What is THCA?
THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the naturally occurring precursor to THC. Like THC, THCA is a cannabinoid. Unlike THC, THCA is non-psychoactive. Every cannabinoid has an acid-based precursor. Therefore CBD used to be CBDA, CBG was CBGA, and so on.
Since cannabis research is only just experiencing an important scientific resurgence, the effects and benefits of THCA and other trace cannabinoids are still being studied. That being said, there are existing studies that highlight some promising therapeutic benefits of THCA.
Decarboxylating THCA to Get THC
Decarboxylation is a term that comes up often in cannabis culture. And there is a good reason for this since activating THCA through decarboxylation is what converts it from non-psychoactive to psychoactive.
Heat or time will eventually convert THCA into THC through this process. Exposure to fluctuating room temperatures will cause THC-acid to decarboxylate in small quantities over a long period. And exposure to high temperatures will do it all in one go.
Vaping Promotes Optimal Decarboxylation
The primary objective of vaporizing is to optimally decarboxylate the volatile compounds in cannabis while preserving their distinguishing qualities. This includes the terpenes and flavonoids that are responsible for the intense aroma and flavor of cannabis.
Because vaping allows you to carefully control and specify the optimal temperatures, you can finely control your cannabis experience and maximize cannabinoid absorption.
To learn more about vaporizing cannabis and why we recommend it, read ‘Vaping Cannabis: What You Need to Know.’
How Much THCA is in Cannabis?
When you purchase premium cannabis flowers, their cannabinoid range should be displayed. For example, Death Bubba AAAA, an Indica-dominant cannabis hybrid has a notoriously high cannabinoid range of up to 27% THC!
But what about THCA? Technically, the THC measurement is identical to the THCA measurement. Since raw cannabis flowers have yet to be decarboxylated, either through natural exposure or exposure to high temperatures, the cannabinoids being measured are still in their acid form. So whatever the THC range, that will be how much THCA you can expect.
On average, laboratory testing has repeatedly indicated that most high-quality cannabis exhibits around 10-20% THC. If that sounds unimpressive, remember that cannabis has other cannabinoids. CBD Death Bubba is a version of the original Death Bubba, with its THC levels toned down in favor of a CBD range of up to 12%.
THCA and Live Resin
Live Resin is a unique, potent concentrate made from completely raw, uncured, live cannabis flowers and sugar leaves that are frozen before extraction. For this reason, Live Resin contains some of the highest concentrations of THCA that you can find.
Lamb’s Bread Live Resin by Viridesco, for instance, contains upwards of 84.9% THC concentration. This is broken down as 82.9% THCA and 2% THC. This shows how volatile cannabis can be! Even live frozen flowers can become decarboxylated.
The Proposed Benefits of THCA
According to a 2016 study by Moreno-Sanz “…many in vitro studies seem to indicate that THCA-A interacts with a number of molecular targets and displays a robust pharmacological profile that includes potential anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, neuroprotective, and antineoplastic properties.” (Moreno-Sanz, G., 2016)
Since most chronic diseases are characterized by inflammation, THCA presents a broad possibility of applications in disease treatment. This broad conclusion insinuates that THCA could serve as an anti-cancer treatment. And it also suggests that THCA could help the body achieve optimal balance or homeostasis.
THCA Reduces Nausea
When tested on rats and shrews, “THCA potently reduced conditioned gaping … and vomiting.” Conducted in 2013, the data collected by the study “suggest that THCA may be a more potent alternative to THC in the treatment of nausea and vomiting.” (Rock et al., 2013)
Since THCA is the most common and abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis, this is a promising find. Patients suffering from nausea who either should not or prefer not to experience the psychoactive effects of THC can still benefit from its proven nausea-combatting effects with THCA.
THCA and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Another promising finding, THCA “shows potent neuroprotective activity, which is worth considering for the treatment of Huntington’s disease and possibly other neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases.” (Nadal et al., 2017) Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s could benefit from further research into the possible effectiveness of THCA in treatment and prevention. (Stone et al., 2020)
Irritable Bowel Disease and THCA
In a study evaluating Cannabis sativa’s effects on Irritable Bowel Disease or IBD, it was found that “the anti-inflammatory activity of Cannabis extracts on colon epithelial cells derives from a fraction of the extract that contains THCA.” (Nallathambi et al., 2017) Furthermore, the study suggests that THCA could be more effective than CBD as a nonpsychoactive cannabis-based treatment for IBD.
It was further noted that “ … cytotoxic activity of the C. sativa extract was increased by combining all fractions”. This suggests that the natural cannabis flower, exhibiting a complex array of cannabinoids and other volatile compounds, is more effective than the isolated THCA extract.
Findings of this nature corroborate the theory of the Entourage Effect. This is the idea that cannabinoids behave in synergy, increasing their medicinal potency and efficacy. ‘What Is the Entourage Effect?‘ explores the science behind this fascinating proposed interaction.
Overall, the finding that THCA is extremely effective at treating both nausea (Rock et al., 2013) and inflammation of the colon, corroborate its usefulness for gastrointestinal complications and diseases.
While widespread research is still lacking, it is clear that THCA, the acid-based precursor to THC, has powerful therapeutic properties. Outside the lab, anecdotal reports claim that THCA, ingested in the form of raw cannabis smoothies, can also help to treat generalized pain, muscle spasms, and insomnia.
However, outside of controlled laboratory testing, these self-reported conclusions can’t be confirmed. After all, even small traces of psychoactive THC are proven to have the same effects. And blending raw ingredients in a smoothie introduces friction and heat, even when the ingredients are cool. Certainly, the THC content in Live Resin proves that decarboxylation is almost unavoidable.
For now, the limited science will have to suffice until more findings come along!
McPartland, J. M., MacDonald, C. and Young, M. (2017) “Affinity and efficacy studies of TETRAHYDROCANNABINOLIC acid A AT cannabinoid Receptor types one and two,” Cannabis and cannabinoid research, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5510775/ (Accessed 15 August 2021).
Moreno-Sanz, G. (2016) “Can you pass the acid test? Critical review and novel therapeutic perspectives of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid a,” Cannabis and cannabinoid research, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549534/ (Accessed 15 August 2021).
Nadal, X., Del Río, C. and Casano, S. (2017) “Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is a potent PPARγ agonist WITH neuroprotective activity,” British Journal of Pharmacology, John Wiley and Sons Inc., [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5731255/ (Accessed 11 August 2021).
Nallathambi , R., Mazuz , M. and Ion , A. (2017) “Anti-Inflammatory activity in Colon models is derived From Δ9-TETRAHYDROCANNABINOLIC acid that interacts with additional compounds in Cannabis Extracts,” Cannabis and cannabinoid research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29082314/ (Accessed 15 August 2021).
Rock, E. M., Kopstick, R. L. and Limebeer, C. L. (2013) “Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid Reduces nausea-induced Conditioned gaping in rats and vomiting in Suncus murinus,” British journal of pharmacology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3792001/ (Accessed 15 August 2021).
Stone, N. L., Murphy, A. J. and England, T. J. (2020) “A systematic review of minor phytocannabinoids with promising neuroprotective potential,” British journal of pharmacology, John Wiley and Sons Inc., [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7484504/ (Accessed 15 August 2021).
Zagzoog, A., Mohamed, K. A., Kim, H. J. J. and Kim, E. D. (2020) “In vitro and in vivo pharmacological activity of minor cannabinoids isolated from cannabis sativa,” Scientific reports, Nature Publishing Group UK, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7684313/ (Accessed 15 August 2021).