THCA vs THC
When it comes to common and potent cannabinoids, there is no question that THC is the most popular option. For most regular consumers of cannabis products, THC is the active ingredient that makes marijuana such an enjoyable plant to consume. Delta-9 THC is the most common cannabinoid found in the Cannabis sativa plant and the compound that produces the psychoactive high that so many people know and love. However, what many novice cannabis consumers might not know is that THC comes in multiple other forms than the common delta-9 compound.
Nowadays, dispensary shelves are stocked with other THC variants like Delta-8 THC, THCV, and THCA, all of which create their own unique effects. We have covered the primary four forms of THC individually, so if you are interested in any of the forms individually, check out our other THC blog posts. For this post, we’re going to dial in on THCA and how it compares to good old delta-9 THC. While the two are extremely similar at the molecular level, there are distinct benefits to each.
In this article, we’ll cover the similarities and differences between Delta-9 THC and THCA including their benefits, how they effect the body, and their legality.
Table of contents
- What is THCA?
- How Are THC and THCA Different?
- THC vs THCA Effects
- THC vs THCA Legality
- THC vs THCA On Drug Tests
- THC vs THCA Takeaways
What is THCA?
Due to the fact that we’ve already written an entire article about THCA, breaking down the increasingly popular cannabinoid, we’ll keep it brief here. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is a compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant. THCA is a relatively “raw” cannabinoid. It is the byproduct of CBGA (the compound that ultimately breaks down into the main cannabinoids including THC), which makes it as organic as a cannabinoid can get. Ultimately, THCA breaks down into delta-9 THC by introducing heat to the compound.
In pure form, THCA is not a psychoactive compound, meaning that consuming it will not get you high. Despite not producing the fun effects commonly associated with consuming marijuana, THCA still provides a number of positive benefits to the body. Many of THCA’s benefits align with delta-9 THC’s benefits, including anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties.
THCA can only be used in a couple of ways in comparison to delta-9 THC due to the fact that it will transform into delta-9 THC if introduced to heat. For that reason, the most common methods of THCA ingestion include cannabis juicing – where liquid is extracted from raw cannabis – or simply eaten raw in a smoothie or added to another food option.
If you are interested in learning more about THCA, check out our What is THCA? Article.
How Are THC and THCA Different?
Looking at THC vs THCA from a structural perspective, it would be hard to tell the difference between the two under a microscope if you aren’t a trained chemist. The primary difference between the two boils down to a simple chemical discrepancy; THCA contains an extra carboxyl ring. That probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to most people, but the most important result of the structural difference between THC vs THCA is that THCA’s additional carboxyl ring prevents it from binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, prohibiting any psychoactive effects.
With that being said, THCA is one chemical change away from being able to get you stoned. Through a process called decarboxylation, it is possible to eliminate the compound’s carboxyl ring, transforming it into delta-9 THC. The process of “decarbing” THCA is very simple and likely something that you have done once or twice when sparking up a bowl. THCA can be turned into psychoactive delta-9 by adding heat to the compound.
THC vs THCA Effects
When it comes to the effects of both cannabinoids, THC is obviously the more potent of the two due to its psychoactive effects. Delta-9 THC interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, flooding the endocannabinoid system with stimulus. Due to the interaction between delta-9 THC and the brain, the effects of delta-9 are very noticeable, pleasurable, and sometimes overwhelming to some people. The intoxicating effects of delta-9 THC are a negative aspect to individuals who are looking for the benefits of the Cannabis sativa plant but aren’t fond of the heady high that marijuana offers.
In contrast, the additional carboxyl ring present in THCA eliminates the psychoactive aspect of cannabis consumption while still providing many of the same benefits. Obviously, without the high, the effects of THCA are much more subtle than those of delta-9 THC. With that being said, THCA offers unique benefits of its own that aren’t as prevalent with regular THC. For example, THCA is a neuroprotectant, meaning that it has been shown to be beneficial for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. While delta-9 THC offers some neuroprotective properties, they are more pronounced with THCA.
THC vs THCA Legality
When it comes to legality, both THC and THCA have their caveats. Recreational marijuana, and delta-9 THC as a result, is legal in 19 U.S. states at this point in time. Despite being legal at a state level, delta-9 THC is technically illegal at the federal level. With that being said, there have been other related laws passed that grants some leniency to other cannabinoids, predominantly the ones that can be derived from hemp plants. Due to the 2018 Farm Bill which made hemp-derived cannabinoid products federally legal to manufacture and purchase, THCA extracted from hemp plants, rather than marijuana, is technically federally legal.
While the Farm Bill protects THCA for the time being, there are other federal laws that could potentially work against the cannabinoid in the future. For example, the Federal Analog Act could have implications for THCA unless a strong case can be made that it is chemically diverse enough from delta-9 THC to fall outside of the Act’s parameters.
THCA is a very interesting and unique cannabinoid when it comes to its legality due to the fact that it can be converted into intoxicating delta-9 THC very easily. Smoking or heating THCA flower or THCA dabs will get you just as, or nearly as, stoned as regular delta-9 THC flower or dabs which seemingly contradicts its legality.
THC vs THCA On Drug Tests
Due to the fact that THCA has a nearly identical molecular structure to delta-9 THC, THCA can absolutely cause you to fail a drug test. While there aren’t any tests that target THCA directly, its similarity to other intoxicating cannabinoids makes it likely to trigger a positive result. As a general rule, it is not a good idea to consume any THCA Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid products if you have a routine drug test coming up.
Depending on how frequently you ingest THCA, the compound can stay in your system for anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. While there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to say for sure how long the THCA cannabinoid stays in your system, it can be generally assumed that the half-life of THCA is similar to THC. Frequent THCA users can expect the compound to be detectable for up to 14 days depending on multiple factors including individual metabolic rates, the potency of the THCA product, and whether or not the product contains other cannabinoids. For light Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid users, that number could be significantly less.
THC vs THCA Takeaways
Delta-9 THC – often simplified to just THC – and THCA are two cannabinoids that are both similar and different in many ways. While THC and THCA are closely related structurally, THCA’s extra carboxyl chain is responsible for nearly every difference that there is between the two compounds. Unlike THC, THCA is not psychoactive, meaning that it will not get you high in its natural form. That is a negative for some but a benefit for others, as THCA still produces significant anti-inflammatory benefits, pain relief, and neuroprotectant attributes.
While THCA is the acidic form of delta-9 THC, it is one chemical change away from converting to regular THC. This chemical change occurs when THCA is exposed to heat, meaning that THCA flower, crystals, and tinctures can all cause a high if smoked or heated to a substantial degree. That poses some interesting questions when it comes to the legality of THCA. Currently, THCA is technically federally legal, when extracted from hemp plants, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. With that being said, its structural similarity to delta-9 THC might eventually bring its legality into question based on the Federal Analog Act. At this point, only time will tell.