What is THCA? Say Hello to the “Other” THC…

Know the difference
MarijuanaBreak Staff MarijuanaBreak Staff / Updated on June 9, 2019


While marijuana does indeed have hundreds of different active compounds within its chemical makeup, some people seem to be under the impression that every single one of them has a different purpose in terms of psychoactivity and/or medicinal relief. In reality, though, most of weed’s active chemical compounds work together hand in hand in order to provide the benefits that the plant is so well known for.

That being said, there are a few radical differences between some of the active marijuana components. Namely, this has to do with whether or not they provide a high. In this article, we talk about the difference between THC and THCA, how to most effectively use each one of them, and whether or not one is therapeutically “better” than the other.

What is THCA?

We’ve (hopefully) all heard of THC and are familiar with its effects on the mind and body. If you’re not familiar with it, THC is the molecule that accounts for the stereotypical marijuana high. That is, when we smoke pot and get stoned, THC is the one that’s accountable for the mind-altering effects on our brain.

However, few people know that THC is not actually present in fresh, live marijuana plants. Or at least, it’s not present in high enough quantities to produce any real effects.

Rather, in the live plant and raw flower buds, THC exists as a “precursor” acid called THCA. While THC and THCA are nearly identical in terms of chemical structure, they have a few molecular differences that account for radical changes in the way they affect the brain.

Namely, THCA does not produce any psychoactive, mind-altering effects. This is why you could hypothetically eat a bunch of raw marijuana buds, and hardly get high at all (you would, however, probably start puking from consuming all of the indigestible plant material).

With this in mind, however, THCA is far from inactive in terms of the effect that it has on humans. Instead of producing a mind-altering high, for instance, it possesses dozens of therapeutic health benefits, including analgesic (pain-relieving), anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties.

What’s interesting is when THCA gets heated to extreme temperatures (i.e. when you smoke or vaporize it), it “turns into” THC and does, in fact, produce a high. In this way you might think of THC and THCA as the same exact molecules, only with different properties based on whether you’re ingesting/inhaling the “heated” or “unheated” version of them.

There is a more scientifically appropriate way to put this. When THCA undergoes the heat-induced transformation (or chemical “breakdown”) into THC, the process is known as decarboxylation. When the flower buds from a live, fresh marijuana plant are cut off, decarboxylation will take place naturally over time as the flower dries out and eventually becomes cured. Vaporizing or combusting the buds with a lighter, however, is just a way to exponentially speed up the process.

THC vs. THCA: Can You Smoke THCA?

Taking into consideration what we just talked about (that is, how THCA breaks down into psychoactive THC when you heat it up and smoke it), it wouldn’t really make sense to say that you can smoke a “high THCA” marijuana strain. While it is true that THCA is one of the most prominent cannabinoids in uncarboxylated cannabis flowers, as soon as you fire it up, it’s “technically” no longer THCA.

This has of course sparked rather heated discussions in marijuana dispensaries across the country, as a lot of the shops that print out cannabinoid profiles will label the amount of THCA in a strain (which can be upwards of 30%), rather than the amount of THC.

Technically it is more “scientifically accurate” to identify the presence of THCA rather than THC, as most freshly-cut buds will only contain significant quantities of the former rather than the latter. Either way you look at it, if you end up smoking or vaporizing the buds and inhaling them, you’ll be inhaling pure THC — even if the strain is labeled as containing high amounts of THCA.

(Confused yet? Feel free to hit us up on our Facebook page if you have any questions!)

Does THCA Get You High?

If you recall, we mentioned earlier that THCA in the raw marijuana plant is non-psychoactive, yet it still contains many of the therapeutic health benefits of whole-plant cannabis. So how do you use THCA and take advantage of its medical capabilities, without smoking it and turning it into THC?

Well, what a lot of people have actually been doing is trimming raw cannabis buds and juicing THCA as a smoothie. The process is actually incredibly easy: simply toss a fresh, decent sized nug (or two) into your blender along with the normal ingredients that you use to make a smoothie, grind it all up, and voila! – you’ve got a potent, super-therapeutic, non-psychoactive cannabis drink at your disposal.

