THCa Will Get You High. But is it Legal in Texas?

Another hemp-derived cannabinoid has hit the market in Texas. This one is called THCa, short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. THCa is naturally occurring in the hemp plant and is a precursor to delta-9 THC, the chief psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets users high.

THCa isn’t psychoactive, but when it’s heated (like in a joint, for example), it turns into delta-9, which is psychoactive.

This is all exciting stuff to Zachary Maxwell, president of the Texas Hemp Growers Association. But it also raises some important legal issues for the industry and consumers. Maxwell posted a notice on the association’s website with a few warnings about THCa.

Manufacturers have recently started making isolated crystallized THCa that can be infused into flowers and other products to boost concentration. THCa is even beginning to replace the popular psychoactive cannabinoid delta-8 THC in some shops. The stuff is abundant and naturally occurring in hemp, so it would be easy to assume it is safe and legal to consume, Maxwell said. This assumption would likely be backed up by lab tests provided by THCa manufacturers, which say the products have less than 0.3% delta-9 and are, therefore, compliant with U.S. and Texas hemp laws.

But these tests don’t always tell the full story. “And because they don’t tell the full story, they are putting retailers and customers in the direct line of fire from law enforcement,” Maxwell wrote on his website.

He explained that there are two major methods used to test the concentration of THCs and other cannabinoids in products: high-pressure liquid chromatography and gas chromatography. Maxwell said most labs that test consumer goods will use high-pressure liquid chromatography because this method can identify concentrations of different THCs. “This method is preferred by manufacturers, since it will almost always assure them a test with a 0% delta-9 THC result” even though the material contains THCa, Maxwell said.

“There is a general ignorance of cannabis law from authorities, and we cannot assume that every officer is up to speed on the status of the law.” – Zachary Maxwell, Texas Hemp Growers Association

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Gas chromatography converts THCa into delta-9 THC. It’s not a preferred method of testing by the industry, Maxwell said, but it is preferred by law enforcement agencies. The Texas Department of Public Safety told Maxwell that its in-house lab uses gas chromatography to test seized cannabis products.

A quick internet search of these products in Texas will show some advertised as having high levels of THCa and less than 0.3% delta-9. Looking at the lab test results for one of these products that said it had 28.7% THCa and 0.29% delta-9, Maxwell found it was tested using high-pressure liquid chromatography.

“But should this same flower be tested using gas chromatography, it would produce a result of more than 0.29% delta-9 THC,” Maxwell wrote. “Surprise! You’re now trafficking ‘marijuana’ by the state’s definition. If it’s a vape or concentrate, it’s an automatic felony.”

This is why he’s recommending even more caution for manufacturers, retailers and consumers dealing with THCa. He suggests people buy only products with test results showing 0.3% or less total THC.

People in the hemp and legal marijuana industry are likely already familiar with THCa. Rod Kight, a hemp industry attorney in North Carolina, wrote an article on his blog about THCa last September. Kight explained that in legal marijuana states, products are often advertised based on their total THC content. While these marijuana products may be advertised as having upward of 20% THC, Kight said, most of that is actually THCa.

“In summary, THCa hemp flower is no different from marijuana flower currently sold in medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries in states with regulated marijuana markets,” Kight wrote.

In the hemp market, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that hemp crops have a total delta-9 and THCa concentration of 0.3% or less. However, this doesn’t apply to manufactured or finished products found on the shelves in smoke shops. This is why the THCa levels are allowed to be so high.

THCa is just the latest workaround to limits on delta-9. After the passage of hemp laws that set the cap on delta-9, manufacturers have found that 0.3% delta-9 in edible products is more than enough for consumers to feel psychoactive effects if they consume enough. Legal delta-9 products have flooded the market ever since.

Wyatt Larew, co-founder of the Bedford-based hemp company Wyatt Purp, sells these delta-9 products, as well as THCa flower in multiple smoke shops across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. While some are creating isolated crystalized THCa to add to hemp flower, Larew said his products are natural. When customers get some of his company’s THCa flower, sold under the brand name Kingpin Kush, Larew said all they’re getting is low delta-9, high THCa hemp.

He recognizes that most law enforcement agencies would test his product using gas chromatography and categorize it as illegal marijuana. However, he said the same product could be taken to a third-party lab accredited by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for a $40 high-pressure liquid chromatography test to show it doesn’t exceed the legal amount of delta-9.

“If they [the police] test my cannabis, they’re going to call it marijuana and they’re going to say it’s 28% THC,” he said. If this were to ever happen and he was to get stuck with a marijuana charge, Larew said he’d be ready to defend himself in court with tests from DEA-accredited labs to show his products are compliant with federal and state law.

The legalization of hemp in the U.S. and Texas brought products with different cannabinoids like delta-8. A lot of these don’t occur abundantly enough in nature to feel their effects. So, manufacturers have been taking the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD, which occurs abundantly in the cannabis plant, and converting it into other compounds. With some lawmakers interested in banning these lab-created cannabinoids, Larew said what his company is doing with delta-9 and THCa “is the future” for the cannabis industry.

While THCa products may be new to the market, the potential legal problems surrounding it are not. Handling these hemp-derived THCa products in Texas is just risky business, legally, Maxwell said.

“There is a general ignorance of cannabis law from authorities, and we cannot assume that every officer is up to speed on the status of the law,” Maxwell said.

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