In the world of marijuana, THC is the superstar, up on stage as we hoot and holler and sometimes throw our bras. The element in pot that induces a high, it’s no surprise that we feel this way: THC has our attention and our adoration. Even so, cannabis is a complex and dynamic plant, composed of compounds that go beyond the psychoactive. So, while THC may often be the main event, THCA is the opening act.

What is THCA?

THCA stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid; it’s a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in live and raw cannabis. Over time, the THCA in the plant converts to THC – a process that is naturally very slow. To put it another way

THCA is the sober version of THC, the cannabinoid at home reading Aristotle while THC is raging at a toga party

CBDA exists under similar circumstances; it’s the precursor to CBD. Both THCA and CBDA are considered inactive, an unfair label given that each offer their own benefits. But, when it comes to weed as many think of it (weed with a “whee”) both CBDA and THCA are indeed idle; they won’t get you stoned.

THCA turned into THC

While THCA is benign in terms of psychological effects, it doesn’t stay that way when heat is a factor. The conversion of THCA into THC is quite slow (as mentioned above) until you have a lighter. The drastic rise in temperature induces decarboxylation, a chemical reaction which releases carbon dioxide and rearranges atoms.person lighting a joint

This process converts THCA to THC right away. And it doesn’t need to take place in a chemistry lab with goggles and a Bunsen burner: heating weed to the right temperature for a set amount of time is all that’s needed for THCA to jump ship. This decarboxylation occurs as cannabis is warmed during smoking or vaping (or heating prior to use in edibles).

All of this is the reason eating raw pot won’t do anything for you in terms of hallucinatory or psychedelic effects: it’s full of THCA, not THC. It’s easy to remember, really: when it comes to cannabis, heat is neat (and needed).

Deciphering Lab Results

Though they’re not technically the same thing, THCA and THC essentially mean the same thing in regards to lab results. If you’ve purchased cannabis that’s been tested for validity, THCA or THC will likely be the most abundant cannabinoids listed on the report.

If the flower hasn’t yet gone through decarboxylation – in raw cannabis, it hasn’t – THCA is the correct scientific term. But some labs use the words interchangeably, perhaps to prevent confusion or keep those uninformed of the science from claiming that they’ve been scammed: their particular pot purchase is on par with buying a case of O’Doul’s.

Yet, as long as you’re planning to heat the weed, the definitions jibe somewhat. It is important to note that THCA loses a portion of its mass upon heat exposure:

A lab result of 25 percent THCA doesn’t translate to 25 percent THC

According to High Times, a good rule of thumb when deciphering a report is to multiply the milligrams of THCA by .877 and then add the milligrams of THC (if listed). The end result is the total amount of THC that you’ll have upon heating.

The Benefits of THCA

THCA may seem like the boring friend – Cameron Frye to Ferris Bueller – but it has its own laurels (as did Cameron (such pretty eyes!)).  Unfortunately, the research surrounding this cannabinoid is in its infancy and not that much is known about it. Still, there’s always speculation.

From the limited studies already performed, THCA possesses many of the benefits of other cannabinoids. Some of these perks include anti-inflammatory effects (specifically in regards to arthritis and lupus); anti-emetic properties (treatment of nausea and appetite loss, which is vital to cancer patients); neuroprotective advantages (treatment of neurodegenerative diseases); and anti-proliferative compounds (which prevents the spread of cells, especially those that are malignant).

THCA may benefit people in other ways too. It might help relieve pain and muscle spasms and reduce insomnia. It might enhance the immune system or suppress it, which is sometimes needed in people with auto-immune disorders. It might also assist on a psychiatric level, reducing anxiety and stress.

THCA and Juicing

As the benefits of THCA become more apparent, people are looking for ways to incorporate it into their diet. Some people want the terpenes without the high. One way to do this is through juicing.

If you’re seeking cannabinoids for their health benefits, juicing is actually a stronger product than smoking

Anyone who regularly eats their veggies probably knows that heating carrots or squash strips them of some of their nutrients: this is the same for cannabis. Juiced cannabis, since it’s not heated, provides a meal potent in medicine and nutrition.

While a large part of cannabis’s medicinal benefits focuses on treating what already is, pot has the power of prevention – stopping what may one day be. Much of the advocacy surrounding juicing considers this.

In fact, proponents label marijuana a “superfood,” flying onto your dinner table to replace the mashed potatoes and rack of lamb with something much healthier. The plant itself contains innumerous vitamins and essential oils. Unfortunately, when the plant is activated (i.e., when THCA turns into THC) the human body only handles small amounts of the acids. Ingesting more won’t hurt you, but it won’t necessarily help either: your body will simply use some of the nutrients and ignore the rest.

growing marijuana plants In its raw form, the average person is able to handle much higher amounts of THCA (and CBDA for that matter), thus allowing us to reap more of Mary Jane’s natural greatness.

But, before you grab a blender, keep in mind that removing your weed from your pipe and tossing it into your KitchenAid isn’t a wise idea. Packaged and prepared cannabis doesn’t make a good drink: it’s designed for smoking. Instead, buy marijuana fresh. If you can’t find it in a pot shop (and you might not) ask around.

Someone you know is growing it in their basement.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.