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THC vs THCa

THC vs THCa: Understanding the Differences and How to Decarb

We explore the world of cannabis to better understand the differences between THC and THCa. In this article, we’ll explain these two key parts of cannabis, how they affect us, and how to change THCa into psychoactive THC by a proses called decarboxylation.
Hayley Smith
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Important variations of your favorite psychoactive cannabinod

Despite what you might have seen in your favorite stoner movie, eating a bag of raw cannabis won’t get you high (well, at least not as high as they’d lead you to believe).

The reason raw cannabis consumption will not get you high is that it contains a higher concentration of THCa as opposed to THC, the plant’s most famous psychoactive cannabinoid.

In this article, we’re going to unpack everything you need to know about THC vs THCa, addressing the main differences, as well as how they’re connected, so you can better understand their differing effects.

What is THCa vs THC?

When we’re looking at THCa vs Delta 9 THC, it’s important to understand that they are two different chemical compounds that can be found in cannabis and hemp. In fact, they are just two of well over 100 cannabinoid compounds that have been identified in these plants.

Although THCa is often compared to THC, it’s more accurate to describe THCa as the precursor to THC because the plant creates THCa in the resinous trichomes of its flowers and it’s then transformed into THC via a chemical process called decarboxylation. This means that THC can’t actually exist, in nature at least, without THCa.

Understanding the difference between these two compounds is crucial as they yield vastly distinct effects upon consumption.

The main difference between THC and THCa

One of the most notable differences between THC and THCa is that one will get you high and the other won’t.

THC

aka tetrahydrocannabinol or “the one that will get you high”

THC is the most well-known and researched psychoactive compound that is responsible for the plant’s euphoric effects when consumed.

THCa

aka tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or “the one that won’t get you high”

THCA is a non-intoxicating compound, meaning it does not produce the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis use.

Why are they different?

The reason for the difference in psychoactive effects is due to the shape of the THCa molecule, which is larger and cannot fit into certain cannabinoid receptors, particularly CB1 cannabinoid receptors.

For a cannabinoid to have an intoxicating effect, it must bind to CB1 receptors which are found abundantly throughout the brain and body.

However…

The question “does THCa get you high?” isn’t as simply answered as you might think because, as mentioned earlier, THCa can transform into THC through decarboxylation, meaning THCa products do potentially have the ability to make you feel high if they are exposed to heat, UV light, or oxygen (over time).

How THCa transforms into THC

In order for THCa to become THC and produce psychoactive effects, it must undergo a process called decarboxylation, which typically occurs with heat exposure, such as through smoking, vaping, or baking.

Decarboxylation converts THCa to THC by removing the carboxylic acid group (of THCa) through heat or light. This process changes the chemical structure of THCa, allowing it to bind with the CB1 receptors in our endocannabinoid system (ECS).

When it comes to THCa vs THC percentage, it’s estimated that around 87.7% of THCa is transformed into THC following a complete decarboxylation process.

THCa vs. THC: How to decarb weed

There are many different ways that cannabis and hemp flower can be decarboxylated, thereby activating all of the acidic cannabinoids within it.

1. Sunlight

Exposure to heat or light can cause varying degrees of conversion of THCA to THC. When a cannabis plant is exposed to prolonged periods of warm sunlight, its THCA molecules gradually transform into THC.

2. Room-temperature

THCA undergoes conversion into THC even when stored at room temperature for an extended duration. If submerged in olive oil at 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius), 22% of THCA transforms into THC over ten days. However, when subjected to ethanol, 67% of THCA converts under the same conditions. Furthermore, even with minimal light exposure, cannabis kept at room temperature undergoes a conversion of 20% of its THCA into THC over time. The crux of the matter is that THCa is an unstable compound which can convert into THC with minimal intervention over time.

3. Smoking

The application of a flame to dried, cured cannabis buds causes a rapid conversion of THCa to THC due to the high degree of heat applied in a short span of time. However, complete conversion of all THCa is not guaranteed, and while smoking THCa remains the most popular mode of enjoying THC’s effects, it may not be the most efficient one.

Check out the best THCa flower strains here (including where to buy from).

4. Vaporizing

Decarboxylating cannabis through vaporization is thought to be one of the most effective techniques. Heating the dry herb with a dry herb vape at a relatively low temperature facilitates the conversion of cannabinoid acids, with gradual increments in temperature promoting maximum conversion of THCa to THC, but up to a certain point only.

