Something you probably know is that cannabis contains THC, which is the main psychoactive substance that gets you high. However, what many cannabis newbies might have some confusion about is what all of the different types of THC are. You might have heard the term THCa floating around as well, and yes, this is another cannabinoid contained in the cannabis plant.
Although THC or Delta-9 THC, as it is sometimes referred to, has a lot in common with THCa, they are not quite the same thing. There are some major differences between them that you need to know about. Interestingly enough, without THCa, you wouldn't have regular THC, but the former is not psychoactive, whereas the latter is.
Today, we want to figure out exactly what THCa is and what THC is. We'll compare the two on a side-by-side basis to figure out what exactly makes them different, including their molecular structure, overall benefits, effects, and legal structure.
While THCa enjoys a fairly relaxed legal status at a federal level, Delta-9 THC is a bit more restricted. However, the main question we are here to answer today is whether or not THCa has THC in it, so let's get to it.
- Both THCa and THC are important cannabinoids contained in cannabis plants.
- THCa and THC share a very close relationship, with the former turning into the latter through a process known as decarboxylation.
- Decarboxylating THCa alters its molecular structure, turning it into Delta-9 THC, which results in some major differences in terms of the potential benefits and psychoactivity. The legal status is different as well.
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What is THCa vs THC?
So we can really figure out what is going on here, let's determine what exactly both THC and THCa are.
What is THC?
THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol and may also be referred to as Delta-9 THC. The reason why it might be referred to as Delta-9 THC is because the chemical structure features nine carbon atoms with double bonds.
This is the most commonly occurring and most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis plants, which is why it is known as a major cannabinoid. It is one of the two major cannabinoids, along with CBD. THC is also the most abundant psychoactive cannabinoid, which means that it gets you high.
Due to its molecular structure, Delta-9 THC has a very high affinity to bind with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, with CB1 receptors in particular being responsible for producing a psychoactive and intoxicating high. When you go to a dispensary and you are looking for cannabis that gets you high, it's Delta-9 THC that you are looking for.
Delta-9 THC is believed to have a wide variety of benefits, both for the mind and body. These potential benefits include but are not limited to, anti-inflammatory properties, analgesic properties, antiemetic properties, anti-anxiety benefits, acting as a hunger stimulant, a sleep aid, a mood regulator, and more. It is perhaps one of the most potentially beneficial cannabinoids out there.
However, an important takeaway here is that Delta-9 THC is technically not legal at a federal level. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, for any cannabinoid product to be considered legal, it must be derived from the hemp plant, and contain no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight concentration.
This means that cannabis plants that are high in THC are technically not considered legal, nor are any cannabis products that contain more than 0.3% of this cannabinoid. According to federal law, the legal limit is 3 milligrams of THC per gram of finished product, whether flower, tincture, edible, or anything else. If you’d like to try a totally legal Delta-9 THC product, our own Botany Farms Delta-9 THC Blue Raspberry Gummies are rather perfect.
What is THCa?
We then have THCa, otherwise known as Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (not to be mistaken for THCV), which is another cannabinoid that commonly occurs in both cannabis and hemp plants. THCa is generally considered a minor cannabinoid, whereas Delta-9 THC is considered a major cannabinoid.
This is very interesting, especially seeing as the latter turns into the former through a process known as decarboxylation, which we will discuss further below. THCa is technically the precursor to THC, otherwise known as the acidic version of THC.
In case you are wondering where THCa comes from, it starts out as a CBGA, which is sometimes referred to as the mother cannabinoid. When hemp and cannabis plants first start growing, CBGA is the first cannabinoid that develops. Then, thanks to various enzymes, these plants start converting that CBGA into THCa, CBDA, or CBCA, with THCa being the one we are focusing on today.
Then, in terms of the overall life cycle, through the application of heat, otherwise known as decarboxylation, THCa turns into Delta-9 THC. THCa in itself is considered to be non-intoxicating and non-psychoactive.
Due to its chemical structure, mainly the additional carboxyl chain included in THCa, it has a very weak affinity to bind with your cannabinoid receptors, especially the CB1 receptors that are generally considered to be responsible for producing a psychoactive effect. Therefore, THCa should not get you high or intoxicated in any way.
THCa also enjoys a much more relaxed legal status at a federal level. According to the definition of what constitutes hemp and cannabis, and what is legal or not, according to that 2018 Farm Bill, as long as the THCa comes from a hemp plant and does not contain more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC, it should be legal.
This is of course very interesting seeing as the legal THCa through nothing more than decarboxylation, turns into Delta-9 THC, which is generally considered illegal (when it comes from cannabis plants and is present in quantities over 0.3%).
Does THCa Have THC in It?
According to everything that we have discussed so far, THCa technically does not have Delta-9 THC in it, although it certainly has the potential to become it. As we will take a closer look at below, the process of decarboxylation, which involves the application of heat, converts THCa into Delta-9 THC. So, although one does not contain the other, the former can turn into the latter.
What Are the Differences Between THC and THCa?
There are four major differences between THC and THCa that are important for you to know about. If you know what these differences are, you can then make an informed decision between the two.
The difference that might just matter the most to the majority of people out there has to do with the psychoactivity of these two cannabinoids, or in other words, their ability to get you high. When many people go into this century looking for cannabis, it is Delta-9 THC they want, and this is because people want to get high.
Recreational cannabis use is very popular, and only becoming more popular as the years go on. Delta-9 THC can produce a very strong cerebral high and body high. It may produce feelings such as euphoria, elation, happiness, calmness, and relaxation. It also makes some people feel very talkative, giggly, social, and creative.
