Is THCA the Same Thing as THC?
For most users, THCA and THC might amount to the same thing. There are many ways these two cannabis compounds are different, though, from chemical composition to legal status.
So, is THCA the same thing as THC, and if not, how are the compounds different? Find all the answers in this in-depth comparison guide pitting THCA against THC.
What is THCA?
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is a category of precursor tetrahydrocannabinols that includes delta 8, delta 9, delta 10, and even further forms. In most cases, the acronym “THCA” is used specifically to refer to delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the direct precursor compound to delta-9 THC.
Before it is converted to THC, THCA has mild, non-intoxicating effects. It doesn’t take much to change THCA to THC, though — age, light, and heat all do the trick — and once it has converted, THCA becomes exactly identical to THC.
What is THC?
“THC” usually refers to the specific cannabinoid delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, but it can also refer to a general class of compounds known as “tetrahydrocannabinols.” Delta-9 THC is the most famous form of the cannabinoid, and it’s also the most abundant tetrahydrocannabinol found in hemp and cannabis.
Offering classically intoxicating effects, THC can change your mood, alter your sensory perceptions, or even provide energy or sedation depending on the strain of cannabis in which it is included. THC is the primary target of anti-cannabinoid legislation around the world with the substance often referred to pejoratively as “marijuana.”
Does THCA turn into THC?
Yes, THCA turns into THC at temperatures exceeding 232°F. The transformation of THCA into THC can also occur due to oxidative stress, ultraviolet light, or a variety of other catalysts. Generally speaking, THCA is considered to be unstable, meaning that it is understood to usually convert into THC when used normally.
Are THCA and THC the same thing?
Despite the fact that THCA converts into THC when used normally, the two cannabinoids are viewed separately for both scientific and regulatory purposes. Researchers well understand, for instance, that THC and THCA have very different properties, differences that do not erase unless THCA is heated or otherwise decarboxylated into THC.
THCA vs THC
Let’s compare THCA and THC across four major categories to better illustrate their differences:
THCA is different from THC chemically due to its carboxyl group, a group of carbon and oxygen atoms attached to the body of the cannabinoid. This carboxyl group disappears when THCA decarboxylates into THC, but as long as it is present, this chemical formation fully differentiates the two cannabinoids in chromatography and other testing.
Unless it is converted into THC, THCA has very different effects from conventional cannabis. It is not intoxicating, and is therefore more like CBD than THC. All that changes the moment THCA converts into THC, but until that point, THCA remains a non-intoxicating cannabinoid with mildly relaxing effects.
THC is a Schedule I illicit drug under federal law, but THCA is usually considered industrial hemp due to the 2018 Farm Bill. Due to recent clarifications from the DEA that had exactly the opposite effect, THCA remains in a status of legal limbo in which it has not been directly addressed by the federal government, remaining hemp by default. Learn more about the legal situation surrounding THCA in this explainer letter provided by Kight Law.
Since it is available online for delivery to all 50 states, it’s undeniable that THCA is easier to buy than THC. Even in states where THC products are legal, residents and visitors must jump through hoops like visiting dispensaries in person, paying in all cash, and showing their ID multiple times to both employees and state-mandated surveillance cameras. Compared with the cumbersome nature of buying THC from adult-use and medical cannabis shops, buying THCA online is a much easier way to accomplish the exact same goal.
Can you buy THCA online?
Yes, it’s entirely possible to buy THCA products online. From flower to vapes to edibles, dozens of different product types are available to you, each with its own special benefits.
Due to the nature of the free market, THCA products bought online have greater potential to be higher-quality than dispensary-bought weed. With only a few state-authorized producers to contend with, there isn’t much competition in state cannabis markets to grow the absolute best dank. The internet is the great economic equalizer, though, resulting in THCA products bought online often surpassing even the best quality offered by top-shelf dispensary weed.
Can you buy THC online?
No, it is not possible to buy THC products online due to federal law. Despite more than half of the states in the nation allowing THC commerce in one form or another, delta-9 THC remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making selling products containing more than 0.3% THC across state lines a federal crime.
In some states that have allowed medical or adult-use cannabis sales, it is possible to buy THC products for courier delivery — not shipment via USPS or other fulfillment providers. Even so, this form of “online delivery” is hardly convenient, with purchasers often needing to hand over cash or show identification upon delivery, requiring your physical presence.
