What is THCa?

Scott Jones

If there is one thing we love in the cannabis game, it is an abbreviation. With names like tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, and hexahydrocannabinol, it would be a mouthful to call everything by their full names all the time. But with so many abbreviations, it can be tough to keep them all straight when you see a new one on a label. That’s what we at The Green Dragon are here for. One of the newest cannabinoid abbreviations you might see is THCa. What is THCa and how does it differ from THC, you ask? Well, that’s what we’re about to find out. 

What is THCa?

THCa is an abbreviation of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. That cleared everything up, right? No? It’s simple, actually. When hemp and cannabis plants grow, most of the cannabinoids they develop exist inside them as precursors. These are known as carboxylic acids, and they are the forerunners to the cannabinoids that interact with the systems throughout your body to cause their various psychoactive and therapeutic effects. We get from the carboxylic acid phase to the cannabinoid phase through a process called decarboxylation. This process is typically done through the application of heat, either through smoking, dabbing, atomizing, or cooking. This alters the molecular structure of the acid in a way that allows the resulting compound to easily bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body, but we’ll talk about that more later.

THCa vs. THC

So, you’ve probably figured out by now that THCa is the acidic precursor to THC. There are two primary differences to understand between THCa and THC. The first, as we’ve already talked about, is that one is an acid and the other is a cannabinoid compound. The second is that THCa is not psychoactive, and THC is psychoactive. A 2019 study found that before it is decarboxylated, the molecular structure of THCa is not the right shape to bind with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors. That means that in their raw forms, THCa will not get you high and THC will get you high. 

Some of you might be thinking, “Why would I want a THCa product if it doesn’t get me high?” Not so fast, don’t forget about decarboxylation. THCa flower, dabs, or vapes will go through this process and be converted into THC by the time they hit your lungs, and because THC is psychoactive you will get high. In fact, the heat of the smoking or vaping process can degrade or burn off THC that is already present in the flower or extract, so it’s actually better to have a higher concentration of THCa so that it can be converted to THC in route to your bloodstream if getting high is the end goal. 

Is Activating THCa Difficult?

Activating THCa is as simple as applying heat. With THCa flower you can pack it in your favorite bowl, roll it into a joint or blunt, or put it in an herb vaporizer and you’ll be ready to go. You can also cook it into butter or oil for making homemade edibles if you like to bake before you get baked. But there are more benefits to THCa than just getting high, and that’s what we’re going to talk about next.

You can also vape THCa.

What are the Benefits of THCa?

Although THCa by itself is not psychoactive, if ingested in its pure form through a tincture or capsule, THCa does have its own benefits. A study conducted in 2017 found that THCa has neuroprotective properties that could aid in therapeutic efforts to treat or prevent neurodegenerative disease like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. The anti-inflammatory properties of THCa have also been shown to be useful in treating digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.

However, the vast majority of THCa products are going to function as a conduit to the ingestion of THC. Whether you are using a THCa product recreationally or for therapeutic relief, you can expect a variety of results that are associated with the effects of the THC it will ultimately become. Some of the benefits include:

  • Pain relief
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Nausea relief
  • Appetite stimulant
  • Sleep aid
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Reduce depression
  • Euphoria
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Focus and concentration

To understand how THCa can have all these benefits, you need to have at least a cursory knowledge of what the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is and what it does for your body. You can read an in-depth article on the endocannabinoid system here, but for now we’ll just give you a quick breakdown. 

Your body has a complicated tapestry of systems that must all maintain balance for it to function at an optimal level. This responsibility falls on the ECS. The ECS is made up two types of receptors, CB1 and CB2, and endocannabinoids, which are chemical compounds your body produces naturally to either activate or inhibit those receptors. When one of the systems inside your body is out of balance, the ECS attempts to right the ship by deploying endocannabinoids to the appropriate receptors. Sometimes because of illness, injury, fatigue, or lifestyle, your body fails to produce enough endocannabinoids on its own to bring the body back into balance. Supplementing your ECS with hemp and cannabinoid products can help achieve what your body is unable to do alone. This is how THCa products can have so many benefits.

