What is THCA? Uses, Effects and Benefits

THCA chemical structure with a cannabis flower.
Written by Nina Julia | Last updated: November 9, 2022

This article explains what THCA is. We shed light on how THCA is synthesized in cannabis, how it differs from THC, and how you can benefit from its therapeutic properties. We also look at the side effects of THCA and potential contraindications.

THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the acidic form and precursor of THC. It transforms into THC through a process known as decarboxylation (heating the plant material). It can further break down to CBN over time, especially when exposed to air.

THCA offers a range of therapeutic benefits in many areas of health, including antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and neuroprotectant effects. People use this cannabinoid to combat nausea, vomiting, inflammatory bowel diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and certain forms of cancer.

In this article, we go all out on THCA, its benefits and safety profile, and how to get your hands on high-quality THCA products.

What is THCA?

  • THCA is the precursor of THC. In its acidic form, it won’t get you high because it’s not biologically active. You need to decarboxylate cannabis (expose it to heat) to convert THCA into THC. It can further break down to CBN when left out of an airtight container.
  • THCA is federally legal if extracted from hemp plants containing 0.3% THC or less.
  • Research on the health benefits of THCA highlights its antiemetic, neuroprotectant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-proliferative properties. Some studies also suggest THCA can help with the management of IBDs (Chron’s, IBS, etc.), nausea, vomiting, Parkinson’s disease, and prostate cancer.
  • THCA may trigger a false-positive result for THC on a drug test.
  • THCA products are less common than other cannabinoids. They usually come combined with other cannabis compounds or as isolates reaching 99% purity.

THCA is the Acidic Precursor of THC

Tetrohydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is the precursor of THC and has an almost identical chemical makeup. However, the benefits of these compounds differ from one another; we’ll elaborate on them later in this article.

When you decarboxylate (heat) cannabis, either through storage and curing or by smoking it, THCA turns into THC. When you expose your flowers to light and air, THC can further degrade into what we call cannabinol (CBN).

When Was THCA Discovered?

The first form of THCA was discovered in 1965 as a major component of hashish by Professor Friedhelm Korte at the University of Boon in Germany.

In 1969, Raphael Mechoulam (the godfather of cannabis research) and his team of Israeli researchers discovered the second form of THCA — and named it THCA-B. (1)

THCA vs. THC vs. CBD

THCA THC CBD
Federally legal Legal in some states (federally illegal) Federally legal
Non-intoxicating Intoxicating Non-intoxicating
Derived from CBGA Transformed from THCA when cannabis is exposed to heat Derived from CBGA
THCA products are rare and include diamonds, juice, or oil THC products range from cannabis flowers to tinctures, edibles, vapes, concentrates Available in the same product range as THC

Benefits of THCA

A cannabis plant obtaining THCA.

THCA offers well-rounded benefits, especially when blended with other cannabinoids and terpenes.

Studies have shown that THCA is a potent anti-nausea and anti-vomiting agent. It can be used as a potent remedy for conditions ranging from mild nausea or morning sickness to severe chemotherapy-induced nausea or hyperemesis gravidarum.

Researchers are also interested in the therapeutic effects of THCA on inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs); the anti-inflammatory properties help ease the symptoms and significantly reduce pain and cramping.

Here’s more about each benefit.

1. Neuroprotective (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Diseases)

So far, THCA has been studied alongside THC for its combined neuroprotective effects. (2)

Rats were injected with a neurotoxin called 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+), which is known to cause irreversible Parkinson’s. The study’s authors found that THCA and THC successfully protected neurons against MPP+-induced cell death.

THCA’s neuroprotective benefits may also come in handy for neuroinflammatory diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s.

2. Anti-Inflammatory (Gut Diseases)

Like THC and CBD, THCA exerts anti-inflammatory effects, particularly for gut inflammation — a prevalent symptom of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Researchers consider THCA superior to CBD, concluding there may be major medical interest in this cannabinoid as more studies are conducted on its therapeutic properties. (3)

3. Anti-Cancer (Prostate)

THCA has been shown to slow the proliferation of certain types of cancer, specifically prostate cancer. (4)

Of course, we’re not saying THCA is a cure for cancer because the research on this subject is too scarce.

With more randomized trials in the future, we’ll be able to draw objective conclusions about its anti-cancer potential.

