THC vs THCA: Are Non-Psychoactive Cannabinoids A More Acceptable Solution To Legalizing Medical Marijuana? | Jodian Marie

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Can we get the benefits of Marijuana without the psycho-active effects?

THCAPhoto byAlex PersononUnsplash

Cannabis has been used for centuries as a natural remedy. When cannabis is harvested, it produces hundreds of cannabinoids. The majority of cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, THC, and THCV are in the unactivated acidic form (CBDA, CBGA, THCA, and THCVA). These unactivated forms need to undergo decarboxylation to interact with the human ECS (Endocannabinoid System).

The effects of raw cannabis differ from those of decarboxylated cannabis, as the cannabinoid acids are stored in the body’s adipose tissue. Complete saturation of the fat with cannabinoid acids typically takes 4 to 8 weeks. Once saturation is achieved, the full medicinal effects can be experienced. Patients can increase their daily intake of cannabinoids through the consumption of leaves and buds via juicing, as this method does not produce psychoactivity.

Which explains why people who make teas from the leaves of the cannabis plant and can drink as many cups without getting high; whilst still receiving the benefits as a herbal medicine.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid/2-COOH-THC (THCA) as indicated above are the same. The main difference between the two cannabinoids is that THCA is the raw acidic compound with a carboxyl group, from which THC is derived through the process of decarboxylation, via heating.

Heat is the energy used to break the chemical bonds between the 2-COOH- and the THC molecule. A change in the molecular structure results in a change in the chemical properties. It is also important to note that THCA is unstable and would eventually convert to THC even without much effort.

THC benefits include:

What Is THC? | Marry JanePhoto byMarry Jane

THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is an active, psychotropic cannabinoid that has been employed widely for its medicinal properties for decades. Apart from the allegedly adverse side effects, such as cognitive impairment, paranoia, and anxiety, THC has been studied and proven to exhibit many therapeutic benefits.

  • Pain relief
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiemetic treatment
  • Treat opioid, heroin, and alcohol addiction by reducing the signaling of reward-based neurotransmitters
  • Weightloss – increases metabolic output which may lower Body Max Index (BMI)
  • Decrease rates of diabetes and prevent diet-related obesity.
  • Vasodilation – reduction of pain and eye pressure related to glaucoma
  • Anxiolytic treatment – increasing the amount of anandamide neurotransmitter that controls anxiety and several other functions of the body.

The potential benefits of THCa include:

THCAPhoto byNO Cap Hemp Co

In contrast, THCA much like CBD, is non-psychotropic, due to its larger size and 3-dimensional shape, which prevent it from binding with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. THCA 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. To have an intoxicating effect, a cannabinoid must fit into a CB1 receptor. 

  • Anti-inflammatory (especially pain associated with arthritis)
  • Neuroprotective (treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines)
  • Anti-emetic (reducing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients)
  • Anti-proliferative
  • Anti-spasmodic
  • Sleep aid
  • Analgesic
  • Antioxidant
  • Appetite stimulant properties

THCA is more bioavailable than THC, meaning that it is more readily absorbed and utilized by the body. THCA is also known to have greater stability and a longer shelf-life than THC, making it sustainable for medicinal use.

Converting THCA to THC

THCA > THCPhoto byCannaConnection

  • Sunlight conversion. As mentioned above, THCa is unstable and takes little to no effort to convert to THC. If the cannabis plant sits in the warm sun in varying degrees, for an extended period, through exposure to heat and light the THCA molecules will slowly convert to THC. 
  • Room-temperature conversion: THCA can convert to THC over time when stored at room temperature, even without any additional heat or processing. By placing olive oil at 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius), about 22% of THCA will convert to THC in 10 days. When submerged in ethanol under the same conditions, about 67% of THCA will convert. If cannabis is stored at room temperature with some light exposure, it will naturally convert about 20% of its THCA to THC over time.
  • Smoking. To activate THCA in dried and cured cannabis flowers and turn it into THC, people commonly smoke them using a flame. However, this method is not the most efficient as not all THCA will be converted. While smoking is a popular way to experience the effects of THC, other methods are more efficient.
  • Vaporizing: This method is highly effective for decarboxylating cannabis. At a moderate temperature, the cannabinoid acids are transformed, and increasing the heat ensures that the highest possible amount of THCA is converted to THC, though only up to a certain limit. The perfect temperature for vaporizing THC is around 315 degrees F (157 C); while higher temperatures may be suitable for some cannabinoids and terpenes (flavor agents of cannabis), the amount of THC lost will increase as the temperature rises.
  • Vape Pens: Vape pens that contain decarboxylated cannabis distillate is more efficient than vaporizing the flower. This is because most of the THCA has already been converted to THC, and the vaporization process converts even more. It is important to buy vape pens from licensed brands and dispensaries to ensure the cannabis oil inside is free from harmful ingredients. This method is effective for consuming intoxicating cannabis.
  • Dabbing: Like vaporizing, dabbing can convert THCA into active THC. Crystalline, a common form of THCA used for dabbing, is usually flavorless and odorless because terpenes and flavonoids are often removed during the extraction process to isolate cannabinoids. However, some producers reintroduce cannabis-derived terpene blends to the concentrate to enhance the flavor and produce an entourage effect, where the terpenes and cannabinoids work together to enhance the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
  • Baking: If you plan on making homemade edibles with an intoxicating effect, it’s crucial to decarboxylate your cannabis before infusing it with butter or oil. Luckily, decarboxylation can be done easily in your oven. All you have to do is grind your cannabis, distribute it evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake it at 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius) for 30-45 minutes. By following this process, you’ll convert the majority of THCA to THC.

PS: Given its bioavailability and stability, THCA may be a more attractive option for medicinal use than THC. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential of THCA as a therapeutic agent, and its efficacy must be validated in clinical trials.

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