The bottom line: Is THCA better than THC?
Even though it’s THC’s precursor, all signs point to THCA being the evolved form of THC within the context of cannabis history. Cracks began to form in the 1990s with California’s medical cannabis law, and a mere 30 years later, cannabis products were already starting to appear for sale on the internet.
Now, it’s easy to consider the advent of online THCA sales as a citizens’ repeal of the illegal status of THC. People across the country are now able to buy the same (or better) products as are sold at state-controlled dispensaries, making legal access to cannabis universal in the United States for the first time in nearly a century.
Directly compared, THCA can’t be said to be better than THC. In its original form, after all, THCA doesn’t get you high. It’s all too easy to turn THCA into THC, though, resulting in the same form of dank that once was fully illegal, then became somewhat legal on the state level, and is now (finally) available for sale online in all 50 states.
THC vs THCA FAQ
Is THCA really all that similar to THC? Continue picking apart the differences between these two highly similar cannabinoids in the following FAQ section:
Is THCA as strong as THC?
THCA can be considered to have the same potential strength as THC since it converts into THC when used normally. At temperatures exceeding 232°F, THCA converts into THC. This temperature threshold is considerably below the level of heat applied when smoking or vaping THCA products, ensuring that the THCA they contain will transform into THC.
THCA can be used with methods that do not involve converting it into THC, though. If ingested orally or prepared in cold food or beverages, THCA retains its original form, remaining fully non-intoxicating. Since THCA cannot get you high unless it is converted into THC, it can’t be said to always be as strong as THC.
What is considered a high level of THCA?
If a strain of Cannabis sativa contains more than approximately 10% THCA, it can be considered high-THCA. Most strains of THC-rich cannabis, in actuality, contain much more THCA than THC until they are heated or otherwise decarboxylated. So, even most THC strains should be seen as containing high levels of THCA — sometimes in excess of 20%.
Is CBD or THCA better for pain?
It’s unclear whether CBD or THCA is better for pain, but both cannabinoids appear to have at least some anti-pain potential. The pain-fighting abilities of CBD have been well-researched at this point, and a considerable amount of research has been dedicated to the potential of THCA to fight pain as well — especially in the context of inflammation.
Doctors have noted for decades that the converted form of THCA, THC, often offers observed benefits against neuropathic pain, an observation that has also been made of CBD. If you’re suffering from chronic pain of any kind, it may make more sense to combine CBD and THCA rather than forcing yourself to choose between two equally useful substances that work even better when used together.
Is THCA natural or synthetic?
As the most abundant cannabinoid in Cannabis sativa, THCA sold for consumer purposes is almost always all-natural. It is technically possible to synthesize THCA, but as an abundant and inherently natural cannabinoid, there is no motivation for doing so. Some would consider this attribute to make THCA inherently better than delta 8 and other THC alternatives that have appeared in recent years — while these substances are almost always synthetic, THCA is fully natural.
What is THCA made from?
THCA is derived from THC-bearing Cannabis sativa plants that have been specially bred to contain less than 0.3% THC but the maximum-possible concentration of THCA. Unlike delta 8 and other common THC alternatives, THCA is not converted from another cannabinoid or synthesized in any way. It comes from the same type of cannabis as THC, CBD, or CBG, making it the first all-natural, new cannabinoid to appear on the market in quite some time.
Is THCA sprayed on hemp?
No, THCA is not commonly sprayed on hemp since doing so costs more than simply cultivating THCA-bearing hemp to contain less than 0.3% THC. Sprayed THCA flower is both lower-quality and offers additional opportunities for contamination compared to natural THCA flower, and it most likely costs more due to the additional labor involved in its production.
Can you use THCA to make edibles?
Yes, it is possible to make edibles with THCA. Depending on the method you use to prepare your THCA edibles, however, they might be either intoxicating or non-intoxicating.
In dishes that are heated above 232°F, for instance, THCA will convert into intoxicating THC before you can ingest it. THCA-infused food or beverages that are not heated during their production, however, will offer the non-intoxicating effects THCA offers before it is converted into THC.There are a variety of approaches you can take whether you want to eat intoxicating or non-intoxicating THCA edibles. For full instructions on how to make edibles with hemp flower, review this in-depth recipe guide.