Does THCa Get You High? Exploring the Myths and Facts

Most people, even those only vaguely familiar with cannabis, will have heard of THC, the chemical in weed responsible for its intoxicating high. However, while THC is the most well-known cannabinoid in cannabis, its close cousin THCa is the most abundant - and doesn’t get you high

THCa is the chemical precursor to THC, which converts to the latter when exposed to high temperatures, such as when it’s smoked. Keep reading to understand THCa compared to THC and what to know about getting high when consuming it.

a tincture of oil next to a green cannabis leaf

Key Takeaways

  • THCa will get produce a high only when it’s decarboxylated or exposed to heat.
  • THCa, once decarboxylated, turns into delta-9 THC and produces the same high.
  • While not psychoactive, THCa has shown many potential health benefits based on early research.

What is THCa?

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. On its own, THCa doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects but is an integral part of the raw plant that eventually converts to THC.

THCa was discovered only in 1995, and it’s only recently that the scientific community has started to give the cannabinoid more attention. A 2017 study explored potential medical uses and applications for THCa, including potential benefits in soothing seizures and chronic pain. While the research is still relatively new, scientists are excited about the potential of this underexamined compound in cannabis.

When exposed to heat (whether combusted or vaporized), THCa converts to psychoactive THC. This process is known as decarboxylation and can occur by:

  • Room temperature exposure
  • Heat exposure via smoking or vaping
  • Sunlight exposure

This is why we need to smoke flower to get high and cannot get stoned by simply eating raw cannabis matter.

How THCA Works

Before cannabis flower or concentrates are heated, the THC only exists in its THCa precursor form. The THCa is exposed to heat and, in the transition, loses its acidity - the “A” in its name. As carbon dioxide is released, the THCa is converted into the intoxicating THC that attaches to the body’s endocannabinoid receptors and produces the psychedelic euphoria for which cannabis is known.

Where is THCA Found?

THCa is found in fresh cannabis plants. If you have ever juiced cannabis leaves (don't knock it until you try it), or added them to a salad (again, try it before ya knock it!), or eaten any sort of fresh cannabis, you have consumed THCA. THCA has plenty of health benefits too, but we will dive more into those in a bit.

The Importance of Decarboxylation of THCA

We know, it is a fancy word, decarboxylation, but let's break it down into layman's terms. Decarboxylation is simply the chemical reaction that converts THCa to THC. You do not totally need to understand this bit, but for the science junkies out there, the process involves removing a carboxyl group from THCa. This happens when THCa is heated (i.e. when you smoke, vape, or bake cannabis). Without the decarboxylation process (also known as decarbing), THCa remains THCa, in its non-psychoactive state.

The Science Behind THCA

When we understand THCa and how it functions in the body, we can understand why it is non-psychoactive (meaning why it does not get you high), versus THC, which does produce a high. Let's clarify these functional differences/

THCA vs. THC

While THCA and THC share a similar chemical structure, their effects on the body are quite different. THC binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain, causing the psychoactive effects we associate with being high. THCa, on the other hand, does not bind to these receptors in the same way.

How THCA Interacts with the Body

THCA interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system, but its effects are more subtle compared to THC. It doesn't produce the euphoric sensation that THC is known for, but it may offer other benefits, such as reducing inflammation and nausea.

Potential Health Benefits

Preliminary research suggests that THCa might have therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antiemetic effects. While more studies are needed, the potential health benefits of THCa are promising.

Does THCa Get You High?

While early research suggests that THCa and other acid-containing cannabinoids might have beneficial properties on their own, they don’t necessarily get you high. THCa cannot attach to endocannabinoid receptors, meaning they don’t exert any effect the way that THC and CBD do. 

When combined, trace THC levels and THCa may produce therapeutic benefits, such as when people decide to juice their cannabis raw. However, THCa will not produce the same psychoactive effects as its counterpart without heat. When finally exposed to heat, the THCa in a given cannabis product instantly converts to THC, producing the intoxicating effects that get you high.

How to Use THCA

Some consumers use THCa in its pure extracted form, commonly called THCa diamonds. Dabbing or vaporizing diamonds, whether by themselves or added to other concentrates or flower, is a common and highly potent way to reap the benefits of THCa. Again, remember that THCa is instantly converted to THC when heated, so diamonds are known to produce intense highs that are better reserved for more experienced consumers.

As mentioned above, some prefer to eat raw cannabis as a means to consume THCa.

Here are several ways to incorporate it into your routine without getting high:

Juicing Raw Cannabis

Juicing cannabis plant matter or mixing it into a protein smoothie is one such way to reap the cannabinoid’s benefits. Others may mix it into a salad dressing or homemade sauce for earthier flavors. Again, raw cannabis and THCa will not get you high.

