What is THCA

What is THCA?

THC, CBD, terpenes, and now, THCA. Having a hard time figuring out and understanding what all these terms mean? Here's a brief primer on THCA.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCA is a cannabinoid that is fast gaining popularity. But because of limited research currently available, it can be quite difficult to nail down what it is exactly compared to THC and CBD which have been subjected to numerous studies.

Understanding THCA

The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different cannabinoids. These cannabinoids directly influence how you experience cannabis in its various forms, whether you prefer smoking joints, vaping, eating marijuana edibles, or applying it to your skin. Unknown to most people, THCA is an integral part of cannabis plants.

Essentially, THCA is the acidic version of the familiar cannabinoid known as THC. As cannabis plants mature and enter the flowering stage, they develop cannabinoids as well as terpenes.

During the early stages of this development, cannabis plants start producing the cannabinoid known as CBGA. Because of its crucial role, CBGA is often called by experts as the mother of all cannabinoids. Eventually, CBGA is broken down inside cannabis plants to produce the cannabinoids known as CBDA, CBG, and THCA.

How a Cannabis Plant Produces THC from THCA

THCA is a precursor of THC. That simply means that before THC is produced, a cannabis plant needs to develop THCA first. But how exactly does that process happen?

The process of converting THCA into THC is called decarboxylation. Decarboxylation happens naturally as a plant grows. During the various stages of development, a marijuana plant will use oxygen and heat to remove the carboxyl groups found in THCA. Eventually, the removal of these carboxyl groups leads to the formation of THC.

However, during harvest time, the THC levels in weed plants are relatively low. To facilitate the complete transformation of THCA into THC, plant materials need to undergo full decarboxylation. This can only happen when heat is applied to cannabis. This can come in various forms including lighting a joint, using a vape device, or through the use of special lab equipment.


While THC is derived from THCA, the two are different in a few key areas. Here is a brief look at these differences.


It is perfectly natural to assume that THCA is as potent or even more potent than THC. However, THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid naturally found in raw cannabis. Simply put, you won't get high if you use THCA. On the other hand, you can get high when you ingest THC because it is a psychoactive cannabinoid.

It is important to note that applying heat to THCA alters its molecular structure and facilitates its conversion to THC. Decarbing also enables THC to bind with the major cannabinoid receptors in the human body.


In terms of effects, THCA and THC share a few similarities. For instance, both can help manage nausea.

But in terms of aiding in managing seizures and inflammation, THCA shows more promise compared to THC. On the other hand, if you want help in managing insomnia, you will fare better by using cannabis and cannabis-derived products with high THC levels.

Which is better?

Should you opt for products with a higher THCA level or those with higher THC content?

In American states where cannabis is considered legal, businesses need to get their products tested by a qualified third-party laboratory. This is necessary to ensure that companies adhere to established guidelines before their products are sold.

Some people think that products with high THC content are necessarily better. But more often than not, that is not the case. When you apply heat to THC, there is a possibility that a sizeable amount of cannabinoids are burned away, with the exception of edibles.

Before buying cannabis products, it is better to look at their THCA content. In a nutshell, THCA content is a good predictor of potency, whether you prefer smoking, vaping, or dabbing. Remember, heating converts THCA to THC.

How THCA Works in the Human Body

How does THCA work upon ingestion? Curiously, THCA binds to just one of many cannabinoid receptors in humans - TRPM8. This receptor is responsible for the cold feeling you get after eating something minty. However, scientists are still baffled by how THCA helps prevent or minimize incidences of seizures and nausea.

Studies have also noted that when consumed in higher concentrations, THCA also activates one of the human body's heat-sensing receptors as well as the receptor associated with spices.

Experts have also observed that THCA inhibits the enzyme known as MAGL which leads to higher levels of 2 AG in the human body. With higher 2 AG levels, it becomes easier for the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the body to be activated.

Other studies operate on the premise of using THCA for a diverse range of medical uses, including protection against cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits. However, these studies have yet to prove THCA's effectiveness compared to conventional medicines or even cannabinoids like THC and CBD. However, limited success in preclinical research indicates that there is a space for using THCA for treating diseases and managing symptoms of various conditions.

