Have you ever wondered why you have to smoke or heat cannabis to experience psychoactive effects? Most cannabis consumers are already aware that the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in the plant is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
However, THC is not found in fresh cannabis. Fresh cannabis refers to raw cannabis that has not been dried, cured, or heated. If THC is present, it is only in very small amounts. Instead, the cannabinoid exists tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). But, what is THCA? And what’s the value in consuming raw cannabis, anyway?
What is Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)?
THCA is a non-psychoactive precursor to THC. Unlike THC, THCA will not cause a euphoric “high”. Rather, THCA can ease pain, soothe an upset stomach, and is safe to use by pretty much anyone. If you make a juice out of raw cannabis leaves and buds, you’ve successfully made hemp juice.
Age and heat break down THCA into THC. This happens through a process called decarboxylation. During decarboxylation, the THCA molecule is transformed. It loses what is called a carboxyl group, which gives the cannabinoid its acid structure. Some of this acid is also lost when fresh cannabis is cut, dried, and cured.
Are there health benefits to THCA?
Between the two compounds, THC is often referred to as the most “active”. However, THCA has some serious nutritional and therapeutic potential on its own. In fact, many medical cannabis patients incorporate raw cannabis into their overall treatment plan. While most cannabis research focuses on the cannabinoid’s psychoactive offspring, here are five potential health benefits of THCA:
1. Nausea and vomiting
Rodent research published by the British Journal of Pharmacology suggests that THCA can reduce nausea and vomiting. In the study, gave THCA to rodents who showed nausea behaviors as well as to shrews who were given a substance to induce vomiting.
Some test subjects were also treated with a low dose of THC by comparison. THCA successfully eased vomiting and reduce gapping, which is how rats show signs of nausea. The raw THCA was more successful than the low-dose THC. The rodents did not show signs of cannabis intoxication.
Many of the best medicines come from plants. One of the most common over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin, was actually derived from white willow bark. Interestingly enough, the cannabis plant seems to work in a very similar way.
A 2011 study found that THCA blocks two particular enzymes from manufacturing pro-inflammatory compounds. Those enzymes are COX-1 and COX-2. Both of these enzymes are also targets of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), like aspirin.
As it turns out, brain health may be another great reason to include some raw cannabis into your daily diet. In a 2012 study, THCA treatment successfully reduced disease progression in experimental models of Parkinson’s Disease.
The research was performed in rodent cultures and scientists treated cells with a positively charged compound that weakens the ability to respond to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when the body cannot successfully subdue or repair the damage from free radicals.
In this experiment, THCA successfully reduced damage to neurons. In Parkinson’s disease, brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine begin to die. As a potent antioxidant, THCA neutralizes the damage from positively charged neurotoxins.
Green juice and smoothies are extremely popular among those seeking a natural remedy for arthritis. Green juices contain a wealth of micronutrients, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory terpenes and vitamins.
In a way, you can think of THCA as the raw cannabinoid for pain. Early evidence suggests that raw cannabis may be a helpful analgesic. While the effects of cannabis juice might not be as noticeable as the psychoactive stuff, there may be some benefit to supplementing with raw THCA.
A 2008 cell line study found that both THC and THCA engaged a cell receptor that is currently a target for pain research. The receptor is TRPA1 and it is suspected to play a role in inflammatory, neuropathic, and migraine pain. This is yet more evidence that raw cannabis is good for you.
Cancer patients tend to need all of the nutrients they can get. Now, preclinical investigations suggest that raw cannabis may have some anti-cancer potential. The research was published in 2013 and suggests that THCA may have some anti-proliferative effects.
The research was conducted in laboratory models of prostate cancer. THCA was not the strongest anti-cancer compound. Rather, cannabidiol (CBD) showed the most significant effects. Still, this small study provides cause for further investigation into the preventative uses for raw cannabis.
How do you consume THCA?
THCA is a dietary supplement. Unlike other cannabis products, this compound does not provide any sort of psychoactive high. Instead, it can soothe a nauseous stomach and eases pain through nutrition. For those hoping to add a little THCA into their diet, here are three ways to get your daily dose of THCA:
1. Juicing and smoothies
Popularized by Dr. William Courtney, raw cannabis juices and smoothies are an excellent addition to a daily diet. Cannabis juices can be made out of leftover fan leaves, yet the beverage will be more potent if made from raw cannabis bud. Opting for a blender over a juicer might prevent some of the potency from being lost in the pulp.
2. Raw cannabis oil
Some cannabis extractors use special technology to manufacture raw cannabis oils. These raw oils are typically sold in an oral syringe or capsules. These oils can be consumed as is, like a dietary supplement, or can be heated to activate the cannabinoids.
One of the major benefits of going raw is that you can take a very high dose of THCA without any psychoactive effects. With psychoactive cannabis, your dose is limited by your ability to tolerate the THC “high.”
3. Culinary applications
To get the most THCA, raw cannabis should be kept fresh. Leaves can be stored in the refrigerator just like any other leafy green herb. Fan leaves and snips of fresh bud can be thrown into a food processor for herbal salad dressings. Clippings can also be eaten like salad itself.
Though heat may break down some THCA, lightly steaming raw cannabis fan leaves or bud is unlikely to fully activate the bud. To get a significant psychoactive experience from edible cannabis, the cannabis not only needs to be heated but cooked with some fat.
This post was originally published on June 25, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.