THCA Vs. THC – What Is The Difference?

by Emjay
What is CBN. Photo by Avery Meeker on Unsplash

Cannabinoids are constantly transforming. Every cannabinoid follows a path from its creation within the plant to its final form. The transformation of these cannabinoids is what makes them beneficial to your body. 

It’s what makes CBD relaxing, and it’s what makes THC psychoactive. Neither of them started there, and if you were to use them in their raw forms, nothing would happen. 

Heat (like the heat from your lighter) is necessary for converting cannabinoids into their active forms. Heat converts THCA to THC.

You’re probably thinking, “But the guy in the movie ate that whole bag of weed and he was high out of his mind!” That’s Hollywood for you. Eating a bunch of weed is, essentially, a low-calorie vegan snack. The cannabinoids in a jar of weed aren’t activated until the very last minute when you spark up that joint. 

THCA and THC are similar in many ways. It’s one small difference caused by a transitional process that turns an ordinary compound of a plant into the makings of an extraordinary high. 

Most cannabinoids come from one cannabinoid

There are 113 identified cannabinoids. There may be even more, but we’re only sure about those 113. Most of the major cannabinoids start within the cannabis plant as something called CBGA, or cannabigerolic acid. Cannabigerolic acid is the precursor for all the cannabinoids you recognize. It creates the CBC line, the CBD line, and the THC line. 

As the plant grows and matures, it directs and converts CBGA, turning it into the other cannabinoids it needs. This leads to the formation of CBCA, CBDA, and THCA, which all play separate roles within the plant. 

The “A” stands for “acid.” Cannabidiolic acid and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid are the forms of CBD and THC that are valuable to the plant. They aren’t the forms of CBD and THC that are valuable to your body. You’re unable to use them in their acid form, and they need to be converted one more time before you’re able to experience their effects. 

You can get high from THC, but not THCA

THC gets you high by binding to your CB1 receptors. These receptors are a part of your endocannabinoid system, and their receptors exist all throughout your brain and body. The receptors within your endocannabinoid system interact with different cannabinoids in different ways, which is also the reason why CBD doesn’t get you high. 

THCA is THC with its natural acid group still attached. This attached acid group makes the molecule bulkier. Try as it may, THCA cannot bind to your cannabinoid receptors because it’s just too big. It’s the “square peg, round hole” scenario. 

Knocking off that acid group turns THCA into THC, which makes it a perfect fit for your receptors. Decarboxylation, the process of removing that acid group, can be achieved in several different ways. The most popular way (and the easiest way) to remove the acid group is to smoke the weed. 

If THCA can’t get you high, what does it do?

Raw cannabis is regarded as a health food or a nutritional supplement, especially by cannabis advocates who live healthy lifestyles. 

Some early studies on THCA suggest that it may work with the endocannabinoid system to produce anti-inflammatory effects. People who are highly committed to cannabis wellness might toss a few raw buds into the green juice or protein shake to experience these effects.

Research into THCA is limited, but promising. It may offer wellness benefits, but we don’t yet have all the facts. All we know for sure is that it cannot get you high and that it appears to be safe to use. 

How does THCA become THC?

In order for THCA to become THC, it needs to drop its carboxylic acid group. This is achieved by burning it off. It can also be achieved simply through patience.

Cannabis plants left in direct sunlight for an extended period of time will slowly heat. This converts some of the plant’s THCA into THC, but the plant is still growing. This means its manufacturing more THCA and ultimately diluting its THC content. It’s almost impossible to find a sweet spot between THCA and THC balance on a living plant. 

When you buy weed in the form of cannabis flower and use it the way it came, you don’t have to do anything special. Growers harvest the flowers and dry them and cure them before they make their way to you. During the drying and curing process, about 20% of the THCA will naturally convert itself to THC. 

If the weed has been left in a jar (or lost in a coat pocket, or forgotten in the cushions of the couch) for a very long time, it will continue to convert. Rather than increasing the potency of your weed, this long-term process actually decreases the potency. 

Over a longer period of time, THCA converts to THC and then to CBN, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. If you’ve ever been stoked to find old weed, only to smoke it and realize nothing happened, it’s because the weed has converted to its non-active end step. 

When you light your weed to smoke it, the heat causes THCA to rapidly convert to THC. Not all of the THCA successfully converts to THC, but most weed smokers don’t seem to notice or mind. More than enough THCA converts to produce some kind of effect, and modern strains are extremely potent. The potency easily offsets the difference, and you’re unlikely to miss the THCA that didn’t convert. 

Vaping and dabbing cannabis have the same effect. Extracts and concentrates have been exposed to just enough heat in the manufacturing process that the THCA reaches you already converted. There’s little to no potential for loss of potency, especially if you vape or dab at a lower temperature. 

Decarboxylating weed for edibles

If you want to make edibles, you can’t rely on the heat from the oven to eliminate that acid group. If you were to put plain weed into your brownie batter, it would just get wet and make your brownies taste funny. The weed needs to be decarboxylated before you can cook with it. 

The key to successfully decarboxylate your weed is to heat it to the right temperature just long enough for the THCA to convert into THC without burning the weed. It sounds tricky, but it’s extremely simple. All you need is weed, some aluminum foil, a glass baking dish, and the center rack of your oven.

Preheat your oven to 230 degrees. Grind your weed to a medium grind. Too large of a grind will prevent the center of the pieces from carboxylating. Too fine of a grind will burn your weed. Aim for pieces similar in size to a grain of rice. 

Take a sheet of aluminum foil and crumple it up. Uncrumple it, and put it in the bottom of your glass baking dish. The crumpled aluminum foil allows for more airflow while preventing the heat from the bottom of the dish from scorching your weed. Sprinkle the weed over the foil in an even layer, and gently lay another sheet of aluminum foil on top.

Put your weed on the center rack of the oven for about 45 minutes, checking every 5 minutes after the 30-minute mark. Your entire house will likely smell like weed throughout the process. Keep an eye on your weed to make sure it’s turning golden, but not dark brown or black. That’s a sign that your weed is burning, which destroys the cannabinoids.

When your weed is nice and golden, take it out of the oven and allow it to cool at room temperature for at least half an hour. When you’re ready, you can use it to infuse oils or butters for DIY edibles. 

The takeaway

In some ways, THCA and THC are essentially the same thing. In other ways, they’re remarkably different from each other. That carboxylic acid group does a lot to change the way that THC works. 

If you’re looking to get high, you need to get rid of that carboxylic acid group. Smoking your weed is enough to do that. Your vape or concentrate is already prepared for you. If you want to make edibles, you need to bake it out. 

Emjay is here to deliver the THC you want, in any form your heart desires. We have a large selection of flower, vapes, concentrates, and edibles, as well as the accessories you need to enjoy them. Go ahead and place your order. We’ll be over in about half an hour. 

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