Cannabinoids are the chemicals in marijuana that are responsible for its effects. The production of cannabinoids occurs in tiny, crystal-like structures called trichomes. These trichomes are heavily concentrated on the flowers or “buds” of female cannabis plants. Patients and physicians today know a lot about certain cannabinoids like THC and CBD. But THC and CBD are just two of over 113 cannabinoids that have been identified in marijuana.
The wide range of cannabinoids present in hemp, and other phytochemicals such as the terpenes, have demonstrated a variety of possible therapeutic uses, without causing a high. While cannabidiol (CBD) has been associated with the largest number of pharmacological effects, another cannabinoid that won’t cause the patient to get high is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, or THCA.
You’ve heard of THC, and while they may sound similar, THCA actually has very different properties. Unlike THC, THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in raw and live cannabis. As the plant dries, THCA slowly converts to THC. Heat expedites this conversion in a process known as decarboxylation, a fancy word that describes what happens when you smoke or vaporize flower.
Every high-THC strain that has not yet been decarboxylated contains THCA, and these cannabinoid levels are particularly high as a live or freshly harvested plant. For this reason, raw cannabis parts are popularly juiced for their THCA benefits (sweet potato pear smoothie, anyone?).
Some products are marketed specifically for their THCA content such as Present Naturals and Mary’s Medicinals transdermal patches. Products like these deliver THCA’s benefits without the risk of psychoactive effects, and as THCA gains traction, we’re likely to find more products like this emerging.
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)
Other possible medicinal avenues supported by patient stories include insomnia, muscle spasms, and pain. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for more studies to substantiate all of the above benefits before we can fully understand what THCA means for the future of cannabinoid-based medicines.