Back when adult-use cannabis legislation first began making waves in the U.S. over a decade ago, the conversation around cannabinoids and legality was admittedly much simpler. If cannabis was illegal in your state, you could safely assume that cannabinoids like THC and CBD were also prohibited.
With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, alongside continued innovations in cannabinoid extraction and the ever-evolving hemp-derived cannabinoid industry, the legal status of these cannabis compounds today often stands apart from whether a state has recreational cannabis laws.
THCa is one cannabinoid currently experiencing a boom in popularity. However, in states like Tennessee — where medical and recreational cannabis remains illegal — the conversation can still be complex, leaving many consumers wondering whether they can lawfully explore cannabinoids like THCa.
If you’re a Tennessee resident who’s wondering about your options surrounding THCa, or if you’re simply eager to learn more about the rising star in the cannabinoid world, we’ve got the answers you’re seeking!
- THCa is the non-psychoactive, acidic form of cannabis and can be found in hemp and cannabis plants.
- When exposed to heat, also known as decarboxylation, THCa becomes THC, which can get you high.
- Tennessee has allowed for hemp-derived cannabinoids. So long as it is derived from hemp containing no more than 0.3% THC, THCa is legal to purchase and use.
What is THCa?
Those who have shopped in legal recreational dispensaries may recall seeing “THCa” on testing labels, so THCa must be essentially the same as THC, right? Well, not quite.
THCa, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the acidic form of THC. On its own, THCa is non-psychoactive and will not get you high. However, when you expose THCa to heat, a process called decarboxylation, it converts to the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, which can get you high.
This is why cannabis flower with high amounts of THCa must be smoked or vaped if you want to experience the full effects of THC. Similarly, cannabis flower must be heated for some time before it’s used in edibles. This is the reason that simply eating a nug of flower would be a waste — the THCa is there, but as it hasn’t been decarboxylated, it won’t get you high.
This is the key difference between THCa and THC, but continued research on the cannabinoid is also finding that THCa may carry several of its own benefits as well. Both cannabinoids may help to treat nausea, and THCa could actually be a more promising solution in reducing inflammation.
Still, research on THCa and cannabinoids is limited, so we’re still uncovering the full potential of this cannabis compound.
Is THCa Legal in Tennessee?
Here’s where things get a little confusing.
As mentioned, cannabis is illegal in Tennessee for recreational and medical use, except for some cases where high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil is allowed for seizure patients. Tennessee follows the government’s laws on cannabis, meaning that THCa products can be purchased so long as they follow federal guidance.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), THCa is not a controlled substance on a federal level and is not included on any of the five scheduling categories. However, THCa coming from cannabis plants remains illegal, as cannabis is still considered a Schedule I substance federally.
In Tennessee specifically, the legislature enacted HB 1164 in 2017, which modified the state’s industrial hemp law allowing for hemp production with 0.3% THC or less. Senate Bill 279 followed, which confirmed the legality of hemp-derived products.
So, THCa and other cannabinoids are legal in the state, if they come from hemp instead of cannabis, but what exactly is the difference between hemp and cannabis?
THC Legality: Hemp vs. Cannabis
A few years back, the 2018 Farm Bill drastically changed the game for cannabinoids like CBD, THCa, and more, effectively authorizing the production of hemp and removing hemp, hemp seeds, and hemp-derived cannabinoids from the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances.
That means that, in Tennessee and a handful of other states where cannabis and cannabis-derived cannabinoids are illegal, consumers can still obtain those compounds so long as they are derived from hemp specifically.
The Farm Bill, and current federal law, clearly distinguishes cannabis and hemp plants, even though on the surface both plants are basically the same. The key distinction, clarified by the Farm Bill, is that hemp must contain no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Should a plant contain more than that amount, it is automatically considered cannabis, a controlled substance, and illegal under federal law.
Therefore, in states like Tennessee, it is indeed legal to buy and use cannabinoids like THCa, so long as they are derived from hemp containing less than 0.3% THC, not cannabis. While the burden surely shouldn’t be on the consumer to confirm the legality of products, it’s still important especially for those in states without legal cannabis laws to double check the legitimacy of their products and that they are indeed made from hemp, not cannabis.
Legitimate hemp-derived cannabis businesses and distributors should share transparent, third-party test results on their websites, so be sure to double-check this data to confirm the origins of cannabinoids like THCa before buying.
The Future of THCa in Tennessee
Even though hemp-derived THCa is legal in Tennessee, a new law signed by Gov. Bill Lee earlier this year will regulate delta-8 THC — another cannabinoid derived from hemp — so it is illegal to sell to anyone under the age of 21, along with specific tax requirements surrounding those products. The law also requires stores to move hemp-derived products behind the counter and to establish new product testing and packaging requirements.
THCa is still legal and accessible in the state, but this new law could add a legal hurdle for the cannabinoid, as many THCa products also contain delta-8.
The hemp-derived cannabinoid industry is still young, and especially in states that have yet to legalize medical or recreational cannabis, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse to understand how to legally obtain and use cannabinoids like THCa. Still, it’s an exciting time for many, as an abundance of hemp-derived cannabinoids are now available for adults to explore and integrate into their wellness routines.
Fortunately, Tennesseans don’t have to wait for recreational legalization to reap the benefits of cannabinoids like THCa!
Disclaimer: This article was last updated in September 2023 and reflects federal and state legal information as of this date. Cannabis laws in the U.S. are continually shifting; therefore, the information in this article is subject to change. The information in this article does not constitute legal advice, and no entity at EVN-CBD is claiming to provide legal advice. Please visit your official state website for more information on your state’s cannabis laws and regulations.
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Tennessee General Assembly Legislation. Wapp.capitol.tn.gov. https://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB1164&GA=110
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signs new law on delta-8 products. Here’s what it does. The Tennessean. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2023/05/23/delta-8-hemp-cannabinoid-marijuana-tennessee-law-regulation/70245331007/
United States Department of Agriculture. Farm Bill. Www.usda.gov. https://www.usda.gov/farmbill