4. Antiemetic (Nausea and Vomiting)

Nausea and vomiting can be incredibly detrimental to your health. They make you awful and prevent from participating in simple activities — sometimes locking you in the bed for hours (minus the time you spend leaping to the bathroom).

A 2013 study tested the antiemetic potential of THCA on shrew and rat test subjects that were injected with lithium chloride (LiCl) to trigger nausea and vomiting.

THCA potently reduced nausea and vomiting in both groups. The researchers concluded that THCA is a very promising anti-nausea and anti-vomiting agent, suggesting the need for long-term studies on human subjects. (5)

Is THCA Safe?

Despite a modest amount of research into the side effects of THCA, the consensus is that the cannabinoid is relatively safe, with no potential to cause addiction since it’s non-psychoactive.

Nevertheless, as with any natural substance, you can go overboard and have an unpleasant experience.

Side Effects of THCA

  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety (at high doses)
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea

Side effects reported by users often contradict each other. Some people say THCA made them tired and drowsy, while others claim the compound got them a bit anxious in high doses.

Again, we don’t know if those people took THCA alone or in combination with THC and other cannabinoids and terpenes.

Cannabinoids are known to work differently alone than in a group. They’re more effective when combined in a whole-plant extract due to a phenomenon called the entourage effect.

This term describes a unique synergy that makes the sum of all cannabinoids and terpenes more therapeutically potent than in isolation (even when you take them in large doses).

On top of that, some cannabinoids and terpenes provide inhibitory effects, dampening the unwanted reactions to the major compounds like THC and CBD.

How Does THCA Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?

Little do we know about how THCA interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

However, according to current research, THCA doesn’t have a significant binding affinity to CB1 or CB2 receptors. It only has a subtle effect on them.

Instead, THCA targets transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily M (melastatin) member 8 (TRPM8) receptors and activates the transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1) receptors.

The above relationship would explain the anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antiemetic properties of THCA.

Is THCA Federally Legal?

The Agricultural Improvement Act 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill, made hemp and all its derivatives legal at the federal level as long as they contain no more than 0.3% THC.

In other words, THCA extracted from hemp is 100% legal to produce, sell, possess, and consume at a federal level. There might be some restrictions depending on state law, so make sure to check up with your local regulations on cannabinoids.

Marijuana-derived THCA is federally illegal, although some states have legalized recreational and medical marijuana use.

THCA Oil Won’t Get You High

THCA Oil dripping from a half-filled dropper.

Despite being a precursor of THC, THCA doesn’t get you high, nor does it compromise your cognitive performance.

That’s caused by the shape of THCA. It’s a bigger molecule than THC and doesn’t fit either of the cannabinoid receptors — hence the lack of intoxicating effects.

The only way to get high when consuming THCA is to combine it with a THC-rich product, such as dry flower, oil, or dabs.

THCA Oil Can Make You Fail a Drug Test

Many articles on the internet suggest otherwise, but there’s a risk that THCA will show up on a drug test.

Why?

Because drug tests aren’t designed to distinguish between different forms of THCA, they only look for its metabolite, THC-COOH.

THCA will almost always trigger a false-positive result for THC, especially when tested in urine and blood. Your only chance of coming out clean is through hair tests.

Long story short, it’s better to err on the side of caution here. Even though THCA is the acidic precursor of THC, it doesn’t mean it’s safe for drug testing. It also doesn’t matter how you administer THCA; the result will be the same across all consumption methods.

How to Consume THCA: Smoking vs Vaping vs Edibles

Smoking THCA is never a good idea because it immediately transforms into THC. This can be problematic if you want to consume your cannabis in a larger amount.

Fortunately, you can easily overcome this obstacle. Here’s how:

Choose Vaporization Over Smoking THCA

THCA turns into THC when exposed at around 220 C (420 F).

When you smoke a joint, the peak temperature can reach 700 C (when you take a hit). At this temperature, none of the THCA will make it to your lungs; it will turn into THC right away.

However, vaporization, it’s a different story. Smoking a joint doesn’t let you adjust temperature settings; vaping does.

If you want to get the most out of your product’s THCA content, I recommend keeping the heat in the 140-250 F range.

Cannabis Juicing

Juicing is the perfect way of consuming THCA. It involves processing raw cannabis in a juicer.

You can simply juice the plant matter alone or put it in a blender with water, fruits, vegetables, or herbs to create a smoothie.

The best part about cannabis juicing is that you don’t add any heat, so the conversion into THC doesn’t occur.

Is THCA Oil Common?

