THCA: The Highly Medicinal, Non-Psychotropic Cannabinoid

Cannabis Plant Macro

[Editor’s Note: THCA, the non-psychoactive cousin to THC, seems an incredible answer for reducing inflammation from a variety of diseases. Learn how and why.]

The cannabis herb contains hundreds of special medicinal chemicals that fall into several categories, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Among the cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the infamous molecule responsible for most of the psychoactive effect and euphoria delivered by this controversial plant that is also, technically, a vegetable.

What is not readily apparent to many cannabis consumers is the fact that the flowers they purchase at their local dispensary or grow in their backyard contain none of the highly therapeutic and coveted chemical called THC. Yet, when burned or vaporized, the flowers produce smoke or vapor containing this molecule. The THC is absorbed by the lungs in 2-3 ms and travels directly to the heart, where it is pumped north to the brain, allowed to cross the extremely selective blood-brain barrier, and binds with CB1 receptors in the brain to produce euphoria — a total process requiring approximately 2.5 minutes.

How can cannabis flowers containing absolutely no THC deliver the very same molecule to specialized receptors in the human brain and central nervous system? This occurs via a process called decarboxylation, during which the non-psychoactive chemical cousin to THC, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), undergoes a molecular metamorphosis to lose two oxygen atoms and transmogrify into an element with a different binding affinity with the specialized receptors of the human endocannabinoid system. This modified binding affinity is just enough to produce the markedly different efficacy of THC versus THCA.

The Details of THCA

According to Steep Hill Labs in Berkeley, California, “THCA is the most abundant cannabinoid in the vast majority of cannabis grown in the U.S.” This highly medicinal molecule is strongly anti-inflammatory, increases appetite, is anti-tumor, combats insomnia, and is antispasmodic. THCA can reach levels of greater than 30 percent of the dry weight of unpollinated (sensimilla) female flowers.

A helpful mental model is to think of THCA as the pre-stage caterpillar that becomes the butterfly called THC. THCA also breaks down into THC via chemical processes other than decarboxylation, including oxidation and simple exposure to light.

Many in the patient community juice the leaves of cannabis plants in a strategic effort to collect as much THCA as possible. Some claim to have gained significant benefits from the regular consumption of THCA for conditions ranging from chronic pain to depression to social anxiety to fibromyalgia.

The Research

The anti-inflammatory properties of THCA are helpful in the treatment of diseases such as arthritis and lupus. The neuroprotective properties of this element of the cannabis plant are helpful in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, while its anti-emetic characteristics treat the nausea and appetite loss associated with conditions such as cancer (chemotherapy) and Crohn’s disease. The antiproliferative properties of THCA have been noted in studies of prostate cancer, insomnia, muscle spasms, and pain.

A 2013 study entitled “Analysis of Cannabis Seizures in NSW, Australia: Cannabis Potency and Cannabinoid Profile” and published in the journal PLOS ONE concluded that “The non-psychoactive THC-A content of plants is of increasing interest given its potential medicinal and neuroprotective properties [38]. A recent trend towards “juicing” cannabis plant material for consumption is aimed at maximising THC-A intake, while minimising the intoxicating effects of THC.”

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