Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is the biological precursor to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and THC in either form is a cannabinoid that interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the body. THCA is found in raw cannabis, and people seeking to enjoy its benefits often juice raw cannabis plants since it's no longer present once heated.
What most people do not realize is that cannabis plants do not contain much THC. Rather, the plant contains THCA that becomes THC through a process called decarboxylation that releases carbon dioxide (CO2) from the chemical compound. The chemical reaction can happen using UV lights to dry the plant, but it happens quickly under intense heat. This is why eating fresh cannabis does not produce psychoactive effects, but heating the plant with a lighter and inhaling the fumes does.
THCA can also convert into a different chemical compound if exposed to air for extended periods of time. Just as decarboxylating removes carbon atoms, exposure to air causes THCA to lose hydrogen and oxidize, which converts it into cannabinol acid (CBNA). The same decarboxylation process can then turn CBNA into cannabinol (CBN), which plays a primary role in the sedative effects of cannabis.
THCA by itself might not have psychoactive properties, but studies suggest it has potential medical applications, including the following:
- Phytomedicine in 2012 described THCA as a neuroprotectant
- Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin in 2011 found anti-inflammatory properties
- British Journal of Pharmacology in 2013 said it reduces nausea and vomiting
- The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 2006 noted antitumor qualities
In 2009, Trends in Pharmacological Sciences published an extensive study titled “Non-Psychotropic Plant Cannabinoids” that said early research suggests possible therapeutic applications for prostate cancer, pain relief and muscle spasms. However, cannabidiol (CBD) is likely a more effective cannabis compound in treating most conditions.
Generally speaking, clinical studies involving THCA are limited, and medical applications and efficacies for now are largely based on preliminary research, anecdotal evidence and studies into other cannabinoids. Still, it is possible that THCA can provide health benefits similar to THC but without the psychoactive effects. A common way to consume THCA is by juicing raw parts of the cannabis plant and combining the liquid with other fruit and/or vegetable juices.
Photo credit: Flickr/Steve Depolo.