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How Does THCA Differ from THC?

Jeff Yauck | June 17, 2024

Welcome back to the Premium Jane blog. What is the topic of discussion today? How does THCA differ from THC?

Depending on the avenue of discussion you take, this topic can be either very simple or very complex.

In this article, we’ll mainly follow the simple route. Later in the post, we’ll venture a little into the complex route and even touch on some basic organic chemistry.

But for now, let’s keep things as simple as possible.

Explaining THC and THCA

THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, and THCA stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. Both are compounds produced naturally by cannabis (hemp and marijuana) plants.

The only difference between THC and THCA is the existence of a carboxylic acid group on the THCA compound.

We can see the chemical difference between the two compounds when we look at the atomic formula for each.

The formula for THC is C21H30O2: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms.

The formula for THCA is C22H30O4: one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms more than THC.

The single extra carbon atom and two extra oxygen atoms make up what’s known in organic chemistry as a carboxylic acid ring.

One of the oxygen atoms is double-bonded to a carbon atom, while the other is paired with a hydrogen atom to form a hydroxyl group.

So, What Does This All Mean?

What does this all mean in a practical sense?

We’ll explain in the simplest possible way: THC gets you high, and THCA doesn’t.

Both THC and THCA belong to a class of chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Cannabis plants are the only plants on earth that produce these compounds naturally.

When a cannabis plant produces cannabinoids, it does so in the form of carboxylic acids. In other words, most of the THC, even in potent marijuana strains, exists in the form of THCA.

But since THCA doesn’t get you high, you’re probably wondering how you can get high from marijuana since most of the THC exists as THCA.

Allow us to explain.

It’s All About Decarboxylation

Remember earlier when we were talking about the carboxylic acid group in THCA? Think about that word: decarboxylation.

When THCA is decarboxylated, the carboxylic acid group is removed – leaving nothing but pure THC.

Decarboxylation occurs instantaneously with heat. In other words, when you put a lighter to cannabis that contains loads of THCA, the heat instantly transforms (decarboxylates) the THCA into THC.

Pretty simple, right?

This explains why you can get high from marijuana, even when the flower mostly contains THCA.

Can You Consume THCA Without Getting High?

The answer to this question is yes – easily.

As long as you don’t expose THCA to extreme heat and decarboxylate it, you can consume the compound as-is and experience its benefits without getting high. Some examples would be grinding up THCA flower and blending it into a smoothie, sprinkling it on top of salad or oatmeal, or even infusing it into cold-brew coffee.

More research needs to be done, but early studies suggest that THCA can help reduce pain, ease nausea, and lower inflammation.

THCA vs THC: Let’s Talk About Legality

While the chemical difference between THC and THCA lies in the form of a carboxylic acid group, there’s actually another key difference between the two compounds: legality.

We all know that THC (formally known as delta-9-THC) is illegal in many states. Hemp, on the other hand, is legal in all states thanks to a legislative bill known as the Hemp Farming Act.

The Act defines hemp as cannabis that contains less than 0.3% delta-9-THC. If a plant contains more than 0.3% THC, it is classified as marijuana. Marijuana, of course, is legal only in some US states.

At Premium Jane, our THCA flower comes from 100% organic, US-grown hemp. While THCA levels in our Blue Dream, OG Kush, and Purple Haze flower can reach up to 24%, THC levels are always under 0.3%.

However, thanks to the labyrinthine laws surrounding all things cannabis, we have to point out that the legality of THCA flower is not 100% clear in certain states.

So, please check your state’s rules surrounding the use of THCA flower before making a purchase. We’ll do everything we can on our end, and we’re constantly updating our site’s information on this score.

THCA vs THC: Almost the Same, But Hugely Different

By now, you should hopefully have a good understanding of how THC differs from THCA.

From a chemistry perspective, the only difference between the two is that THCA has a carboxylic acid ring attached to it – meaning it has a single extra carbon atom and two extra oxygen atoms. In other words, the difference between THC and THCA is three individual atoms.

Pretty crazy, right?

The other key difference is legality. At present, THCA derived from hemp is not considered a federally controlled substance, whereas THC is.

Want to try one of our iconic THCA flower strains yourself?

Shop our exclusive online collection now and choose from Blue Dream, OG Kush, and Purple Haze.


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