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Cannabinoids Minor Cannabinoids THC THCA

What is the Difference Between THC and THCA?

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Written by Joseph Mcqueen

Cannabis is a complex and wonderful plant. It can be smoked, eaten, drank and even absorbed through the skin. With cannabis laws around the world becoming increasingly lenient, cannabis is becoming more popular and widely understood. After a century of ignoring and demonizing, research is, at last, being focused towards cannabis and all the elements of it.

However, when it comes to common knowledge, there are still some questions that need to be answered and explained. Therefore, today we’ll be looking at two cannabinoids within the cannabis plant: THC and THCA. What are they? How are they linked? And what are the differences between them? Although they may sound similar, there is lots to separate these two. 


The cannabis plant is a complex and wonderful living organism. It has around 400 compounds and 100 cannabinoids. Each of these cannabinoids adds to the aromas and effects of cannabis. The cannabis plant can be used recreationally, medically and even for materials – like hemp. The history of this plant is a long one, and it’s thought to have first grown in central Asia or Japan. It’s hard to know for sure. Through imperialism, globalization and warfare, cannabis eventually found itself in all areas of the world. Now, it’s a drug that is very easy to get a hold of wherever you are. However, it’s far from being legal everywhere.


So what are cannabinoids? 

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant”

Whilst there are around 400 compounds within the cannabis plant, only around 100 of those are labeled as cannabinoids. The two most commonly spoken about cannabinoids are THC and CBD, but as research goes into the medical benefit and the recreational potential of cannabis, more are being brought to the conversation. For example, THCA, CBDA, CBN, and THCV. Some cannabinoids are psychoactive substances, which means they alter the state of the mind, whilst others are not. However, they all have differing effects on the body or mind. Each cannabinoid affects the endocannabinoids system in its own individual way. 

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​​”The endocannabinoid system is a unique communications system found in the brain and body that affects many important functions… Together, these parts work to regulate a number of activities, including mood, memory, sleep and appetite”

The cannabinoid will interact with the receptors and alter the things they control; including mood, appetite, senses and much more. Scientists have realised that the different combinations of cannabinoids can have extremely different effects. Let’s take a look into some of the cannabinoids and their effects. 


CBD is cannabinoid with the cannabis plant that is not psychoactive. This means that it does not alter the state of the mind. In fact, it’s perhaps this reason that has meant that CBD is one of the least controversial cannabinoids out there. It’s legal in the majority of countries around the world and CBD products are very easy to purchase. However, that’s not to say that CBD doesn’t have any effects, it does. CBD is thought to help with: 

  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Relaxation
  • Focus


THC is also a very commonly-spoken about cannabinoid. However, THC is a psychoactive substance. Which means it does alter the state of the mind. It’s this cannabinoid that is responsible for giving the well-known ‘high’ effect that is so often spoken about. THC is linked with recreational use and is therefore illegal in many countries. However, THC has been proved to have medicinal benefits. There are signs that it can help with the symptoms of tourettes and epilepsy. In addition, THC has been known to make the user feel:

  • Euphoria
  • Sensory enhancement
  • Inspiration
  • Giggliness
  • Mind-opening

What is THCA?

So, now you know what THC is and what CBD is, the question is: what is THCA? Well, in want of a better phrase, the proof is in the name. THCA is essentially THC, before it is involved in the process of decarboxylation. To put it in simpler terms, THCA is THC before it is heated. So what does this mean? Let’s dig deeper. Decarboxylation is the process of heating THCA, and when this happens the chemical reaction causes THC to exist. When the process occurs, the THCA loses up to 50% of its mass, meaning the amount of THC that is left over is far less than the amount of THCA that was there before. However, the reason why this process happens is because THCA is not a psychoactive substance whereas, of course, THC is. Therefore, decarboxylation is unlocking the recreational wonders of THC. Have you ever tried eating a dry piece of cannabis bud and wondered why you didn’t feel anything? Well this is why. It wasn’t heated. Decarboxylation happens when a joint is lit, when a weed vaporizer is turned on, or when cannabis buds are cooked in the oven before being placed in a brownie mix. 

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Benefits of THCA

However, that’s not to say that THCA is an irrelevant substance. It isn’t just the annoying stepping stone before people can get their hands on the beloved and more interesting THC. The truth is, research is now being done into the medical benefits of THCA. Crescolabs writes:

“Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. The health benefits provided by THCA are most well absorbed by the body through a raw method of consumption such as cannabis juicing.”

THCA is thought to be a neuroprotectant, which means it can protect the nerve cells of the brain, which results in limiting the likelihood of certain diseases. These include:

  • Alzheimers
  • Parkinsons
  • Brain inflammation
  • Arthritis 
  • Seizures
  • Anorexia

What is the Difference Between THC and THCA?

As you’ve read, the real difference between THC and THCA is the fact that THCA is THC before it’s heated and becomes a psychoactive substance. So other than the fact that THCA doesn’t get you high, what are the other big differences?


The first difference between the two cannabinoids could be the legality. The truth is that in the majority of the world, THC is an illegal substance. Other than a few nations here and there, and some states in America, THC cannabis is still unlawful. However, what does that mean for THCA? Well, technically, THCA is legal. Take the UK for example. The Home Office stated that: 

“THC-a as an isolated substance, in its pure form, would not be controlled under the [Misuse of Drugs Act/Misuse of Drugs Regulations].” However, “It is readily converted to THC, which is a controlled schedule 1 substance. So a substance containing THC-a could well become controlled by virtue of active or passive conversion or synthesis, including within the body if ingested.”

This highlights the difficulty surrounding THCA. Some would argue that using THCA for medical reasons is like using CBDl; It’s not psychoactive and you don’t even need to smoke. However, the danger of THCA – especially to government officials – is that the possibility of it being heated could be enough to warrant it being an illegal substance. SImply the potential of it being turned into THC could be enough to ban it. It’s an impossible situation. 

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Another example of difference between the two cannabinoids is the way that they are consumed. THC needs to be heated and decarbed before it can be consumed, and once that’s done it will usually be smoked. However, THCA is quite popular in the juicing world. The THCA cannabis buds can be thrown in smoothies and blended up. Because the THCA is never heated, it will never become a psychoactive substance. In addition, there are even specifically made THCA tinctures and edibles that have the perfect amount of THCA in them to be used for micro-dosing. The fact that THCA never needs to be heated like THC, makes it perhaps a much easier cannabinoid to consume. 


Although the majority of us would hope that the future of all cannabinoids is a welcoming one, the chances of that are unknown. It’s more likely that each cannabinoid will be stood up and trialled to see why they should perhaps be legalized. It seems that within the nations that have legalized CBD, and illegalized THC, THCA should also be legal. It’s a no-brainer and one that perhaps will be taken forward in the future. In addition, the hope is that more research and time will be spent on how THCA can help those who need special medical assistance. After all, that’s the ultimate goal: for the world to be able to harness this plant in a positive way.

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.