THCA oil is less common than CBD oil because hemp plants only produce around 1% THCA.

Marijuana is a much better source of this compound because it’s naturally higher in THC. But the problem with marijuana plants is that they’re federally illegal, so their availability is limited to the states that legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use.

It takes a ridiculously large amount of hemp to extract usable amounts of THCA. Then there’s the meticulous extraction process that isolates it from the rest of the cannabinoids.

However, hemp-derived THCA oils do exist. They’re just not as common as CBD oils or delta 8 products.

If oils aren’t your pair of shoes, check out THCA diamonds.

What Are THCA Diamonds?

THCA Diamonds are being poured from the bottle.

THCA diamonds are a cannabinoid aficionado’s best friend because they’re potent, portable, and extremely easy to use.

THCA diamonds are a relatively new product and haven’t garnered much attention yet, so let’s elaborate on them.

They’re not real diamonds (you don’t say!), but they’re just as valuable as the noble stones. THCA diamonds are a concentrated form of cannabis that rose from the Arizona medical marijuana market in 2017.

Unlike much other cannabis concentrates, such as shatter, wax, or sauce, the potency of THCA diamonds reaches 99%, with the remaining 1% consisting of terpenes and flavonoids.

Despite their high strength, THCA diamonds won’t get you high unless you smoke them. They’re the best format for experiencing fast and pronounced benefits.

If you want to get a psychoactive buzz from THCA diamonds, you’ll need to heat them via dabbing or vaping. However, before you do so, make sure your tolerance to THC is high because you’ll be inhaling a monstrous amount of THC.

How to Juice Cannabis for THCA?

You don’t need a professional manufacturer to enjoy the health benefits of THCA oil or other products. Although they do exist, the current legal landscape in the U.S. forces it to remain a niche product.

All you need is a living cannabis flower, ideally in its flowering stage. That’s when the herb is ready to be juiced. Cannabis juicing requires you to place the cannabis plants into a blender with water and other desired ingredients, such as fruit juice or cold-pressed herbal tea.

You can come up with delish recipes that not only please your taste buds but also enhance the performance of your endocannabinoid system.

Not only will cannabis juicing provide you with the benefits of THCA, but it will also deliver CBDA to your system for additional wellness qualities.

Key Takeaways on THCA

THCA is the acidic precursor of THC. It’s not biologically active, so it won’t get you high unless you expose it to heat.

Heating cannabis activates THCA and turns it into THC, changing its ability to bind with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

If you want to reap the benefits of THCA, you can consume it either as juice or tincture. Alternatively, you can vape THCA diamonds, but at very low temperatures.

Although studies on the effects of THCA are in the early stages, preliminary evidence shows promising results regarding its anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and anti-cancer properties.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve already tried THCA — and how it made you feel. Share your story so that more cannabis users become aware of its benefits, uses, and potential side effects.

Sources:

  1. Filer C. N. (2022). Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid B: A Mechanism for its Formation in Cannabis. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 10.1089/can.2021.0216. Advance online publication. (2)
  2. More, S.V., Choi, DK. Promising cannabinoid-based therapies for Parkinson’s disease: motor symptoms to neuroprotection. Mol Neurodegeneration 10, 17 (2015). (3)
  3. Nallathambi, R., Mazuz, M., Ion, A., Selvaraj, G., Weininger, S., Fridlender, M., Nasser, A., Sagee, O., Kumari, P., Nemichenizer, D., Mendelovitz, M., Firstein, N., Hanin, O., Konikoff, F., Kapulnik, Y., Naftali, T., & Koltai, H. (2017). Anti-Inflammatory Activity in Colon Models Is Derived from Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid That Interacts with Additional Compounds in Cannabis Extracts. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 2(1), 167–182. (4)
  4. De Petrocellis, L., Ligresti, A., Schiano Moriello, A., Iappelli, M., Verde, R., Stott, C. G., Cristino, L., Orlando, P., & Di Marzo, V. (2013). Non-THC cannabinoids inhibit prostate carcinoma growth in vitro and in vivo: pro-apoptotic effects and underlying mechanisms. British journal of pharmacology, 168(1), 79–102. (5)
  5. Rock, E. M., Kopstick, R. L., Limebeer, C. L., & Parker, L. A. (2013). Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid reduces nausea-induced conditioned gaping in rats and vomiting in Suncus murinus. British journal of pharmacology, 170(3), 641–648. (6)

Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.