THCA and THC: What’s the Difference?
We tend to think of CBD when examining the medicinal value of cannabis. But there are literally hundreds of cannabinoids worth looking into – one of them is THCA.
The free flow of information in democratic societies allowed us to put the dangers and benefits of cannabis into the right perspective over the last few decades – a strikingly positive development. Although we still experience the outcomes of prohibition and unreasonable persecution of cannabis users, dedicated researchers are doing their best to acquire the scientific facts we desperately need to fully understand this majestic plant, which is difficult in many countries due to a restrictive legislation concerning research.
Latest findings suggest that many of us overlooked a compound when examining the medicinal value of cannabis, namely THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. It is the biosynthetic precursor of THC but has radically different properties – THCA won’t induce any psychoactive effects, in contrast to THC, but surprisingly plays a major role in the process of lab-testing cannabis strains for potency. Seems confusing? Well, only at first glance. So there are several areas worth looking into to get a better picture of what THCA is all about – its medical benefits and the role it plays when laboratories test cannabis for potency.
WHAT IS THCA?
Have you ever wondered about the fact that cannabis is commonly first dried, cured, and then, combusted to get the desired effect? The reason for this procedure is to transform 9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) into the psychoactive cannabinoid THC via decarboxylation, meaning a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group. This chemical reaction takes place when fresh cannabis blossoms are dried and cured, but also, and much quicker, when you expose cannabis to heat during combustion or while making cannabutter for instance. To cut a long story short, THCA is THC in its acidic and non-psychoactive form.
HOW LABS MEASURE THE POTENCY OF CANNABIS
As mentioned before, THCA plays a major role in how laboratories test cannabis’ potency, a required but non-standardized procedure in medical marijuana states in the US. If you are ambitious and want to sell your product to dispensaries, you have to get it tested beforehand. There are two commonly used methods to get it done - gas chromatography (GC) and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).
Gas chromatography uses heat to decarboxylate THCA into THC and consequently only picks up THC values to reflect the potency of a cannabis strain. However, we have to interpret these values critically since studies suggest that only 70% of THCA gets converted into THC when labs use GC methods.
The more refined method of measuring cannabis’ potency is liquid chromatography that gives us separate values for THCA and THC – it does not decarboxylate any cannabinoids. HPLC allows laboratories to calculate the actual THC content in a more precise manner by using a simple formula that takes differences regarding the molecular mass of THCA and THC into account:
THC total= (%THCA) x 0.877 + (%THC)
MEDICINAL BENEFITS OF THCA
Research in the field of THCA is continuously progressing, but it is still too early to make definite statements about the therapeutic effects of this compound - which certainly does not mean there aren’t any. Preliminary studies point out potential medicinal benefits including:
• The reduction of nausea induced vomiting and appetite loss (anti-emetic)
• Protective capacities for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Parkinson)
• Anti-inflammatory effects beneficial for treating a wide range of diseases (e.g. Arthritis)
• Inhibition of prostate cancer growth (anti-proliferative)