In addition to juicing raw cannabis flower in a blender, other popular methods in terms of how to use THCA include steeping it as a tea (this releases the THCA at a low enough temperature that it doesn’t turn into THC); using it as a garnish for dinner entrees; and/or infusing it into oils to use a salad dressing. (Though keep in mind if you are going to infuse raw cannabis into an oil to try and extract the THCA, try and do so at a low enough temperature (under 250°F) so that it doesn’t break down into THC).

In terms of the potency of consuming raw cannabis vs. actually smoking it, Dr. William Courtney of the Cannabis International group actually suggests that eating fresh, raw marijuana can allow you to absorb over 1,000 times the amount of therapeutic cannabinoid acids (i.e. THCA) than you would if you were to smoke (or vaporize) the dried buds.

Whatever the case is, while there hasn’t been a ton of research done on the medical effects of pure THCA, the anecdotal evidence seems to be very clear that it works as a powerful pain-reliever, sleep promoter, anti-inflammatory, and anxiety-reducer. In other words, it seems to contain all of the medical properties of regular marijuana, without producing any kind of a high.

[CBD oil actually has many of the same non-psychoactive properties of THCA – check out this article to read more about using CBD hemp oil as a sleep aid, pain reliever and anti-anxiety therapy].

Medical and Scientific Studies on THCA

Like we said, there’s been very little dedicated research done on the medical/therapeutic effects of THCA from raw marijuana flower. However, the small amount of research that has been done has actually been extremely intriguing and promising.

One study, for instance, has suggested that THCA actually has a more profound and wider range of therapeutic effects on the body’s endocannabinoid system, than do any other active cannabis compounds. Along with other things, it has been shown to work as an:

  • Antiemetic (reduces nausea and vomiting)
  • Antispasmodic (reduces muscle spasms and uncontrollable muscle contractions)
  • Immune-booster
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-tumoral (studies have shown THCA to reduce the proliferation of cancer cells in animal models)
  • Analgesic (pain-reliever)

Final Thoughts on THC vs. THCA

To summarize, the difference between THC and THCA is largely nominal – molecularly they are almost identical, even if they do produce substantially different effects on the human body and brain (THC is psychoactive, while THCA is not).

What it all comes down to ultimately is heat; once THCA in the raw cannabis flower is heated beyond its melting point of 220°F (this happens of course when you smoke or vape it), it breaks down into THC, at which point it obtains its psychoactive, mind-altering properties.

However, if you learn how to use THCA without using heat (i.e. if you steep it in tea or blend it into a smoothie), you can take full advantage of its medicinal effects, without experiencing any kid of a psychoactive high.

  1. Jennifer Orr
    THC and CBD

    You will only be confusing yourself if you go into so many details, as what is THCA, or CBDA etc. Just remember two things. THC and CBD. They are the most commonly used, and the most abundantly available.

  2. muricascks
    shocker they killed THC to give us something fake.

    typical fucking evil corps making something that is normal and making it nothing but medical crap. All to make more money off the sheep of america.

  3. Ernesta Arcuri
    THCA for Muscle cramps

    THCA is a great thing for fighting Menstrual cramps and pain. I was using THC for myself, but did not want to give this to my daughter who is just 16. So someone told me to try THCA. It has all the cramp easing properties without getting her high.

  4. Donkyonacid
    Vaping does not break the acid bond...

    THCA does not break down when vaped fully.

    It takes. Heat and time. Quickly boiling it preserves the acid bond quite well. This is further preserved by peg. Peg effectively locks out thc and thca.

    If you want the actual effect the pen has to have thc in it, not thca. The process must chemically do this, because the vaping can’t.

