Cannabis, a plant with a long history of human use, has been recognized for its various therapeutic and recreational effects. Two significant compounds found in cannabis, THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), play crucial roles in the plant's properties. In this article, we will delve into the differences between THCa and THC and their effects on the body, as well as what happens to THCa when it is heated or smoked.
THCa and THC: The Basics
THCa and THC are both cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, a complex network of receptors involved in maintaining homeostasis. THC is the primary psychoactive compound responsible for the "high" experienced when consuming cannabis. On the other hand, THCa is the acidic, non-intoxicating precursor of THC that exists in raw cannabis plants.
Differences Between THCa and THC
Psychoactivity: One of the most significant distinctions between THCa and THC is their psychoactive effects. On its own, THCa does not cause intoxication, meaning it doesn't produce the euphoric high commonly associated with cannabis consumption. Conversely, THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, resulting in various psychoactive effects.
Decarboxylation: THCa is converted into THC through a process called decarboxylation, which occurs when cannabis is heated. This chemical reaction removes a carboxyl group from THCa, transforming it into THC. Decarboxylation is essential for unlocking the psychoactive properties of THC, and is why raw cannabis doesn't induce a high.
Bioavailability: THCa and THC have different levels of bioavailability in the body. When you consume raw cannabis containing THCa, your body cannot readily absorb it. However, THC is more bioavailable, meaning it can be efficiently absorbed and utilized by the body when cannabis is heated or consumed in a way that triggers decarboxylation.
Therapeutic Potential: Despite being non-intoxicating, THCa has shown considerable therapeutic potential in preclinical studies. Research suggests that THCa possesses anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and anti-emetic properties, making it a subject of interest in medical cannabis research.
Heating or Smoking THCa
As mentioned earlier, THCa undergoes decarboxylation when exposed to heat. This process typically occurs through smoking, vaporization, or cooking cannabis. When you heat or smoke raw cannabis, the following happens to THCa:
Decarboxylation: The most critical transformation is the conversion of THCa into THC. The application of heat, such as the flame from a lighter or the hot coils of a vaporizer, breaks down the carboxyl group from THCa, converting it into its active form, THC.
Activation of THC: Once THCa is converted to THC, it becomes psychoactive and can interact with the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain and body.
Enhanced Effects: When THC is activated through decarboxylation, the psychoactive effects of cannabis become apparent, inducing a sense of euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception.
Loss of THCa's Potential: While the decarboxylation process unleashes THC's psychoactive potential, it also means that the therapeutic benefits of THCa, such as its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, are lost in the process.
THCa and THC are two vital cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, each with unique properties and effects on the human body. THCa is the non-intoxicating precursor of THC and possesses its own potential therapeutic benefits. On the other hand, THC is the psychoactive compound responsible for the traditional "high" experienced when using cannabis.
When you heat or smoke raw cannabis containing THCa, it undergoes decarboxylation, transforming into THC and unlocking its psychoactive properties. This process is essential for experiencing the euphoric effects of cannabis, but it also means losing the potential health benefits offered by THCa.
As research on cannabis continues to expand, a better understanding of THCa's therapeutic potential and how it differs from THC may lead to new and exciting possibilities for medical cannabis applications. However, it's essential to remember that the use of cannabis, whether for recreational or medicinal purposes, should be approached with caution and within the guidelines of local laws and regulations.
If you are interested in learning more about THCa and THC, here are some reputable sources where you can find information:
Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x
Morales, P., Hurst, D. P., & Reggio, P. H. (2017). Molecular Targets of the Phytocannabinoids: A Complex Picture. In Phytocannabinoids (pp. 103-131). Springer, Cham. doi:10.1007/164_2017_2
Andre, C. M., Hausman, J. F., & Guerriero, G. (2016). Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules. Frontiers in Plant Science, 7, 19. doi:10.3389/fpls.2016.00019
Sirikantaramas, S., Taura, F., & Morimoto, S. (2005). Comparative Gene Expression Studies of MONOTERPENE SYNTHASES in Cannabis sativa and Tripterygium wilfordii Reveal P-CYMENE SYNTHASE Activity in Human Pathogen-Targeted Diterpenoid Biosynthesis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 280(26), 24707–24714. doi:10.1074/jbc.M503792200
Gul, W., Gul, S. W., Radwan, M. M., Wanas, A. S., Mehmedic, Z., Khan, I. A., & ElSohly, M. A. (2015). Determination of 11 Cannabinoids in Biomass and Extracts of Different Varieties of Cannabis Using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography. Journal of AOAC International, 98(6), 1523–1528. doi:10.5740/jaoacint.15-124
Happyana, N., Agnolet, S., Muntendam, R., Van Dam, A., Schneider, B., Kayser, O., & Verpoorte, R. (2013). Analysis of cannabinoids in laser-microdissected trichomes of medicinal Cannabis sativa using LCMS and cryogenic NMR. Phytochemistry, 87, 51–59. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2012.10.001