THC vs THCA: airing out the smoke of confusion


The alphabet soup of the entourage effect tells a story of how the plant interacts with the human body and mind. Research on the therapeutic value of cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, THCV, and more persists. As more about the endocannabinoid system is revealed, the world is getting more answers to those burning cannabis questions. The most common question about cannabinoids lately is THC vs THCA. What is the difference?

THC vs THCA Frequently Asked Questions

People have many questions about THC and THCA, especially with the controversy surrounding THCA flower sales in states where cannabis is still illegal. When it comes to chemistry, THCA and THC are different. As for consumable or inhalable cannabis product there are distinctions worth noting.

Let’s dive into the most commonly asked questions about THC vs THCA.

What is THCA?

The acronym THCA stands for Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and it’s the precursor to THC. Like all cannabinoids, it is converted from Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). An enzyme found in the human body called THCA synthase pairs with CBGA, changing the compound to THCA. Buds from cannabis plants can have 0 to 30 percent THCA content. This cannabinoid is most often found in raw cannabis.

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What is THC?

With heat exposure, THCA is converted to THC. THCA drops a carboxyl group when heated, leaving behind the cannabinoid famed for having psychoactive effects. The two cannabinoids have an almost identical chemical structure other than the dropped carboxylic acids. Many cannabis consumers purchase products based on THC content, but studies continue showing that there’s more to the picture.

Is THCA intoxicating?

THCA does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors, which is where cannabinoid does its magic in the brain. Before dropping the carboxylic acids, THCA is not a psychoactive cannabinoid. If eaten raw, THCA doesn’t have intoxicating effects for most people. However, after smoking, vaping, or heating THCA flower in a laser bong the heat causes chemical compositions to convert from THCA to THC.

What are the potential benefits of THCA?

Studies have investigated the possible therapeutic benefits of THCA like how it impacts brain health and metabolism. Though the non-psychoactive cannabinoid won’t bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors, it does interact with the endocannabinoid system.

One study showed the neuroprotective properties of the cannabinoid-based on action with the peroxisome proliferator-activated (PPARy) receptors. These receptors play a key role in regulating how the body takes vital sugars, and in turn, the metabolism. This enticed researchers about the possibilities of THCA for Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

When it comes to the brain, it’s possible that THCA may be a therapeutic agent of good for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This research combined THCA and CBDA based on previous research, highlighting the neuroprotective nature of the compounds.

Results went as far as saying that the cannabinoids could have “anti Alzheimer’s disease effects,” and make memory functions in the brain more resilient while mitigating memory loss.

A later study explored the PPARy interaction as it related to fighting diet-induced obesity. Pharmaceutical PPARy agonists are used to reduce fat tissue and reverse complications of obesity. However, side effects of these drugs include bone loss and osteoporosis.

Researchers sought out more on how delta-9 THCA could replace this medicine in a series of live animal experiments. Test results showed the cannabinoids could reduce body fat and improve the metabolism and inflammation impacted by diet-induced obesity.

The cannabinoid may not get people high at room temperature but it seems the compound may be valuable for other reasons.

What are the potential benefits of THC?

Though THCA does not bind to the same receptors as THC, there is a crossover in the mechanisms at play when consuming THC vs THCA. As more states legalize the plant, more researchers are getting their hands on THC. This has led to research and surveys exploring how the cannabinoid impacts people’s lives.

One cannabis study sought an understanding of why cannabis consumers had a lower body mass index (BMI). Researchers observed mice both with and without regular THC consumption. The THC-consuming group had a lower BMI unrelated to food intake or activity levels. This, paired with research on THCA, makes a connection between the endocannabinoid system and metabolism very likely.

There is also research regarding cannabis with active THC and pain relief, including that many patients are choosing weed over opioids. The power of THC and all the other cannabinoids in the plant is continually supported by science-based research. This is true whether cannabis compounds are psychoactive or not.

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What’s the difference: Delta-9, Delta-8, THC vs THCA?

Those navigating the cannabinoid world built on the Farm Bill may come across many cannabis terms like THCA, delta-8, and delta-9 and wonder what the difference is. Are they the same? The answer is yes and no. It comes down to a vocabulary lesson.

Delta-9 is a short-term reference delta-9 THC, and it can also refer to the precursor of the cannabinoid delta-9 THCA. The compound is popular because it is the psychoactive cannabinoid that grows most abundantly in the cannabis plant.

Years into the Farm Bill legalizing flowering hemp plants and products, chemists learned how to synthesize a minor cannabinoid from CBD flower called delta-8 THC. Though the cannabinoid didn’t grow as abundantly in plants, it did have a psychoactive impact on consumption. This led to a proliferation of products made with delta-8 that are now available anywhere from online shops to gas station convenience stores.

Over the years, delta-8 products have grown in popularity due to the legal loophole. Some state lawmakers have stepped in to enforce their own regulations, but there is generally no regulatory oversight protecting the public from bad actors in the delta-8 space.

THC vs THCA: a final word

THC has long been the champion of the cannabis world, but it wouldn’t be here without THCA. The precursor to the psychoactive cannabinoid gets the whole party started, even if it doesn’t get most people high. Both cannabinoids are valued for possible therapeutic benefits, and each serves its purpose.

But as more people seek legal cannabis options in a country that still remains divided on legality from state to federal law, the semantics are getting cloudy. THCA is being sold as a psychoactive flower despite its inability to bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors.

These distinctions make the market more confusing for the canna-curious looking to try pot for the first time. For now, it’s safe to say that in the battle of THC vs THCA, everyone’s a winner.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.