THC and THCA are wildly different versions of the exact same molecule. THCA prefers living in raw and freshly harvested plants and doesn’t do well in heat, light, and dry conditions. THC, on the other hand, flourishes in mature cannabis and thrives in environmental uncertainty. These estranged twins also have distinct therapeutic uses and legal limitations.
Here we’ll review the main differences between THC and THCA, comparing psychoactive effects, therapeutic profiles, legality, and product types.
What’s the Main Difference Between THC and THCA?
The main difference between THC vs. THCA is that THC is psychoactive, while THCA is not.
THC, specifically Delta-9 THC, is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. It is located in the resin of mature cannabis plants and is typically present in higher levels in strains bred for their psychoactive effects.
THCA is the non-psychoactive acidic precursor to THC that exists in young plants. THCA gradually degrades throughout the growth cycle when plants are exposed to heat, light, or oxygen. In a process called decarboxylation, THCA molecules lose their carboxyl group, drop the A, and become THC. Decarboxylation also occurs during the smoking process when the bud is exposed to heat from the lighter.
Comparing Psychoactive Effects:
When THC enters the body, it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system to elicit its psychoactive effects, including altered mood, perception, and cognitive function changes. THCA does not bind directly to receptors in the brain, so it does not alter perception or deliver an obvious sensory experience.
Comparing Therapeutic Effects:
Extensive THC research and three FDA-approved drugs (Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet) prove that THC effectively treats nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss. Additionally, medical marijuana patients report that THC delivers sedative and mood-boosting effects. As a result, many people use medical cannabis for insomnia, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety,
THCA works differently in the body, so it doesn’t significantly alter mood, pain perception, or sensory experience. However, some research suggests that THCA can reduce obesity, and work as an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agent. More research is needed to understand the therapeutic potential of THCA fully.
THC and THCA legality depends on where you live and the plant you’re smoking.
Marijuana-based THC classifies as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Despite federal law, 37 states have legalized high-THC marijuana for medical use and 21 for recreational purposes.
Hemp-based THC is a different story. The 2018 Farm Bill made THC from non-psychoactive hemp plants federally legal as long as the concentration does not exceed 0.3% by dry weight.
THCA, on the other hand, is not a controlled substance and is not subject to the same DEA restrictions. However, it’s important to note that the 2018 Farm Bill mandated that growers test their crops for total THC and THCA potency when determining whether a plant falls under the 0.3 percent requirement. This restriction means that hemp products cannot contain an unlimited amount of THCA.
Comparing Product Types & Purposes:
You can find THC in various products, including flower, edibles, concentrates, and topicals. THCA products include oils, topicals, tinctures, capsules, and raw cannabis juice.
- Flower is the dried, cured bud of the cannabis plant that can be smoked or vaporized. Flower always contains some mix of THC and THCA, depending on the strain and how it’s processed. However, once you light and smoke the bud, THCA converts to its psychoactive counterpart, THC. THC a flower‘s primary psychoactive component, is responsible for the euphoric effects associated with cannabis consumption.”
- Edibles that require heat to cook and produce (most of them) will decarboxylate all remaining THCA into THC. As a result, edibles are typically a great way to get high but not an efficient THCA ingestion method. The exception to that rule is cold-pressed beverages like raw cannabis juice, which may contain THCA.
- Cannabis extracts, like oils, tinctures, and concentrates, typically contain high THC levels. Still, THCA tinctures with raw cannabis extract are available for therapeutic, non-psychoactive purposes.
- You can find THC and THCA in topicals, such as creams, lotions, and salves. Consumers use these products for localized pain relief, inflammation reduction, and skin care.
The Bottom Line:
THCA and THC are the same cannabinoid with very different personalities. THC is psychoactive with proven medicinal value. THCA is not psychoactive, and researchers don’t fully understand its therapeutic potential yet. Both are legal and illegal, depending on the circumstance. Consumers looking for a mind-altering experience should stick with THC, while those interested in cannabis healing without the intoxication may consider THCA.