Have you ever looked at the label on your cannabis products from different dispensaries and glanced at a section for total cannabinoid content? Perhaps you’ve read something like “THC .08%; THCA 23.12%” and have been a bit puzzled? Were you left thinking…“Did I just purchase bud with barely any THC in it?”  If so, you’re not alone.

Many people are aware of THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis, but what has been called the “precursor” to THC, THCA, appears to be somewhat less understood. 

With over 400 different chemical entities in the cannabis plant, things can get complex. Nevertheless, as a cannabis consumer, it’s important to gain a general understanding of cannabinoid compounds in the cannabis plant, as they each produce an array of different effects. These effects depend on how different cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, a large neurotransmitter. 

While research around the plant is still ongoing, as members of the South Everett cannabis community at KushMart, we want to provide a basic breakdown of the differences between THC and THCA.

What is THC?

THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is well-known as the “mind-altering substance” found in the cannabis plant. That’s because the compound is responsible for most of the plant’s potential psychological effects. According to research, cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in areas of the human brain and nervous system, therefore it is believed that THC may bind to these receptors and activate them in ways that may affect a person’s mental state. 

Interestingly, THC can be found in the body longer than most other drugs, despite the psychoactive effects potentially only lasting a few hours. Once taken, THC is kept in body fat and organs. However, there is very little raw THC in the cannabis plant. Instead, there is much more THCA, which is what produces THC once it is decarboxylated. 

Bottom line, THC comes from THCA being heated through a process called decarboxylation (discussed below,) and consuming THC is what produces the potential psychological effects of the cannabis plant. 

What is THCA?

THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is arguably the most common cannabinoid compound found in the raw cannabis plant. THCA is non-intoxicating if consumed alone. Instead, once THCA is heated through a process called decarboxylation it converts into the intoxicating compound THC. THCA is found in the trichomes of the cannabis plant. The percentage yield of THCA is typically higher than THC when testing flower. This is because the compound has not been decarboxylated yet to produce THC or the potential psychoactive effects of the plant. 

Moreover, studies have indicated that THCA does not seem to bind to two major cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system (specifically, CB1 receptor.) To dive into the science behind why THCA doesn’t get you high: 

The reason is due to the shape of the THCA molecule. It is a larger molecule that doesn’t fit into certain cannabinoid receptors, specifically the CB1 receptors. You can find CB1 receptors primarily in the brain, central nervous system, lungs, liver, and kidneys. In order to potentially have an intoxicating effect, a cannabinoid must fit into a CB1 receptor. 

Therefore, this is why THCA is regarded as non-psychoactive. While consuming THCA  on its own likely won’t get you high, “research indicates that THCA has its own medicinal potential in anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and anti-emetic treatments.” 

Turning THCA into THC: Decarboxylation

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Here is a list of different ways THCA can be converted into THC:

 

Smoking

Conventional smoking with a flame either with a bowl, joint, or blunt will convert THCA to THC rapidly before you inhale. However, this is arguably the least productive way to convert the THCA to THC. This is because it decarbs the THCA at such a high temperature, burning off and wasting a portion of the THC. 

Vaporizing

Vaping is a solid method to decarb THCA because it traditionally heats the cannabis at a relatively low temperature. As a result, this doesn’t burn off the good stuff, or the THC at as high of a rate as conventional lighter combustion does. According to sources, vaping at 315 degrees Fahrenheit is the preferred temperature. 

Baking

If you’re looking to turn your flower into some edibles, you’ll need to decarb the THCA to THC before infusing it into butter or oil. The classic way is to grind up your weed. You then spread it evenly across a baking sheet with parchment paper and allow it to cook low and slow at 230 degrees for about 40 minutes. The heat from the oven will convert most of the THCA into THC. 

Sunlight

According to research, “THCA converts to THC in varying degrees through exposure to heat or light. If a cannabis plant sits in the warm sun for an extended period of time, its THCA molecules will slowly convert to THC.” Therefore, you don’t want to leave your weed out in the sun, it could potentially cause a variety of different chemical reactions that could destroy the integrity of its intended effects.

Temperature Changes

It has been said that THCA converts to THC when kept at 77 degrees or higher for a long period of time. That’s why it’s important to store your pot in a dark and cool place in an airtight container.

Takeaways 

Absent the process of decarboxylation, THCA is incapable of producing psychoactive effects. In order to potentially feel the effects of THC in the cannabis plant, a chemical reaction through heat called decarboxylation must occur to convert the compound into THC. THCA and THC are just a few of the compounds found in the cannabis plant. 

At KushMart, our budtenders are happy to answer any questions you might have regarding the effects of the cannabis plant. Stop in and check out our premium selection of cannabis products!