Ever tried eating or juicing raw cannabis?
If so, you may have noticed something interesting: it probably tasted pretty spicy, and it certainly didn’t get you high.
If you were to have smoked the same amount of raw cannabis, on the other hand, it would’ve definitely done something to your mental state.
What explains this distinction? The fact that raw cannabis contains THCa, not THC!
Think of THCa as basically the first form of THC that shows up in cannabis or hemp — it’s the precursor to delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, delta-10 THC, and more. In this guide we’ll be covering everything you need to know about THCa, so keep reading to learn more.
- What is THCa?
- How is THCa made?
- THCa’s top health benefits
- How to infuse THCa’s benefits in your wellness routine
- What about CBDa?
What is THCa?
THCa is the ‘raw’ form of regular THC. You might be surprised to hear that cannabis buds contain virtually no regular THC. Nope — they contain THCa, like we mentioned in that example up above. This THCa must be converted by light or by heat into fully active THC. 
THCa products are pretty rare, and in 2022 THCa is still less popular than CBD, THC, delta-8 THC, and others. Unless you’re growing a field of hemp or cannabis in your backyard, you might have a tough time getting your hands on it! THCa may be less well-known than THC, CBD, or even CBG…but it still has a wide variety of distinctive health benefits.
How is THCa made?
The cannabis plant produces different phytochemical goodies at each stage of its development.
A very young cannabis seedling produces almost no cannabinoids — it’s actually rich in something called olivetolic acid instead. This healthy fatty acid gets converted into cannabinoids later
The very first cannabinoid to show up in cannabis (and hemp) is called CBGa. CBGa is the raw form of CBG, the so-called ‘mother cannabinoid’ that creates all others.
After CBGa levels have risen enough, it gets converted into THCa by specialized enzymatic reactions.  This is a slow process where THCa levels rise while CBGa levels slowly fall back down. A cannabis plant that’s just been harvested will have high levels of THCa, moderate levels of CBDa, and low levels of CBD and THC.
THCa gets converted to THC later on — when the user ignites it. This conversion process is called decarboxylation. 
That’s true for smokeable cannabis products, at least. Edible cannabis products have their THCa content already converted to THC, since they aren’t ignited or heated before being enjoyed. Also keep in mind that a growing number of edible cannabis products are intentionally featuring THCa — after all, this raw cannabinoid does have plenty of health benefits. More on those next.
THCa’s top health benefits
THCa’s effects couldn’t be much farther apart from ‘regular’ THC’s. Unlike its decarboxylated sibling, THCa is non-psychoactive. That means it won’t get you high, cause deep relaxation, or trigger a case of the munchies. The THCa molecule is slightly bigger than the normal THC molecule is, which means it can’t quite pass through your brain’s outer barrier to exert its effects.
But THCa is still powerful. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that it may be:
Let’s look at some of these highlights one by one.
THCa may reduce inflammation at its source by inhibiting the very enzymes that convert dietary fat into inflammatory byproducts. In other words, THCa may prevent the omega-6 fats you eat from going down the inflammatory pathway and causing chronic pain. (Even better to just not eat these fats, of course!) 
THCa may not get absorbed directly into the brain, but don’t think it’s not powerful! It’s actually quite powerful — powerful enough to protect the brain from certain types of neurological stress.
One study from 2017 found that THCa activated ‘nuclear receptors’ more directly than THC. This same study also found that raw cannabinoids were better at this type of neuroprotection than decarbed cannabinoids. “Cannabinoid acids bind and activate PPARγ with higher potency than their decarboxylated products,” study authors explained. “Δ9 -THCA, through a PPARγ-dependent pathway, was neuroprotective in mice treated with 3-NPA […].” 
While some groups think of serotonin as the ‘feel-good chemical,’ the truth is much more nuanced. Too much serotonin is not a good thing, nor will it make you feel good for long!
Why are we mentioning this? Because THCa’s anti-emetic/anti-nausea properties are a direct result of its ability to lower serotonin.
According to one study, THCa is better at reducing feelings of nausea than regular THC is. And regular THC, in turn, is even better at this than most pharma-based anti-emetics! 
Other health benefits
THCa may also be especially helpful for those with seizures and other neurotransmission-related problems, especially if it’s combined with other raw cannabinoids like CBDa. THCa is also known to be good for gut health. Some ancient cultures used it to ward off parasites — something that’s still important today.
How to infuse THCa’s benefits in your wellness routine
All in all, THCa is one of the most unique cannabinoids of all! If you have a crop of cannabis growing in your backyard, feel free to partake of some of it now — and if you don’t, consider finding a trusted online source. Local dispensaries and alternative health centers may also carry THCa products.
What about CBDa?
If THCa is so good for me, you might be thinking, then what about CBDa? Are ALL raw cannabinoids as health-promoting as THCa is?
Hey, these are good questions.
CBDa is to CBD what THCa is to THC: its natural, raw, non-decarbed form. Just like THCa is the primary compound found in mature cannabis plants, CBDa is the primary compound found in mature hemp! CBDa only turns into CBD when it’s exposed to light, heat, or some combination of the 2.
How is CBDa made?
A young hemp plant starts off much like the young cannabis plant we mentioned earlier. It doesn’t contain much THC or CBD — nope, it’s rich in olivetolic acid instead. This olivetolic acid eventually gets converted into CBGa, the mother cannabinoid.
This CBGa can be converted along any one of three different metabolic pathways:
- Most hemp plants convert it to CBDa (cannabidiolic acid)
- Some hemp plants convert it to CBCa (cannabichromenic acid)
- Most cannabis plants convert it to THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
While most CBD products feature CBD in their decarboxylated form, ‘raw’ CBDa products are also starting to get more popular. Why? Because CBDa also has plenty of health benefits.
One of CBDa’s biggest benefits is its ability to silence inflammation. Chronic inflammation drives virtually every chronic disease, so CBDa’s anti-inflammatory properties give it a wide variety of downstream health benefits.
Like THCa, CBDa seems to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the COX-2 enzymes that turn dietary fat into inflammatory molecules. This results in a resetting of your body’s inflammation levels that should help you get back to feeling normal. 
Summing things up
Cannabis is more than just THC — and hemp is more than just CBD! Raw cannabinoids like THCa and CBDa provide a perfect picture of just how holistically cannabis works. Try some THCa for yourself if you haven’t already. While it won’t get you high, it might just work behind the scenes to supercharge your overall health and wellness.