Potential Benefits of THCA

While studies on THCA remain relatively fewer compared to other cannabinoids like THC and CBD, it shows significant promise, thus piquing the interest of experts.

Current studies show that THCA may be able to help in managing symptoms of chronic pain, stimulate appetite in cancer patients and people with eating disorders, induce relaxation in insomniacs, and provide some aid in patients with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

It should be noted that using THCA for medical purposes has a long way to go when compared to medical cannabis. To fully explore the potential of THCA to provide health benefits, more clinical trials and studies are needed. Certainly, there is a space for THCA, especially among people who wish to get the benefits of THC without experiencing its psychoactive effects.

Potential Side Effects of THCA

People who are sensitive to THC may also experience the same side effects when using THCA. But most people do not experience side effects when consuming THC or THCA.

Typical side effects experienced by people with THC and THCA sensitivity include red eyes, cottonmouth, dizziness, elevated heart rates, and fatigue.

How to Use THCA

Most people who smoke or vape cannabis don't know they are already consuming THCA. But aside from smoking or vaping cannabis buds and related products, how exactly do you consume THCA?

The easiest way to consume THCA is by eating raw cannabis. But if you don't like the taste or texture of raw cannabis, you can turn to juicing.

Aside from eating raw cannabis, there are newer options available for people interested in THCA. These include tinctures, topicals, supplements, and massage products.

Activating THCA

Smoking, dabbing, and vaping are the most straightforward ways to take THCA. Remember, when you apply heat to raw cannabis and marijuana plant products, you convert THCA to THC.

Essentially, applying heat activates the THCA in a marijuana plant.

If you wish to use THCA in your edibles, tinctures, and topicals, you will need to expose your buds to heat. The simplest approach would be to put your cannabis buds in an oven set to 200-245ºF for about half an hour. Avoid setting your oven higher than the recommended settings. Otherwise, you can end up burning the cannabinoid content of your cannabis buds.

Take note that when you apply heat to THCA, it will be converted immediately to THC. In fact, the application of heat on THCA is necessary if you wish to enjoy the psychoactive effects of cannabis.

THCA Legal Status

In terms of THCA legal status, the general consensus is that it exists in a gray area. Although it has been proven that THCA by itself does not have intoxicating effects, it is still considered one of the chemical compounds found in raw weed plants. Additionally, applying heat to THCA converts it into THC. And when you convert THCA to THC, it begins to possess psychoactive effects. In some cases, THCA degrades into CBN which also has a few intoxicating effects.

Some dispensaries in the United States sell THCA products without requiring medical cards. However, it should be pointed out that rules and regulations can vary from one state to another, hence the confusion surrounding THCA's legal status.

To date, THCA is not classified by the federal government as a scheduled substance. Possession of cannabis products that may contain THCA like cannabis extracts and weed is subject to prevailing laws in your area.

Will THCA Show on a Drug Test?

Concerned about THCA showing up on a drug test? The truth is that this cannabinoid, along with THC, will show up on a test. Although you convert THCA to THC after applying heat, it is practically impossible to convert all of the cannabinoids. If you smoke, vape, or dab weed, you are absorbing both THC and THCA in your body.

On the other hand, if you consume THCA through edibles, it is still possible for the cannabinoid to show on a drug test. However, that is less likely because most tests aren't sophisticated enough to detect minute quantities of THCA.

Are THCA, Delta 8, and Delta 9 the Same?

Delta 9 THC is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis products. THCA is basically the acidic form of THC.

Delta 8, on the other hand, is similar to Delta 9. However, it is structurally different which means that its effects are also different. This is the underlying reason why Delta 8 products, especially those derived from hemp plants, can be legally sold.

Like Delta 9 THC, Delta 8 THC also comes from THCA. However, it remains unclear how the effects of THCA and Delta 8 compare to one another.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the potential uses of THCA?