Depending on the strain in question, some people might feel more energetic, whereas others might feel sedated. The body high associated with Delta-9 THC is often characterized by tingling of the limbs, feeling very heavy, feeling warm, a buzzing sensation in the limbs, and a general feeling of bodily relaxation, tiredness, and possible pain relief.
On the other hand, THCa is generally not regarded as being intoxicating or psychoactive in any way. Due to the differences in chemical composition, which we will take a closer look at further below, THCa does not have an affinity to bind with your CB1 receptors and therefore does not produce any psychoactive or intoxicating effects. The chemical structure of both of these cannabinoids is thought to be responsible for their psychoactivity or lack thereof.
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The Chemical Composition
We already discussed how Delta-9 THC features 9 carbon atoms with double bonds, although when it comes to the difference between these two cannabinoids, that is not the most important part.
In terms of their chemical composition or molecular structure, THCa contains what is known as a carboxyl chain. It is thought to be this carboxyl chain that prevents THCa from having an affinity to bind with your CB1 receptors.
For THCa to be able to bind with your cannabinoid receptors, it must be decarboxylated, which means that the carboxyl chain is removed through the application of heat (hence the term decarboxylation). The result is the conversion of THCa to Delta-9 THC, which also causes it to become psychoactive, as it now has a strong affinity to bind with both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The Potential Health Benefits
THCa is thought to have a variety of benefits, although there is not that much research that has been performed on it thus far. However, it is assumed that THCa has the potential to act as an analgesic pain reliever, to be anti-inflammatory in nature, to be antiemetic, and neuroprotective.
It may also have the potential to relieve symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Although THCa may have more benefits, there is also more extensive research required to determine what they are.
Delta-9 THC on the other hand is thought to have more benefits, which may just be because there has been more research performed on it this far. That said, Delta-9 THC is thought to have the potential to reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and stress.
It is also thought to be a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, a powerful pain reliever, and an antiemetic agent. Delta-9 THC also has the potential to act as a hunger stimulant and a sedative.
Generally speaking, it is believed that Delta-9 THC has a higher benefit potential than THCa, which is likely because of the differences in their affinities to bind with the cannabinoid receptors. Because Delta-9 THC has a much higher affinity to bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors, it is also thought to have a wider scope of potential benefits, with the benefits also being more pronounced or powerful.
For instance, it may be the case that the potential for THC to be a powerful mood regulator (with the ability to reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and stress), is much more pronounced than the potential for THCa to do the same, because it binds with your cannabinoid receptors much easier.
The differences in the way in which THC and THCa interact with your endocannabinoid system, particularly those CB1 and CB2 receptors, are not only thought to be responsible for the differences in psychoactivity but also for the differences in the potential benefits that these cannabinoids possess.
As discussed above, the 2018 Farm Bill states that any cannabinoid product must be derived from the hemp plant and contain no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight concentration.
This automatically means that Delta-9 THC is very restricted in the USA and is only allowed to be present in products in extremely small quantities, and only if it comes from hemp plants.
However, because THCa is technically not the same thing as Delta-9 THC, and because the 2018 farm bill makes no specific mention of THCa, it is therefore considered legal at a federal level at this time.
Does THCa Convert into Delta-9 THC?
Yes, THCa converts into Delta-9 THC, and this occurs thanks to a process known as decarboxylation, which effectively removes that extra carboxyl chain from the THC molecule, resulting in it becoming psychoactive.
How Does THCa Turn into THC?
The application of heat to THCa removes that extra carboxyl chain from the THC molecule, which is otherwise known as the process of decarboxylation. It takes roughly 250 degrees Fahrenheit and about 30 minutes of exposure to this temperature, for THCa to convert into Delta-9 THC.
Does THCa Cause a High if You Smoke It?
Yes, THCa gets you high if you smoke it. The reason for this is that when you smoke THCa, you effectively apply heat to it.
For instance, when you roll a joint with THCa flower and then light it up, the left part of the joint, otherwise known as the cherry, is more than hot enough to actively decarboxylate the THCa flower as you pull on the joint.
Every time you pull on the joint, a little more of the THCa is decarboxylated and goes right into your lungs.
However, the lit cherry from a joint is roughly 1000 degrees Celsius, or a bit higher, which is much more than is required for decarboxylation, and this excess temperature often results in some of the Delta-9 THC degrading or dissipating.
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Delta-9 THC vs THC vs THCa: A Breakdown
There are a few different forms of THC. This of course includes both Delta-9 THC and THCa, with THCa being the acidic precursor to Delta-9 THC, with the former generally being non-psychoactive, and the latter being psychoactive.
Through the application of heat, THCa turns into Delta-9 THC, therefore effectively changing its chemical composition, which is assumed to result in increased psychoactivity and a wider array of potential benefits of Delta-9 THC when compared to THCa.
The bottom line here is that THCa and THC are perhaps two of the most closely related cannabinoids out there, and without THCa, you wouldn't have any Delta-9 THC.
Both have some pretty big potential, and which one you want really depends on what benefits you are looking for, and whether or not you want to get high.
THCa: Frequently Asked Questions
Let's quickly go over some of your most frequently asked questions about the THCa cannabinoid.
Is THCa Psychoactive?
No, THCa is not psychoactive or intoxicating.
Does THCa Turn into THC When Vaping?
Yes, vaping produces temperatures more than hot enough to produce the decarboxylation reaction.
What is a High THCa Percentage?
Anything over 15% THCa content is generally considered to be quite high.
Does THCa Test Positive for THC?
Due to the way in which the human body metabolizes both of these cannabinoids, they will both usually cause you to test positive when taking a THC test.