THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a cannabinoid that has gained a lot of traction lately as it has shown a lot of promise as a treatment for a wide variety of conditions. And while it is closely related to THC, its properties are vastly different.
There is a limited amount of research on THCA so far, but here’s a rundown of what we know about this interesting cannabinoid.
THC vs THCA
Let’s start with the basic science. THCA is a precursor of the most famous cannabinoid out there, THC. It is produced by CBGA (cannabigerolic acid) during the lifetime of the plant, by an enzyme called THCA-synthase. In fact, THCA is one of the three major cannabinoids produced by CBGA, with the other two being CBDA and CBG. In turn, THCA is converted into THC through a process called decarboxylation.
The mechanism is simple. During the lifetime of the plant, heat and oxygen will gradually remove carboxyl groups from THCA, slowly transforming it to THC. But the amounts of THC that are already formed on the plant when it is harvested are very low. In order to transform the vast majority of THCA to THC, the plant needs to be fully decarboxylated. This happens through the application of heat; lighting up a joint, using a weed vaporizer, heating it in the oven, or activating it inside the lab.
An interesting thing that comes out of this relationship between THCA and THC is the way that maximum THC is calculated. THCA contains an extra carboxyl group, thus making it heavier than THC. In order to calculate total THC, this needs to be factored in. So, instead of just adding THCA and THC content, the proper way to do it is.
So let’s say for example that the analysis of a strain shows that it contains 12% THCA and 2% THC before decarboxylation. In this case, following the formula above would give us.
Will THCA get you high?
Chances are you have seen this in a movie: a car is being chased by the police, and one of the passengers decides to gulp down a bag of weed, reaching a super high by the time the car chase is over. While that sounds plausible, it sure is an exaggeration. Raw cannabis may contain only a little bit of THC, and you’ll need to consume very large amounts to get high from it. Before the process of decarboxylation, the plant mostly contains THCA, which will not get you high.
THCA side effects
There haven’t been any notable side effects observed with the consumption of THCA. It is hypothesized that some THCA may turn into THC in the digestive track and cause psychotropic effects. But even if that’s the case, the amount of THC produced and its effect will probably be negligible.
As always, it is advisable to consult with your physician before adding THCA to your regime, especially if you are on prescribed medication.
Will THCA show up in a drug test?
A variety of drug tests will use THCA as a target analyte for marijuana testing. Due to that, THCA has the potential to turn a drug test positive. If you are planning on getting tested, you should avoid consuming products that contain THCA.
Where can THCA be found?
THCA stands in a gray area when it comes to legality. It is not listed as a controlled substance under federal law, but being that it is a precursor of THC, it can be considered as an analog. And let’s not forget that the cannabis plant contains mostly THCA and not THC, but that doesn’t mean that it is legal. Due to that, there are a limited number of products currently available on the market.
In places where THC is legal, there is a growing market of products formulated with 99% pure THCA extract known as diamonds. This is commonly referred to as “diamond sauce”, “terp sauce”, or just straight-up “sauce”. It can be dabbed or vaporized in a variety of ways.
Regardless, THCA can be found in freshly harvested cannabis. In order to avoid decarboxylation, the plant needs to be consumed raw, as the application of heat will inevitably turn part of THCA into THC. Due to that, there is a rising trend of using raw cannabis leaves to make smoothies and juices, or even adding them into salads. If consuming cannabis raw doesn’t sound like your thing, a quick google search will point you toward a selection of raw cannabis tinctures or products like transdermal patches. Also note that some full-spectrum CBD products may contain THCA, but most of the time it is only found in trace amounts.
How Use THCa to Treat Crohn’s Disease
After a battery of tests and misdiagnoses, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease twelve years ago, and thus began a long battle with trial-and-error medical treatments. I changed my diet several times, even though my doctors didn’t seem confident it would change much (it didn’t), went to physical therapy for pain-related issues, and took so many different pharmaceuticals I can’t even begin to recall each and every one. My days were foggy due to side effects from pharmaceuticals, such as steroids, that made me feel worse than I did before I even took them.
Crohn’s Disease (CD) is a chronic autoimmune disease that falls under the umbrella of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The severity of the symptoms can shift at any given time, alternating between flare-ups and periods of remission, when the disease is manageable. A “trigger” (a mental or physical event that suddenly exacerbates symptoms) can cause either a minor flare-up (maybe resulting in flu-like symptoms) or a severe flare-up that results in a hospital stay and surgery. The cause of CD is still unknown, though there is evidence that it’s rooted in genetics, or environmental factors that can influence its onset.
Symptoms of CD include severe abdominal pain and cramping, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, anal fissures and fistulas, ulcers, abdominal inflammation, weight loss, and appetite suppression. It affects the entire digestive tract, from mouth to anus, and can impact areas outside the GI tract, as well. Those complications can also lead to painful joints, osteoporosis, kidney stones, rare liver conditions, vision changes, and skin problems. There is currently no cure for CD, though traditional treatment involves pharmaceuticals that can result in worse-off side effects like Lupus and exaggerated symptoms.
I was frustrated from the pharmaceuticals’ side effects, and feeling stressed from the financial strain of spending hours in doctors’ offices and hospitals every month, when I finally decided to change my routine. I began experimenting with alternative medicine by using things like probiotics, kratom, and valerian root to manage my symptoms, and found that I was struggling less and able to manage my CD in a more productive way. Over time, I have augmented my regimen, and am still always looking for natural ways to treat my illness. And so, I was excited to find that a certain cannabinoid could really help: THCa.
THCa (THC-acid) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in raw cannabis flower that converts into THC with the introduction of heat. Through the process of decarboxylation (applying low heat for an extended period), which happens when cannabis flower is cooked, vaped, or smoked, the THCa becomes THC. In addition to other non-decarboxylated plant material like leaves and stems, raw flower can be used for juicing and reaping the benefits of THCa, which include anti-proliferative properties that can slow cancer growth and disease progression.
THCa also has neuroprotective properties, which can be useful for those with Crohn’s, since “brain fog” is a major concern. One study found that people with the disease have 10 percent slower cognitive response times than the average healthy population. The study also found a strong correlation between “brain fog” and abdominal pain, active inflammation, and fatigue.
I became aware of THCa a couple years ago, but didn’t realize it could be used as a treatment for CD until I interviewed Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts, for my podcast Your Highness. Like me, Stem also has Crohn’s Disease. To manage her symptoms, she relies on a variety of remedies, including Chinese herbs (she’s a licensed herbalist and acupuncturist), an anti-inflammatory diet, acupuncture, and a couple supplements.