When vaping THCa hemp flower, the ideal temperature is between 230 and 315 degrees Fahrenheit (learn more about best vaping temperatures here), surpassing which may benefit certain cannabinoids and terpenes, but it could lead to THC loss.

A few vendors are also selling THCa vape cartridges and disposable vape pens, such as Secret Nature CBD and Binoid CBD.

It is crucial to purchase good quality vape pens from reputable brands to guarantee that the oil within does not contain any harmful ingredients.

5. Dabbing

Dabbing, like vaporization, facilitates the decarboxylation of THCa into active THC. For dabbing, crystalline (THCa crystals or diamonds) is the preferred form of THCa, but it can be lacking in aroma or flavor as most cannabis extractions intend to remove terpenes and flavonoids to isolate the cannabinoids.

Nevertheless, several producers reintroduce terpene blends extracted from cannabis into the concentrate. The inclusion of terpenes not only enhances the taste but it also produces entourage effects, where these distinctively aromatic plant molecules work in synergy with cannabinoids to improve the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

Arete Hemp has some highly potent THCa diamonds for sale at the moment (view them here).

6. Baking

To create homemade edibles (with intoxicating effects) from THCa hemp flower, it’s crucial to decarboxylate the cannabis before infusing it into your sweet treat. There are many ways to do this, including heating it in a pan with some butter, but most people I know use their oven.

Begin by grinding your THCa flower and spreading it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake it at around 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius) for 30-45 minutes, and this will facilitate the conversion of most THCa into THC.

THCa isn’t the only acidic cannabinoid

When cannabis is harvested, cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC, and THCV typically exist in their acidic forms such as CBDa, CBGa, CBCa, and THCVa. Similar to THCa, these cannabinoid acids need to undergo decarboxylation to become active and interact with the human endocannabinoid system.

Although they’ve previously been described as inactive, due to their inability to interact with our ECS, these acidic cannabinoids do influence our bodies in other ways, possessing their own unique potential benefits that are still being researched.

Like avocados, wheatgrass, garlic, green tea, and kale, raw (unheated) cannabis is also considered to be a superfood and is commonly juiced or added to smoothies as a nutritional enhancement.

What are the benefits of THCA?

THCa has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-emetic, and anti-obesity properties.

Read more about the benefits of THCa in another article I wrote here.

THC vs THCa vs CBD: The bottom line

Despite the hundreds of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, only a few contribute to the euphoric high associated with cannabis, with THC being the most well-known and studied. But, like CBD, THCa doesn’t bind to cannabinoid receptors and therefore won’t make you feel intoxicated.

As the smokable hemp flower market continues to evolves, we’re seeing more and more different types of hemp flower available, including THCa hemp flower, CBD flower, and CBG flower.

Understanding how the different compounds found within hemp and cannabis interact with our bodies will help you achieve the desired effects, as well as help you avoid unwanted side effects.

Consume your THCa flower raw, as a juice or in a smoothie, if you want to access the therapeutic benefits of THCa and don’t want to get high. Or if you want to enjoy the medicinal or recreational benefits of THC, then be sure to decarb your THCa hemp flower using one of the many decarb methods listed above.

Frequently asked questions

Will THCa make me fail a drug test?

Unfortunately, both THC and THCa metabolize into a compound called THC-COOH, which is what most drug tests look for. So, whether you decarbed your THCa flower or not, a drug test may be able to detect THC-COOh in your system.

However, according to the Mayo Clinic Proceedings from 2017, some workplaces introduced cut-off levels to help prevent false positives being triggered from trace amounts.

Is THCa stronger than Delta 8?

People often ask us whether Delta 9 THCa is stronger than Delta 8 or HHC, but the compounds aren’t easily comparable as THCa isn’t actually intoxicating in itself. If you were to smoke some THCa hemp flower, however, then you will end up consuming Delta 9 THC which is considerably stronger than Delta 8 and HHC.

You can learn more about the potency of various legal cannabinoids in my other article here “HHC vs Delta 8”.

Is THCa illegal?

Surprisingly, THCa flower is actually legal in most parts of the USA as long as the Delta 9 THC level remains within compliant limits (under 0.3% dry weight), which technically classifies it as hemp.

So long as the THCa flower you buy falls under the hemp category, it is fully legal at the federal level but some states have explicitly banned all forms of THC, so you should check the legal status of THC at state level before making a purchase (check this article to find out if cannabis legal in your state?.

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