Raw Cannabis Tinctures

Raw cannabis tinctures are another excellent way to consume THCa. These tinctures are made using unheated cannabis, ensuring that the THCa remains intact. Add a few drops to your favorite beverage or take it sublingually for maximum absorption.

Edibles and Smoothies

Incorporating raw cannabis into your edibles and smoothies is a delicious way to enjoy the benefits of THCa. Just be sure not to heat the cannabis during the preparation process to prevent decarboxylation.

The Therapeutic Potential of THCA

While THCa doesn't get you high, it offers a range of potential health benefits that make it a valuable compound in its own right.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

One of the most promising aspects of THCa is its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies suggest that THCa may help reduce inflammation, making it a potential treatment for conditions like arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

Neuroprotective Effects

Research indicates that THCa might have neuroprotective properties. These properties make THCa an exciting area of study for medical researchers.

Antiemetic Benefits

THCa has shown promise as an antiemetic, meaning it could help reduce nausea and vomiting. This is particularly useful for patients undergoing chemotherapy or those with chronic conditions that cause nausea.

The Future of THCA Research

THCA holds a lot of promise, and as research continues to uncover the benefits of cannabinoids we hope the applications become clearer for THCa.

Current Studies

The studies that have been done involve THCa and its therapeutic potential to help pain conditions, and for its neuroprotective properties.

The Role of Cannabis Enthusiasts

If you have read this far, you are probably like me - a cannabis enthusiast. By inquiring about new studies, continually educating yourself, and advocating for cannabis in general, you play a vital role in the progress of cannabis and the application of its derivatives (like THCa) in the U.S., and globally.

The Bottom Line

While THCa doesn’t produce the same euphoria as its THC counterpart, emerging research suggests it has other health benefits worthy of consideration. The best method of consuming THCa depends entirely on the individual. Generally speaking, vaporizing THCa is a smokeless consumption method that will still produce a high. Juicing or eating raw cannabis or THCa-infused edibles may be the healthiest method to ingesting THCa, especially when mixed with healthy superfoods or other beneficial cannabinoids like CBD or CBN.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Percent of THCA is High?

Generally, cannabis strains can have THCa levels ranging from 0.1% to over 30%. When you’re talking about high THCa content, anything above 20% is considered pretty strong in the cannabis world. That’s where the magic lies, folks. 

But remember, the real trick is keeping your cannabis raw and unheated to avoid decarboxylation, which converts THCa to the psychoactive THC. So, next time you’re scouting for the best stash, aim for those high THCa numbers if therapeutic benefits are what you’re after.

What does high THCA do?

High THCa levels have been associated with neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory benefits. Early research also suggests that high THCa can help reduce nausea and vomiting, especially in patients undergoing chemotherapy. However, THCa does not get individuals high, no matter the potency – only when the THCa is converted to THC do high levels yield strong intoxicating effects.

How powerful is THCA?

THCa isolate or diamonds, when heated, convert to THC to create an intensely psychoactive high, with potencies between 95-100%. Without heat, however, it stays in its original form and doesn’t produce psychoactivity, though it may still have potential health benefits...

When it comes to therapeutic potency, THCa does pack a punch. Its anti-inflammatory and potential neuroprotective effects are nothing to scoff at. THCa might just be your new best friend. And for anyone dealing with nausea, THCa could like that reliable friend who always shows up when you need them the most.

What is the Point of THCA?

Alright, so you might be asking, "What's the point of THCa if it doesn't get you high?" Great question! The magic of THCa lies in its beneficial properties without the psychoactive side effects. Imagine reaping all the goodness of cannabis without the high—sounds like a win-win, right (and we get it, some of you do want the high)? But THCAas got your back in a multitude of non-psychoactive ways.

Is THCA indica or sativa?

THCa is an isolated cannabinoid and not classified as a strain, whether sativa, indica, or hybrid. Different strains have different levels of THCa, depending on their genetics and growing environments.

References

1) Nadal X, Del Río C, Casano S, Palomares B, Ferreiro-Vera C, Navarrete C, Sánchez-Carnerero C, Cantarero I, Bellido ML, Meyer S, Morello G, Appendino G, Muñoz E. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is a potent PPARγ agonist with neuroprotective activity. Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Dec;174(23):4263-4276. doi: 10.1111/bph.14019. Epub 2017 Nov 2. PMID: 28853159; PMCID: PMC5731255.

2) Wang M, Wang YH, Avula B, Radwan MM, Wanas AS, van Antwerp J, Parcher JF, ElSohly MA, Khan IA. Decarboxylation Study of Acidic Cannabinoids: A Novel Approach Using Ultra-High-Performance Supercritical Fluid Chromatography/Photodiode Array-Mass Spectrometry. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2016 Dec 1;1(1):262-271. doi: 10.1089/can.2016.0020. PMID: 28861498; PMCID: PMC5549281.

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