THC is the most famous and well-researched cannabinoid due to its psychoactive properties. But 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 acidic form of Delta-9 THC, the most prominent compound in cannabis responsible for the plant’s intoxicating effects. It is one of over 100 known phytocannabinoids in raw cannabis and hemp plants.
Chemically, THCA, short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, has one more molecular carboxyl ring than THC, giving it a different shape, which leads to distinct effects on the body. The most prominent distinction is that THCA doesn’t have psychoactive qualities. In other words, it doesn’t get people high.
THCA exists primarily in young, freshly harvested plants. As cannabis plants develop, their trichomes produce acidic compounds like THCA, which act as the plant’s immune system. After harvest, cannabis plants undergo a natural process called “decarboxylation” caused by exposure to sun, heat, and oxygen. This chemical reaction removes one carboxyl group from THCA’s molecular structure, converting it into the psychoactive THC molecule that cannabis is known for.
THCA Effects: Is THCA Psychoactive?
Does THCA get you high?
THCA is not psychoactive in its natural form. The THCA molecule isn't the right shape to bind to receptors in the brain responsible for making users feel high. However, this is only true if people ingest THCA in its raw state, such as through juicing freshly harvested cannabis.
When people smoke hemp or marijuana or bake edibles, they apply heat to the plant. Heat causes decarboxylation, removing THCA’s extra carboxyl ring and transforming it into THC.
THC binds with receptors in the brain and makes people feel high.
What Does THCA Do? THCA Benefits
Research shows that natural THCA offers users many therapeutic benefits in line with CBD and THC, without psychoactive effects.
- THCA possesses more anti-inflammatory properties than CBD, particularly for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
- It displays neuroprotective properties that could treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and ALS.
- THCA could be more effective than THC in reducing vomiting and nausea.
- It may help with seizure disorders.
- THCA slows the proliferation of cancerous cells, specifically prostate cancer.
- It can help stop fat cells from accumulating, helping prevent metabolic disease and obesity.
THCA Flower: What Is It?
What is 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 flower, most of the THCA converts into psychoactive THC. For this reason, THCA hemp flower will produce a reasonably strong buzz, similar to regular marijuana. The difference is that high-THCA hemp flower is federally legal to consume.
THCA vs. THC: What’s the Difference?
Most users know Delta-9 THC as the compound in marijuana and hemp that makes them feel high (check out our “What is Delta 9?” guide for a complete overview). The most significant difference between THCA and THC is that THCA does not cause intoxicating effects due to its distinct molecular structure.
THCA also exists in large amounts in freshly harvested plants, while THC exists in low quantities. After harvest, the high THCA levels begin to convert into THC due to heat and oxygen exposure during curing, processing, and storage.
Smoking, vaping, dabbing, or cooking cannabis converts the remaining THCA into THC.
Is THCA Legal, and Can I Buy It Online?
Is THCA illegal or legal? The answer depends.
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 delta 9 legality from state to state within the US.
However, high THCA hemp flower is not legal in every state. Some states have “total THC” testing laws, which consider THCA in their formulas.
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 tolerate this well and enjoy the experience. Other times, people can experience adverse THCA side effects, including:
- Red eyes
- Rapid heartbeat
These effects often occur when users take too much THC and usually only last a short time.
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 CBD and THCA?
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.