THCA or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is one of the non-psychoactive compounds that marijuana plants produce. Early studies indicate that the cannabinoid may be helpful in managing symptoms of a diverse array of medical conditions including seizures and arthritis.

But aside from that, many researchers believe that THCA can also be used as a neuroprotectant. This means that it shows promise in managing the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease.

From what can be gleaned from available data, THCA may also help in improving appetite, especially among patients dealing with anorexia nervosa and cachexia.

How Do You Use THCA?

THCA is currently available in various forms, including crystals and tinctures.

THCA crystals can be dabbed or vaped. The advantage of using THCA crystals using either method is that you can set the temperature more precisely. In turn, this prevents unnecessarily burning and wasting the cannabinoid. Some users sprinkle THCA powder in their joints or flower bowls.

THCA can also be consumed orally by infusing the cannabinoid with edibles and juices. The chief advantage of this method is that you do not need to apply heat to the THCA, preventing its conversion into THC.

If you are planning to use THCA for your dishes, be aware that heating the cannabinoid converts it into THC.

Does THCA have psychoactive properties?

THC and CBD, two of the most well-known cannabinoids, contain psychoactive properties. As such, it is natural to think that THCA also has psychoactive properties.

But the truth is THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. You won't get high if you use products with THCA. The underlying reason behind this is that THCA does not bind with the cannabinoid receptors in your body. Specifically, THCA does not bind with CB1 receptors that are linked with THC.

However, be aware that THCA is converted to THC when heat is applied to it. If you wish to take advantage of the benefits of this cannabinoid, you should strongly consider using THCA products that do not need the application of heat.

Is THCA Legal In The United States?

The Farm Bill of 2018 permits the sale of hemp products as long as they contain around 0.3% Delta-9 THC. That is why companies involved in the manufacture and sales of these products adhere to strict standards, ensuring that the guidelines of the Farm Bill are adequately met.

THCA is not the same as Delta-9 THC because they have different chemical structures. THCA is classified as a hemp-derived product that may be sold and used in the United States.

Currently, there are no specific laws that ban THCA. However, there are certain states that prohibit the sale of THCA products. These states include Arkansas, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

Be aware that laws change and can be amended. Before buying THCA, consult with the existing rules and regulations in your area.

Do THCA and other cannabis products expire?

Cannabis products, including THCA, have a shelf life. This shelf life will vary depending on the product you bought as well as the extraction methods and preparation processes used. Additionally, some cannabis products use other ingredients that can enhance potency and prolong shelf life. Even cannabis buds that do not contain additional ingredients expire, no matter how good you are at storing them.

When cannabis products expire, they lose their potency and become unfit for human consumption. Some people use the eye and smell test to gauge the viability of cannabis products. But the best option is to refer to the product labels to ensure that you aren't leaving anything to chance.

Most products, including cannabis products, come with sell and use-by dates. You can use these dates as guidelines to know when you can consume the products you bought. Once these dates elapse, it is possible that the product may no longer be fresh or as potent. Additionally, expired products may become susceptible to the growth of harmful microorganisms.

With cannabis products, cannabinoids and terpenes may degrade. And when this happens, these products may be less potent and lose their aroma and flavor.

Exposure to heat and light and improper storage can also alter the quality of cannabis products. THCA, in particular, can lose its potency when exposed to heat.

Production methods can also influence the shelf life of cannabis products. Products like waxes, tinctures, infusions and shatter are made through different extraction processes that seek to preserve as many cannabinoids as possible. However, there are extraction methods that leave impurities like fats.

Without filtration, these impurities remain. Lipids, in particular, are harmful, especially when a cannabis product is used beyond the expiration date. Using expired cannabis products, especially when heat is applied to them, can leave you vulnerable to toxins. If your cannabis product is expired, err on the side of caution and discard it.

The one downside of eliminating impurities during the extraction and filtration processes is that cannabinoids and terpenes can degrade rapidly. 

Buy THCA Products From Reputable Sources

Interested in trying THCA products and understanding the current hype surrounding them? Apotheca offers THCA in the form of flowers and concentrates. Browse our curated offerings here.