when that THCA gets heated and converts to THC.

    What are the benefits of THCA?

    THCA displays neuroprotective (brain protection) effects, is a potent anti-inflammatory, can slow cancer cells, stimulates the appetite, reduces nausea, and may help with seizure disorders.

    What is the difference between THCA vs CBD?

    CBD (cannabidiol) is another prominent cannabinoid in cannabis and hemp plants. Structurally, CBD and THCA are entirely different compounds. However, THCA has a lot in common with CBD. Unlike THC, neither THCA nor CBD binds well with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, so both are non-psychoactive. They also both help with inflammation and seizure disorders.

    Does THCA become THC when smoked?

    THCa converts to THC when heated through a chemical process called decarboxylation. Smoking applies sufficient heat to convert much of a product’s THCA into regular THC.

    What does THCA do to the brain?

    THCA does not bind to receptors in the brain like THC unless it undergoes decarboxylation. However, THCA does display neuroprotective properties that might make it helpful for preventing and treating conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington's.

    Final Thoughts on THCA

    THC is the most widely known cannabinoid, but it wouldn’t exist without its precursor, THCA. In its natural state, THCA is non-psychoactive and shares many therapeutic effects with THC and CBD. However, THCA transforms into THC when heated or “decarbed.” This loophole allows users to consume potent THC levels when they smoke compliant high-THCA hemp products.