The cannabis plant is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you'll get until you take a closer look. However, historically, only two out of the hundreds of compounds within cannabis have received the majority of the attention. Those two compounds are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol.)
We all know THC as it's the compound responsible for getting us high, and therefore has often been the centerpiece of cannabis studies. Alongside THC is its non-psychoactive sibling CBD, which provides users a plethora of health benefits and can now be legally derived from hemp plants.
Though as the famed plant moves further into the lights of legalisation, more studies are being done and more compounds are being further investigated.
One of those compounds is THCA – Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid. Let's take a look at what this compound is.
A Prelude to Your Highness – THCA
Unless you've grown cannabis or made cannabutter, you wouldn't necessarily know that you need to decarboxylate your weed for it to have an effect. This can typically be done through vaporizing or burning your weed. However, when you avoid this process, and simply eat raw marijuana, you won't be getting THC. Instead, you'll be having a healthy dose of THCA.
Consider THCA as the prelude to THC – in that the heating process, decarboxylation, changes the molecular structure of marijuana and turns THC into THCA.
Through decarboxylation, you remove carboxylic acid from THCA, which alters the compound's chemical structure and changes the way it interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS).
For those new to cannabis, the endocannabinoid system is an internal network of receptors and neurotransmitters which appear throughout our nervous system and brains.
When we ingest cannabis, the cannabinoids within the plant interact with these receptors and can have an effect on our mood, memory, appetite, and sleep.
Our endocannabinoid system has been delineated into two key divisions; CB1 receptors, which are found primarily in the brain, and CB2 receptors, which appear mostly in the immune system.
When we decarboxylate THCA, it becomes THC, which has a chemical structure that interacts more with our CB1 receptors than THCA – thus creating the high associated with smoking or vaping marijuana.
When we simply eat raw cannabis however, we get a big hit of THCA. THCA has a larger molecule than THCA and doesn't fit as nicely into our CB1 or CB2 receptors, which is why it doesn't get us high.
And THCA isn't the only compound which changes with decarboxylation either; with cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) each having an alter-ego prior to their heating, which are CBDA, CBGA, and THCVA.
Eat your greens – Health Benefits to THCA
As the wellness community grows, and people move further towards a healthier lifestyle, people are constantly thinking of ways to maximize the health benefits they can get each day. One method people have been trying as of late has been to adopt a raw diet. It's believed that in keeping certain vegetables raw, you can preserve the natural enzymes of that food and reap greater health benefits.
Well, while we certainly can't speak of dietary recommendations, it's looking like this might certainly be true for cannabis.
Some are labeling raw cannabis as a superfood, alongside the likes of kale and blueberries, as early studies suggest there is a host of health benefits to be gained from consuming THCA and other compounds that exist only in raw cannabis.
As always, we must add the disclosure that most cannabis studies – particularly those done on lesser-known compounds like THCA – are going to be early studies and far from conclusive – however, they do show promise.
One area where THCA studies have shown promise is in assisting with Inflammation, particularly in cases of arthritis or lupus.
Early studies involving mice have also found that THCA has anti-proliferative properties, with administered THCA found to shrink tumors such as prostate cancer.
Without getting too technical, THCA has displayed early abilities to protect dopaminergic neurons against MPP(+) induced cell death. This means that THCA may also serve as a Neuroprotective, as this potential has already shown to help with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's.
And studies have also shown that THCA has anti-emetic effects, helping mice improve conditions like nausea, vomiting and appetite loss.
So step aside kale, we may have a new superfood in town; THCA. While a raw cannabis plant may not have the best taste or texture, there are certainly benefits to be had from consuming the plant prior to decarboxylation.
If you want your daily dose, consider making a raw cannabis smoothie or buying a raw cannabis tincture that's loaded with THCA.
Peeling Back The Layers
The cannabis plant is layered, much like an onion, and the further we dig, the more layers we find. Given the stigma surrounding cannabis over the past few decades, few could have guessed what a massive impact this plant would have over the entire globe.
Athletes now use CBD oil for their inflammation, with the UFC pouring millions into researching the compound. People (and their pets) are using CBD to boost their mood, increase their appetite and improve their sleep, and many cannabis companies are researching the effects of cannabis on acne, a market which is set to hit USD 5.9 billion in just six years.
You've then got the entire medicinal marijuana industry, with drugs like GW Pharma's Epidiolex, the first FDA approved cannabinoid medicine which is used to treat rare forms of epilepsy.
And of course, who could forget the recreational cannabis market, a wide net which encompasses cultivators and vendors, as well as ancillary industries like the growing vaporizer market, dabbing equipment, and delivery services.
Cannabis has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. alone since recreational legalization, and an increasing number of universities are offering degrees to study the popular plant.
And, in less than two months, on October 17th, Canada is scheduled to legalize edibles, extracts, and concentrates, which will likely only further stimulate Canada's economy and provide additional jobs.
Through legalization, cannabis was pushed into the limelight and has since been seen for what it's really worth. It's not a demonic plant, as '30s propaganda will tell you. It's also not simply for lazy, forgetful stoners – just ask professional skateboarder Matt Miller or professional fighter Nate Diaz.
And through this limelight that legalization provides, we've been able to continue delving deeper into the mysteries of marijuana and hemp, finding more and more compounds, like CBN and THCA, which have each shown benefits in the small studies already performed.
Only a few years ago, skeptics cast doubt upon the benefits of cannabis, all the way up to the president at the time, Barack Obama himself.
Now, as we finally break free of the clutches of the antiquated War on Drugs, it's becoming increasingly clear…
We've only hit the tip of the iceberg.
Where Can I Get THCA?
For those looking to get their dose of THCA, companies are starting to release THCA crystalline and THCA powders which have been refined, removing the terpenes found within the plant and leaving behind a pure isolate of 90-95% THCA.
You can then either dab this concentrate, which will yield a potent burst of THC, or eat it raw and maintain some of the unique benefits that come along with THCA consumption.
One company that offers THCA isolate is Guild Extracts, which boasts a wide array of cannabis concentrates and extracts, and is one of the few companies to sell THCA products. If you're interested in trying this compound, they're worth a look at.