Is THCa Legal?

Yes. THCa is federally legal in the United States because it is a hemp product. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp products so long as they contain less than 0.3% of THC. Strains of hemp can be bred to have a high concentration of THCa while still containing less than 0.3% of THC, thus making it a legal commercial product. However, because these products are relatively new, it is always smart to check on any local or state regulations that may exist in your area. Of course, it’s not just the government that makes rules on what we put in our body. For example, employers, schools, and other entities may test you to see what you’ve been up to.

Will THCa Show Up On a Drug Test?

The short answer here is yes. If you smoke, dab, or vape a THCa product right before a drug test, you are going to fail it. The reason is obvious when you consider what we’ve already learned. Though it may exist as THCa in its raw form, by the time it reaches your bloodstream, it is going to be THC. Truthfully though, it wouldn’t matter if it didn’t. This article explains that the vast majority of urine tests will also test for THCa, and its presence in the body also results in a failed test. If you’re interested in learning more about drug tests and how to best prepare for them, you can read our article here.

How to Make a Good THCa Purchase

So, now you know what THCa is, and you’re interested. How do you make sure you make the right purchase? Well, there are a few things to consider in the buying process, like where your product comes from, what’s in it, and what type of experience you want to enjoy.

Domestically Grown

Not all cannabinoid producers are created equal. Because of the breeding process that goes into successfully creating THCa flower, and the laboratory processes that go into successfully isolating it for tinctures and extracts, it’s important that you are purchasing from a reputable source. First, you’ll want to determine where it comes from. While there are certainly high-quality producers in other parts of the world, getting a locally sourced product ensures that the product is fresh and appropriately regulated. All domestically grown cannabinoid products are grown under specific regulations and must also be appropriately licensed. A reputable producer will also include third party testing results with their product, which is our next topic

Third-Party Laboratory Testing

Possibly the most important part of making a THCa purchase is making sure that the product has been tested by a third party. On the product’s page or on the product itself, you should be able to find a way to access these third-party results, typically called a Certificate of Analysis (COA). Reading a COA can be intimidating, but you can get all the information you need about how to do it here. If you cannot find a COA for a product, don’t buy it. Simple as that. The Green Dragon makes sure all products have been responsibly sourced, and the COA for each item can be found on its product page.

Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid?

You know where it came from. You know what’s in it. You just need to know what you want. Different strains of THCa are going to provide different experiences. The three types of strain you are likely to see when purchasing THCa for recreational use are indica, sativa, and hybrid. Indica strains are going to have a relaxing, sedative, mellow experience. They are typically described as giving a body high. Sativa strains are more invigorating, with an experience that generates concentration, focus, and creativity. This is described as a head high. Hybrid strains are bred specifically to have a balanced combination of the two, for a well-rounded experience. So, depending on if you want to boost those creative juices, settle down after a long day, or just have a good time, the different strains have you covered. If you’d like to learn more about strains, you can read all about them here.

What We Learned

While they are very closely related, THCa is not the same thing as THC. Rather THCa is the acid precursor that leads to THC, like the lightning you see before the thunder you feel. This happens through a process known as decarboxylation, which occurs by the application of heat through smoke or cooking. This means that THCa products will provide effects similar to THC. However, because hemp plants can be bred to have a concentration of THC less than 0.3%, THCa is federally legal. This makes THCa products perfect for those looking for a safe and legal way to enjoy cannabinoids recreationally. All that’s left is for you to give it a try. Feel free to browse our line of THCa products and if you still have questions, we’d love to hear from you. Simply leave a comment below or drop us a line through our contact page. 

What is THCa?
THCa is one of the newer and more potent cannabinoids reaching the market. Read all about what THCa is and its benefits, then shop our many THCa products.
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What is THCa?
March 11, 2024
THC Education