THC vs. THCA: What's the Difference?

THC vs. THCA: What's the Difference?

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Within the hemp space, there always seems to be a "new" rising cannabinoid that gains the attention of enthusiasts. Most of us are familiar with tetrahydrocannabinol, normally called "THC" or sometimes "delta-9." It's the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis that delivers the plant's most active effects.
But what is this "THCA" everyone is talking about, and how does it compare to THC? Read on as we explore everything you need to know about THC vs. THCA in plain, simple English.  

What is THCA?

THCA flower buds macro

THCA stands for "tetrahydrocannabinolic acid." Quite the mouthful, right? But, in essence, the easiest way to understand THCA is that it's the precursor, or the "raw form," of THCOn a molecular level, THCA contains 22 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and four oxygen atoms. When exposed to heat, the carboxyl group on THCA will separate and as a result, THCA will turn it into THC. This process is known as decarboxylation. 

THCA is a naturally occurring cannabinoid, a compound found in cannabis plants. THCA can specifically be found in raw cannabis, both hemp and marijuana. The terms "hemp" and "marijuana" have no basis in science but are rather legal terms used by both the federal government and state governments. 

Hemp is merely cannabis with a 0.3% or lower concentration of delta-9 THC; marijuana contains any concentration higher than this. So when you stumble upon a product like "27% THCA hemp flower," it's abundant in THCA, but the actual delta-9 THC level is at or below 0.3% by dry weight; therefore, it's federally legal hemp

What is THC?

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most active compound offered by the cannabis species. THC contains 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms per molecule. When most people use the term "THC," they are usually referring to a cannabinoid with the full name of "delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol." Though this is accurate in most instances, there are other variants of THC out there, such as delta-8, delta-10, and others.
As mentioned earlier, the concentration of delta-9 THC is the only factor separating hemp and marijuana. Hemp plants contain a small amount of delta-9 THC compared to marijuana; however, you can have legal hemp-derived delta-9 products such as delta-9 edibles so long as the concentration is at or below the compliant amount on a dry weight basis.

THCA vs. THC Differences

What are the main differences between THC and THCA? For starters, they are separate cannabinoids with their distinct molecular compositions and structures. For example, delta-8, delta-9, and even CBD are isomers, meaning these cannabinoids are "built" out of the same building blocks, but in different chemical structures. THCA is not an isomer of these cannabinoids because it contains more hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. 

In a legal sense, they differ because, according to the 2018 Farm Bill, Uncle Sam only cares about the concentration of delta-9 THC, not THCA, when it comes to distinguishing between what is hemp (federally legal) and marijuana (a controlled substance). One of the main benefits of THCA flower is that it offers inhalable delta-9 THC while still being Farm Bill compliant. 

They are closely related because THCA does eventually convert to THC when heated. In other words, THC is the chicken, and THCA is the egg. 

THCA vs. THC Effects

THC will bind to CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system to produce the following effects: 
  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Laughter
  • Sleepiness
  • Fascination
  • Creativity
These aren't all the effects, and effects can differ based on your unique endocannabinoid system, but you get the point. But what are the effects of THCA? None unless you decarboxylate it, but when you do that, it's no longer THCA but rather THC. 

When you consume a delta-9 edible, it's not actually delta-9 causing the effects you experience afterward. Your body converts the delta-9 into 11-hydroxy-THC, which offers more pronounced effects for a longer duration but at the cost of a slower onset. 

Conversely, when you smoke THCA hemp flower or vape THCA liquid diamonds, the THCA converts to delta-9 THC, which undergoes no conversion process after decarboxylation, offering a faster onset with lighter effects lasting a shorter duration

For example, let's say you decided to eat a handful of THCA flower out of the bag. First of all, that would be a waste of good flower. Second of all, that would taste gross and grassy. And finally, you wouldn't feel anything at all (except, hopefully, a little shame), although research suggests that THCA has a minute binding affinity for CB1 receptors and CB2 in the endocannabinoid system

Again, we cannot state enough that THCA is merely the precursor to THC, which converts to THC when heated. Discussing the "effects" of THCA vs. THC is pretty irrelevant. 

THCA vs. THC: Which is Stronger?

macro of a thca flower bud

For starters, anyone who tries to tell you that "THC is stronger than THCA" should have their cannabis connoisseur badge dumped into the nearest trash receptacle. Comparing them in this way does not make any sense whatsoever because THCA decarboxylates into THC.

If you do consume an inhalable THCA product, such as a 5g THCA liquid diamond disposable or high THCA flower, you are essentially feeling the effects of THC. If, for some reason, you see an edible cannabis product that a vendor has labeled as containing THCA, you are straight-up getting ripped off. 


THCA is the precursor to THC, the popular cannabinoid known for its effects such as laughter, relaxation, euphoria, and sleepiness. Comparing the two regarding effects doesn't make sense because you would only feel something if you consumed THC, not THCA. THCA needs to be decarboxylated with heat to become THC, and in that case, you would feel the effects of THC. In other words, you need heat to convert THCA into THC. 

The most crucial difference is that they are two separate molecules, not even isomers. With that in mind, because THCA is different from delta-9 THC, you can have higher concentrations of it as long as the delta-9 THC is at or below 0.3% by dry weight, which makes it a federally legal product. 

Until next time, happy exploring and Mind Your Mind.

FDA Disclaimer: The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.

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