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THCA – What is it, and how does it differ from THC?

THCA – What is it, and how does it differ from THC?
May 29, 2024
2 min read

THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a non-psychoactive form of THC. It is one of around 100 different cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. When THCA is vaporised, the heat converts it to THC, its psychoactive (mind-altering) form. In this article we aim to explain how THCA differs from THC and its implications for medical cannabis patients.

THCA – What is it, and how does it differ from THC?

What is THCA?

THCA is the most common cannabinoid found in cannabis. It is termed an ‘acid form’ cannabinoid, as it must be converted to the ‘active form’ (or psychoactive form) THC in a process called decarboxylation. 

Decarboxylation or ‘decarbing’ is the removal of a carboxyl group on the THCA molecule when it is exposed to heat, such as when cannabis is vaporised.

Contrary to popular belief, the cannabis plant itself does not directly produce THC — it is only through the decarboxylation of THCA that THC occurs in the plant. This unavoidable process occurs as the plant grows, resulting in around 5% of cannabinoids occurring in their active form.

THCA vs THC

What does THCA do?

THCA is non-psychoactive and does not produce a ‘high’ like THC, as it is a larger and bulkier molecule. Research suggests that THCA likely cannot bind to cannabinoid receptors — microscopic structures in the brain and body that provide THC-like effects. The non-psychoactive health effects of THCA are likely due to other mechanisms. 

As THCA is most commonly found in cannabis flower prescribed for vaporisation, the resulting decarboxylation means that much less THCA makes it to the bloodstream than THC (the more biologically active molecule).

Is THCA legal in Australia?

THCA is only legal in Australia when prescribed for medical use. Like THC, it is a Schedule 8 medication or controlled drug. Other countries such as the United States have laws permitting the sale of THCA flower as long as the plant does not contain more than 0.3% THC, meeting the criteria for classification as hemp, but no such law exists in Australia.

If you are an Australian medical cannabis patient, make sure your prescription is valid by keeping your medication in its original container with the pharmacy label intact and fully legible.

Is THCA harmful?

Like all medications, THCA and THC can have side effects ranging from mild to severe, including anxiety, Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS), lethargy, sleep disturbances, habituation, and more. If you have questions on the effects of THCA and THC on the body, be sure to ask your prescriber.

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Disclaimer

Please note that this blog was not written by a licensed medical practitioner and therefore is not providing medical advice. We do not endorse the use of cannabis or any other illicit drugs. Like any medication, cannabis has potential negative side effects and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. For the latest information on cannabis prescription and use, please visit the TGA website. If you are considering cannabis as a treatment option, we encourage you to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

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