In its raw form, fresh cannabis heads contain almost no trace of THC. Nevertheless, they contain significant amounts of the chemical compound tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA), but the latter will not cause you to feel any effects since it contains no trace of active THC.
THCA will remain THCA until it is decarboxylated: this is when it is transformed into THC. This occurs naturally over time when the grass is exposed to ambient heat and light, but the vast majority of THCA is converted when you heat the cannabis for consumption.
Think of THCA as the precursor to THC. The decarboxylation mentioned above is a simple technical term for the action of heating cannabis. When you roll a joint and burn it, you decarboxylate the cannabis. When you smoke your cannabis, you smoke the “A” of THCA.
Removing the “A” makes the difference
You are probably a great connoisseur of the psychoactive effects of cannabis. THC is the compound that makes you feel the effects, and what makes this plant so desirable by the way. THCA is, however, an acid, hence the letter “a” also, and as such, it is too broad to interact with our cannabinoid receptors as THC can do.
Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout our body, a direct result of our endocannabinoid system. Each one triggers a different physical or emotional reaction that will result in feelings of euphoria, sweetness, pain and disorder relief, etc. THC binds to these receptors to make these various sensations react.
THCA has an additional group that defines it as a carboxylic acid, which in practice has a low affinity and cannot bind to the same cannabinoid receptors as THC prioritizes.
The transformation of THCA into THC can be summarized as follows
- Cannabis contains THCA, which increases in concentration while the plant develops according to the genetics of the variety or the growing conditions.
- When cannabis is ready to be harvested, it is dried and refined. This process converts some of the THCA into THC after it experiences temperature changes.
- When you roll a joint, you add our dried and refined cannabis flowers. Lighting the gasket and exposing the THCA to heat above 105°C / 221°F removes the additional carboxylic acid group (the “A”).
- Our body absorbs freshly converted THC, which, as it travels through our blood system, interacts with receptors in our body and brain that then trigger different emotional or physical responses.
THCA does not make you feel any effects, but it is still beneficial
Although most of the benefits of THCA have not been studied in-depth, there are a few studies that clarify this issue.
A 2012 study published in Phytomedicine, a journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, suggests, for example, that THCA has neuroprotective properties that could help in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
Unfortunately, the body of texts is still limited. And although some consumers have attributed anti-inflammatory properties to THCA, we do not have enough evidence to provide you with concrete enough evidence.
However, an increasing number of people have begun to incorporate raw cannabis into their diets.