Does THCa Turn Into Delta-9 When Smoked?

Smoking is one of the best-known and oldest methods of consuming cannabis, but many don't know why smoking - the act of introducing raw flower to flame - is such an important part of the process. When smoked, the THCa in the cannabis plant gets transformed into delta-9 THC, the compound responsible for weed's intoxicating effects.

a jar of cannabis next to a joint

Read on to learn more about the relationship between THCa, why it needs to be converted into delta-9 THC to get high, and other factors besides smoking that can affect the transformation between the two compounds.

Key Takeaways

  • THCa only produces psychoactive effects when its decarboxylated and transformed into THC.
  • Despite its lack of psychoactivity, THCa has many potential health benefits, according to early research.
  • Vaporizing, baking, or smoking cannabis are all ways of converting THCa to Delta-i THC.

What is THCa?

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is the most prevalent cannabinoid found in the cannabis or hemp plant. THCa is non-psychoactive but plays an integral role as the molecule that eventually transforms into THC.  

THCa was discovered in 1995 and has only recently garnered increased attention from the scientific community. In 2017, researchers exploring THCa's potential medical benefits found promising evidence of the compound as a way to reduce chronic pain and soothe seizures associated with epilepsy and other neurological conditions. The compound is still relatively new, but researchers are excited about the untapped benefits of this unstudied cannabinoid.

Decarboxylation

When THCa is exposed to heat by combustion or vaporization, THCa transforms into the psychoactive, well-known THC. This process, called decarboxylation, can occur by:

  • Prolonged exposure to room temperature
  • Sunlight exposure
  • Heat exposure via smoking, vaping, or baking

Decarboxylation, whether by smoking or otherwise, is required to convert THCa into THC. This is why eating raw cannabis matter alone will not make someone high. 

What is Delta-9?

Delta-9 THC, more commonly known as THC, is the most well-known cannabinoid found in hemp and marijuana in trace amounts and the chemical byproduct of THCa exposed to heat. THC is responsible for weed's psychoactivity, with different cannabis strains containing more or less potency depending on several factors.

There are minimal concentrations of delta-9 THC in hemp, which is required for a plant to be considered hemp and legal per federal regulations. Hemp should contain no more than 0.3% THC per dry weight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

Whether the THC in question is sourced from marijuana or hemp, it's the same compound.

Does THCa Turn into Delta 9 When Smoked? 

THCa turns into Delta-9 THC when smoked or heated via decarboxylation. This process is required to get high from using weed; otherwise, while the THCa in raw cannabis has benefits, it will not produce the same intoxication.

Decarboxylation is a crucial step in the consumption preparation process, as the heat from high temperatures burns off the acidic molecule on THCa (the "a" in its name) so that it becomes THC.

Benefits

If decarboxylation is a necessary part of the process to make cannabis psychoactive, does THCa have other benefits without the intoxication? While the cannabinoid is still relatively new, some early evidence points to potential neuroprotective properties and anti-inflammatory benefits. And, like other cannabinoids, THCa can improve overall balance and well-being.

Potential Side Effects

With as little research as there is on THCa, we don't know of any side effects or risks associated with using the chemical. It's nonintoxicating, meaning there's no danger of consuming too much and getting too high. However, once THCa is converted to THC, potential side effects can commonly include:

  • Fatigue
  • Red eyes
  • Dehydration
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness

Most side effects from THCa are relatively mild, but it's best to use your best judgment when evaluating whether to consume THCa. One of the main takeaways from both hemp and marijuana is that more research still needs to be done.

How to Use THCa

THCa is available in many different consumption methods and can be ingested independently or converted into THC. Some seasoned users who can handle high-potency extracts prefer pure THCa, commonly called "THCa diamonds." These crystalline products can be dabbed or vaporized either by themselves or added to other concentrates or flower.

Another way to consume THCa is to eat or juice raw cannabis. Mixing plant matter into a juice or protein shake is a popular way of using THCa without converting it into THC. Others will mix THCa into salad dressings or sauces to create more earthy flavors. 

Remember: raw cannabis will not get you high unless you smoke it.

Other Methods of Converting THCa to Delta-9

Vaporizing

Vaping cannabis consists of heating cannabis flower or extracts to a temperature high enough to release the cannabinoids without reaching combustion. 

This process, called conduction heating, helps decarboxylate the THCa without burning off more sensitive terpenes and other cannabinoids. The lower vaping temperatures allow users to enjoy a more experienced and unique flavor profile. Because the terpenes aren't burnt away, cannabis can taste more flavorful and produce the special effects of unique strains.

Vaping is also considered a safer consumption method than smoking, as it reduces the among of combustion byproducts and carcinogens that can damage the lungs.

Cooking

Cooking with cannabis and infusing cannabinoids into edibles is another alternative to smoking. Every cannabis edibles recipe requires decarboxylation as a step in the process. Most of the time, one can bake cannabis flower at a low temperature to activate the THCa into THC. Once converted, the flower can be infused in butter, oil, or other fats for use in popular recipes, such as weed brownies or gummies.

Be cautious: when cooking with cannabis, dosage and potency are crucial factors to consider. Edibles' effects last longer and take much longer to kick in than when smoking or vaporizing, so it's crucial to start with low doses and only gradually increase after waiting 2-3 hours for the effects to start. 

The Bottom Line

Smoking is one of a few ways to convert THCa into Delta-9 THC via decarboxylation. THCa itself doesn't get users high, but once it's converted into THC via smoking or heating, it turns into the compound that produces weed's signature high. You can skip the process of smoking THCa with our selection of delta-9 products.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog and by this website is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be professional medical advice, a medical diagnosis, or medical treatment. Please consult your health practitioner with any questions you have regarding a medical condition.

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