What is THCA? Is it the most abundant molecule in cannabis sativa and hemp plants?

You might be thinking, ‘No, THC is actually the most abundant molecule’, and by doing so, you wouldn’t be alone.

In fact, there are many, I mean many, who share the same sentiment, such as talking media heads, so-called educated budtenders, and even, our most reliable and obsessed connoisseur friends.

But, with support from the strong bubble bursting hand of science, we’re here to tell you they couldn’t be more wrong…

Because contrary to popular belief, a lesser-known cannabinoid easily overshadows THC’s presence in raw marijuana plants, and in fact, has a maternal relationship to it.

This cannabinoid is known as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCA.

So, what is THCA?

What is THCA?

Quite simply, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is the most prominent compound found in raw, uncured, living cannabis plants.

And as the name suggests, THCA is almost entirely the same as THC genetically, aside from having one more molecule, that being the chemical Carbon Monoxide (Co2).

In addition, it has zero psychoactive properties, whereas THC, as we all know, is full of euphoric effects.

So, what gives?

How THC Converts Into THCA

Photo by Jose Luis Sanchez Pereyra on Unsplash

The process of decarboxylation, drying at certain temperatures and curing is what gives.

You see, THCA is the precursor to THC, somewhat resembling Pokemon’s Pikachu before it evolves into the mightier, less snuggly Raichu.

Yes, a Pokemon reference.


And when this precursor, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is put through decarboxylation, being the process of removing Co2 with heat (such as with vaping, smoking and baking), it becomes the mind-bending THC we all have known and grown to be familiar of.

Or in other words, when raw cannabis plants are baked into delicious marijuana edibles for snacking on, or vaporized into thick smoke for inhalation, THCA morphs into THC, making us feel so ever light on our feet.

But that’s not all, because when you ingest edibles, THC then transforms into 11-hydroxy-metabolite. But that’s for another article. 

Curing and Drying

With this said, decarboxylation through heat isn’t the only method THCA turns into THC – there’s the act of curing and drying raw plants as well.

For instance, when drying in-between 60 – 70 degrees F, a large percentage of Co2, being the main chemical that makes THCA different to THC, is lost.

The percentage depends on the time duration, along with the producer’s processes, as curing can take upwards of 2 years in extreme cases.

But THCA’s role isn’t relegated to just being a precursor, instead, it’s also showing great promise in being vital to good-health when being consumed as it is.

Related Article: How are THC and THCA Different? Everything You Need To Know

Benefits of THCA

(Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash)

Medical research into the potential benefits of THCA has only skimmed the surface of what potentially lies underneath. However, in the meantime, current research shows a handful of major therapeutic promises.

Here’s what the research says about THCA’s benefits:

THCA & cancer: In preliminary animal and cell research, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is shown to stunt cell growth (anti-proliferative effects) on human breast and prostate cancers that start in the skin, liver or kidneys (carcinoma). Rat glioma (brain cancer) and certain rat leukemia cells were also stunted by THCA.

THCA & brain health: THCA seems to have neuroprotective effects, like in this study, against diseases that degenerate the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Relating to this, THCA shows to have antispasmodic effects to keep muscle spasms from occurring in diseases like epilepsy.

THCA and pain, nervous system and as antioxidant: In some very preliminary studies, THCA was more effective than either THC or CBD at reducing pain from inflammation. THCA has been shown to help the microcirculation and help keep the autonomic nervous system running smoothly. In addition, it’s a powerful antioxidant, given its acidic nature.

However, given that medical research is still in its infancy, more studies need to be conducted in order to push the cannabinoid into revolutionary disease fighting status. Time will only tell.

Why Does THCA Work so Well?

Research seems to show that THCA isn’t an active ingredient in helping the conditions above but instead plays a passive partner role in our brains and the endocannabinoid system.

You can find more info about our endocannabinoid system here if you’re not familiar.

How Does THCA Work With our Endocannabinoid System?

Instead of binding to CB1 receptors, THCA helps our ECS release and inhibit proteins and enzymes that are influential in how we experience pain and inflammation, among other things.

Here’s a short and quick breakdown of each:

COX-1: This is an enzyme that plays a major role in keeping our tissues normal – such as protecting the stomach and intestinal lining from acids and the like. THCA is shown to help release more of this.

COX-2: Unlike COX-1, more of the enzyme COX-2 is associated with inflammation, pain and fever. THCA is shown to inhibit this, thus reducing the symptoms.

TNF-Alpha: This is a protein that causes fever, inflammation, weakness of the body and the like. Research shows THCA inhibits this.

Interleukin-10: This protein is known to have an anti-inflammatory role. Research shows THCA helps our ECS release more.

How do You Get THCA?

(Photo by Roberto Valdivia on Unsplash)

There are numerous ways of how you can get tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, here are the most common and effective.

Purchase or Grow Raw Cannabis: To get THCA, just purchase or grow any uncured or dried high-THC strains. Remember, uncured plants contain a heck of a lot more THCA than dried plants, however, the latter still holds some. Just make sure it isn’t decarboxylated! (put through intense heat). Ideally, you’d want a high-THC freshly harvest plant for the most THCA.

Blending Raw Buds and Leaves: You can blend or juice high-THC cannabis plants, whether dried or raw (ideally, raw). This means the leaves as well! Important to note is that blending is proven to retain a lot more of the nutrients than juicing, so blend away!  

THCA Crystalline: This is a concentrate that’s almost pure (95%) THCA. It’s rigid and crystal-like in texture, resembling crushed rock salt. This is best used as an edible, being sprinkled onto foods or portioned into pills or capsules to be swallowed.

Creams and Balms: You can also find more and more products specifically marketed for THCA content. Many products on the market are topical creams for skin irritations like rashes and insect bites, as well as a balm for sore muscles to ease the pain caused by inflammation.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid – The Underrated Compound

As for now, the road to complete cannabis legalization is well underway, so look out for more research and information on the medical potential of THCA.

We have a strong feeling it’s going to create a storm of revolutionary-like proportions.

Stay tuned for more articles. Thanks for reading.

And as always, happy trails!

Hey! I’m the editor of Herb Approach News, and i'll write on just about anything cannabis related. You can find me in British Columbia, exploring off the beaten path hiking trails, relaxing on cozy beaches in the summer or strolling through the city streets!