    Thca and the mentality that it won’t get you high opens up the possibility for just handing some one a pod with cbd in it and saying, “oh that’s thca, that’s why the highs different “

    So far in mass, with 14 recreational outlets open, there’s only one selling decarbed thc in their vape pens. Place in licaster ma. Yea iiiiits that one.

    1. Quantum Gravity
      To Add on THCA with Oil and concentrates. . .

      Thats actually a great point Donky – I actually stumped my Pharmacist at my dispensary in CT about that exact question a few months back – CT Pharmaceutical (CPS) and AGL both advertised “PURE” extract oils – at a heightened price, that was being advertised at 87%, but it was 59% THC and 38% THCA. . After putting myself through extract college over the past year I finally was looking at the numbers. Now in all fairness, their “PURE” line was PG and PEG free. . But I always expected my vape refill syringes to be fully decarbed – until I actually looked. So, to make a short story long, I asked if vape cartridges A)got hot enough to decarb the non-active THCA, and B) why am I paying so much for not even fully decarbed “PURE” oil (they were all named stuff like ‘AnivePURE’ or ‘SuchiPURE’). . The answer I got, completely shocked me: “I actually don’t know the answer to that”. Couple emails to the growers – to no avail of a positive answer until I finally talked to this awesome guy Mark at AGL (awesome place) – and he 100% said that MOST, (not all) but most cartridges will heat up enough to convert the THCA and bump the molecule off the chain. On the other hand – I went the safe route and grabbed a PAX ERA (SO SO SO GREAT) – as far as heating and everything – its not even on the same level considering I can boost it from 490° to 790°, the PODs are “not refillable” but are totally refillable – I can’t believe people actually pay $75 for a .5ML PAX Pod. . I buy one every few months and just refill it with completely decarbed oil (I know – I kind of sidestepped the point, but this just was just happenstance that Theraplant started making actual PURE 100% THC oil, and its $20 cheaper than the next closest 1ML 89%) – so point being, cheaper cartridges with single coils probably wont convert – but I can tell you first hand from converting Wax (about 95% of it is THCA) and I would turn it into oil, throw it in a syringe and it definitely worked, but I had a quad coil cartridge at the time. So Donky, you are correct though – because they should not be able to advertise THCA as THC in Oils or concentrates. . Flower I think you would agree, is different. But thanks for bringing up the issue! I don’t know that this will help anyone but just thought I would share my experience!

  5. Johanna Garsenstein
    I find eating raw flower DOES in face have psychoactive effects

    My experience has been different consuming raw plant. I find I do feel the psychoactive effects. My understanding is that THCA is also changed to THC in the gut, hence the high feeling. Can you elaborate on that? I’m just concerned that telling new consumers that eating raw flower won’t get them “high” is misleading. I’m a lifelong cannabis consumer and I disagree based on my own experience. Thanks for this article! Very interesting

  6. Lee Ann Ott
    THCA for glaucoma

    I have narrow angle/closed angle glaucoma and I don’t want to use the THC because I don’t like the high feeling but I do know that THC lowers inner ocular pressure. Can I use the raw plant in tea to reduce the pressure? I think that maybe there hasn’t been enough research on this topic.

  7. Tammy Patton

    I have extreme migraine headaches, Bad panic attacks with high anxiety and deep depression, mytro valve prolapse, bad neck pain and extra lumbar in my back rubbing on nerves. stomach ulcers non bleeding, double hernia repair with plug ,irriatible bowls. I just want no pain that takes away what pills they allow me I am tired of the pills would like liquid cbd oil with sativa and indica as suggested but with as they say no more than a 2 thc content for headache pain. I am in Ohio and they are trying to get it on ballot. I need to know what is best for me so I can get rid of pills. I am on disability because of this and it sucks. I want to be normal but small amount of thc that would not cause but a very small high if you want to call it that would help if you think it might for the severe headaches. I have never heard of Thca. I do not drink at all or want to. Can you help educate me on the exact oil I need and would no more than a 2 thc be helpful with my headache pain or what could I get in oil with thca that would work? Please help.

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