Cannabidiol (CBD) has rapidly become on par with delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in terms of worldwide popularity. As people stand in awe of the powerful benefits of CBD, they often fail to recognize the equally beneficial properties of CBDA, this cannabinoid’s chemical precursor. In this guide, learn what CBDA is, and find out why this cannabinoid acid is guaranteed to carve out a unique place within the pantheon of Cannabis sativa compounds.
What is CBDA?
Cannabidolic acid (CBDA) is considered to be a cannabinoid since it is found exclusively in Cannabis sativa. Unlike CBD and other stabilized cannabinoids, however, CBDA is equipped with a carboxyl group, which is a chemical structure containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. As a result, CBDA is structurally distinct from CBD, and it is classified as a carboxylic acid or cannabinoid acid.
Every CBD molecule starts its life as a CBDA carboxylic acid. Through a process called decarboxylation, CBDA loses its carboxyl group and transforms into CBD. This decarboxylation process occurs when CBDA is heated to around 119° C, and a small amount of CBDA naturally transforms into CBD when CBD-rich Cannabis sativa flower is dried and cured.
To fully decarboxylate CBDA into CBD, however, it’s necessary to apply heat to this cannabinoid acid. Smoking and vaping hemp flower or hemp extract that is rich in CBDA is one way to transform this cannabinoid into CBD, and some forms of hemp flower extraction and purification process involve the application of heat, which accomplishes the same effect.
Where does CBDA come from?
Like many other cannabinoid acids, CBDA is a product of cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), which cannabis researchers often refer to as the “stem cell cannabinoid.” As Cannabis sativa flower matures and blossoms, CBGA is the first cannabinoid to form, and subsequently, a strain-specific set of enzymes direct CBGA to turn into one of the acid precursors of other cannabinoids.
Depending on the strain, CBGA can transform into CBDA, THCA, CBCA, or other carboxylic acids. In CBD-rich Cannabis sativa strains, CBGA is directed to turn into CBDA at a particular point in the maturation process. Of course, CBGA can also transform directly into CBG, a cannabinoid that is rapidly gaining popularity on par with that of CBD.
CBD-rich strains invariably have more CBDA than CBD. These strains are only referred to as “CBD-rich” instead of as “CBDA-rich” because it is implied that hemp users will employ ingestion methods that transform the carboxylic acid CBDA into its cannabinoid endpoint. For individuals who want to explore the benefits of CBDA separately from what CBD has to offer, CBD-rich hemp flower stands alone as a unique product category that can easily facilitate these types of experiments.
History of CBDA research
Scientists have known about the existence of CBDA since at least the 1950s. Cannabidiol had been a primary target of cannabis research since the early 1940s, and researchers were keen to understand more about the enzymatic process that results in this cannabinoid. Hopes were high during initial phases of cannabinoid research that promising Cannabis sativa constituents, such as THC and CBD, could easily be synthesized, so a significant body of research focused on better understanding the relationship between CBDA and CBD.
Frustratingly to the international pharmaceutical community, synthesizing bioidentical forms of cannabinoids proved to be more difficult than expected. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Japanese researchers stumbled upon the critical discovery that CBGA was the chemical precursor of CBDA, THCA, and many other carboxylic acids found in cannabis.
Since then, research into CBDA as a vehicle for the synthesis of CBD has enjoyed renewed enthusiasm, and scientists believe they are close to developing a method for mass-producing CBGA in a laboratory setting and transforming it into CBDA. This method produces CBGA using genetically modified yeast, and within a few short years, CBDA may become more important than ever before as this carboxylic acid becomes a primary component of mass-scale CBD synthesization efforts.
Separately from its potential as a tool for synthesizing CBD, CBDA has also been researched for its unique individual benefits. The general consensus is that CBDA does not provide any significant benefits that are not offered by CBD, and the overall volatility of CBDA has disincentivized major research efforts into this carboxylic acid. At the same time, scientists have uncovered a few promising leads as they have researched CBDA, and this cannabinoid acid may end up gaining popularity as its potential benefits become more widely disseminated.
What is CBDA currently used for?
CBDA is not very widely used at this time. A lack of knowledge regarding the unique benefits of this cannabinoid acid paired with its natural tendency to transform into CBD have shunted the majority of consumer attention to CBDA’s chemical endpoint. Additionally, CBDA is unlike some other cannabinoid acids (notably THCA) in that it provides roughly the same benefits as its decarboxylated form.
Regardless, a reasonably wide body of research has been invested into CBDA, and a growing number of hemp users are starting to become aware of this cannabinoid acid as a potential tool for experimentation. For instance, scientists have attempted to determine whether this carboxylic acid is a useful treatment for neuropathic and inflammatory pain.
It’s worth noting that almost all of the research conducted into CBDA has been preclinical, which means that, unlike the case with CBD, scientists have very little data to determine the effects of CBDA on human subjects. One of the few clinical studies involving CBDA was conducted during the FDA application process for Epidiolex, the first approved cannabidiol-based drug for epilepsy. This study was conducted to determine if CBDA showed anticonvulsant properties both alone and when paired with CBD.
While it’s undeniably true that the potential benefits of CBDA largely line up with what we know about CBD, there’s an interesting outlier that may lend credence to the theory that CBDA is desirable as a standalone cannabinoid. In 1976, a study was published that detailed the potential sporostatic properties of CBDA, and if the results of this study were to be confirmed with further research, it might be determined that CBDA shows promise as an antifungal treatment.
What might CBDA be used for in the future?
The potential future applications of CBDA appear to be relatively limited. As we mentioned earlier, CBDA may prove to play a critical role as an intermediary between CBGA and CBD as efforts to synthesize recombinant CBD using yeast gain steam within the pharmaceutical industry.
Since the benefits of this cannabinoid acid largely overlap with the benefits provided by CBD, however, CBDA is unlikely to generate significant standalone demand. As a result, CBDA is very different from other cannabinoid acids such as THCA, which is desired for its non-intoxicating qualities, and CBGA, which is desired for its key role in cannabinoid synthesis.
It’s possible that scientists may become interested in CBDA due to its potential sporostatic qualities, but it has been more than 40 years since this subject was researched. If CBDA is to have any chance of becoming a mainstream cannabinoid with high demand, it will most likely be due to this carboxylic acid’s unique activity at the 5-HT1A receptors.
CBD also interacts with your nervous system’s 5-HT1A receptors, so this attribute of CBDA is not all that remarkable on the surface. According to preliminary research, however, CBDA may have more than 100 times the affinity for the brain’s 5-HT1A receptors than CBD.
So far, this enhanced affinity for 5-HT1A receptors has only been investigated in the context of CBDA’s potential antiemetic benefits. If proven true, however, this facet of CBDA’s pharmacokinetics could have vast implications.
The 5-HT1A receptor is your brain’s primary serotonin receptor. You’re probably familiar with serotonin in the context of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and the widely publicized research that this neurotransmitter is directly connected to feelings of well-being and self-esteem. What you might not know, however, is that serotonin performs hundreds of tasks throughout your body from stabilizing your heart rate to managing the sensation of neuropathic pain.
In fact, CBD has been researched for its potential impact on anxiety and depression precisely for this cannabinoid’s agonist behavior at the 5-HT1A receptor. If it’s true that CBDA agonizes your 5-HT1A serotonin receptors 100 times more strongly than CBD, this carboxylic acid’s future might be incredibly bright.
What are the best ways to use CBDA?
Using cannabinoid acids is always tricky since these substances decarboxylate into normal cannabinoids at relatively low temperature. To use CBDA, you’ll need to ingest CBD without heating it above 119° C. You can accomplish this task by consuming CBD-rich hemp products containing extract that has not been heated, and in fact, there are a variety of CBDA products available on the market made with cryogenically extracted hemp flower oil, which is not heated in the extraction process.
Another way to experience the benefits of CBDA is to juice raw cannabis buds. To enjoy CBDA using this method, you’ll first need to acquire CBD-rich hemp bud that has not been cured or dried. Since CBD flower is almost invariably sold in dried form, it’s likely that you’ll need to grow your own hemp to try this approach.
CBDA broadens the boundaries of CBD
Lamentably, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about CBDA. While it's possible that this carboxylic acid might stimulate your 5-HT1A receptors much more strongly than CBD, this theory is based on a single study, the results of which need to be corroborated before making any assumptions.As the CBD market continues to grow, brands and consumers will be on the lookout for ways to experience their favorite non-intoxicating cannabinoid in a new light. So far, this trend has brought increased attention to CBG, CBN, and CBC, so it would be no surprise if the spotlight turned to CBDA and its uniquely promising properties next. For more guides on cannabinoids and related topics, check out the Secret Nature blog.