Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is one of the many cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. THCA is the non-psychoactive precursor of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary compound responsible for the high feeling associated with cannabis use.
Most of us associate cannabis with its psychoactive effects, but it's essential to understand that those effects aren't directly caused by the plant's raw form. When cannabis is freshly harvested and remains unheated, it contains little to no THC. Instead, it contains THCA, which needs to undergo a process called decarboxylation (typically through heat) to convert it into THC. Let's learn more.
Is THCA legal in the UK?
THCA is legal in the UK. This is because it is not psychoactive in its raw state, unlike its decarboxylated version, THC, which is listed as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. However, it's crucial to check for updates on regulations, as cannabis laws can change.
The Home Office have previous said: "THCA as an isolated substance, in its pure form, would not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. It is readily converted to THC, which is a controlled substance. So a substance containing THC-a could well become controlled by virtue of active or passive conversion or synthesis, including within the body if ingested."
|Cannabinoid||Psychoactive||Legality in the UK|
United States: In the U.S, THCA is not scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, because it can be converted into THC, it may fall under a legal grey area. The legal status of THCA also varies on a state-by-state basis, as different states have different laws regarding cannabis and its derivatives.
Canada: With the passage of the Cannabis Act in 2018, cannabis and its derivatives, including THCA, are legal in Canada, provided they are purchased from a licensed vendor. Home cultivation of cannabis is also legal, with certain restrictions.
European Union: The EU does not have a unified stance on the legality of THCA. Instead, it is largely up to individual member states to regulate. For instance, countries like the Netherlands have a more liberal stance, where small amounts of cannabis and its derivatives are tolerated. Meanwhile, in other countries such as France, laws surrounding cannabis and its compounds are stringent.
Australia: Cannabis and its compounds, including THCA, are considered controlled substances under the Australian Poisons Standard. However, changes to legislation in recent years have allowed for the medical use of cannabis and its derivatives under strict regulations.
South Africa: In 2018, South Africa decriminalized the use and cultivation of cannabis in private spaces, thereby implicitly decriminalizing compounds such as THCA. However, the sale of cannabis and its compounds remains illegal.
Latin America: Countries in Latin America have a range of stances on cannabis legality. For instance, Uruguay has fully legalized cannabis, including all its compounds. However, in most other countries in the region, cannabis and its compounds are generally illegal or heavily regulated.
Why is THCA hard to find? Why can't I buy it?
Although it is legal in the UK, THCA isn't often for sale like other cannabinoids like CBD, CBC and CBG. There are a few reasons why:
Stability: THCA is not as stable as CBD. When exposed to heat or sunlight, it easily converts into THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. This transformation process, known as decarboxylation, can happen over time or when the plant material is heated, making the handling and storage of THCA complicated. Because something as simple as heat can turn (legal) THCA in (illegal) THC, people and businesses understandably don't want to take the risk.
Legal Status: Although legal in the UK, THCA is a regulated substance in many jurisdictions. This can make importing THCA very complicated and difficult.
Demand: The demand for THCA is lower than demand for CBD. CBD is widely recognised for its potential therapeutic benefits without psychoactive effects, which has driven a strong market demand. It is easily stored and transported, making it more attractive to people and businesses.
Is THCA flower legal?
THCA buds and flowers are illegal in the UK.
This may appear paradoxical given that THCA itself is not expressly prohibited. But what is THCa? It's the natural precursor to THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. However, the legal issue lies in the nature of the THCA flower or bud as they are classified as "restricted components of the hemp plant" under British legislation.
The legal foundation for this is found in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Even if these buds or flowers are derived from specially cultivated strains of cannabis with low THC content, they remain illegal. This is because the Act defines cannabis as: “any plant of the genus Cannabis or any part of any such plant (by whatever name designated) except that it does not include cannabis resin or any of the following products after separation from the rest of the plant, namely—mature stalk of any such plant, fibre produced from mature stalk of any such plant, and seed of any such plant.” This means, no matter how you define THCa, its legal standing in the UK remains complex due to the nature of the plant it originates from.
Are THCA extracts & concentrates legal?
THCA extracts & concentrates are broadly regarded as legal in the UK.
While the possession, distribution, and cultivation of THCA buds and flowers are deemed illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, due to their classification as "restricted components of the hemp plant," THCA extracts and concentrates enjoy a different status. But what is THCa in these different forms?
THCA, when in extracts and concentrates, is removed and isolated from the cannabis plant's flower. These may be legally compliant under specific circumstances, thanks to the unique way in which the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is worded. The Act's language specifically prohibits the cannabis plant and its parts, but it does not explicitly mention the individual compounds isolated and extracted from the plant, such as THCA.
Thus, once THCA is separated from the cannabis flower via a process like extraction or concentration, it may bypass the legislation's limitations. However, it's essential to note that the process of extracting THCA itself must not involve illegal activities such as cultivating or possessing cannabis flowers. Therefore, legality is tied not just to the final product, but also to the process by which it was obtained. So, in asking "what is THCa?" we must also consider its legal context, from cultivation to final product.
Is THCA similar to Delta-9 or Delta-8?
THCA is the acidic precursor to Delta-9 THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. As the cannabis plant matures, it initially produces THCA, which then converts into Delta-9 THC when exposed to heat, a process known as decarboxylation.
Delta-8 THC, on the other hand, is an analogue of Delta-9 THC, meaning it has a similar structure but with some notable differences. It is typically derived from hemp or CBD and requires a chemical conversion process. It's important to note that Delta-8 also exhibits psychoactive effects, although typically less potent than those of Delta-9 THC.
So while THCA is connected to both Delta-9 and Delta-8 THC in terms of their biological pathways, it's distinct from them. Unlike both forms of THC, THCA itself is non-intoxicating.
THC vs THCA
When we address the question, "What is THCa?" the main distinguishing factor between THCa and THC comes into play - the intoxicating effects.
While THC can induce such effects, THCa cannot. To convert THCa into THC, a heat-related process called decarboxylation is essential. This can happen via smoking, vaping, dabbing, or cooking for edibles production. The process alters THCa's molecular structure, removing a carboxyl ring, thus enabling THC to bind to CB1 receptors in the human body.
This brings us to an interesting debate: are higher levels of THCa or THC preferable in consumables like edibles or vapes? It might seem instinctive to opt for high THC content. However, directly applying heat to THC might degrade some of the cannabinoid content into CBN, leading to a potentially less potent experience than expected.
In contrast, a high THCa content may offer more potency, as it will convert into THC when heated and consumed. This is particularly relevant when considering products like flower, vape cartridges, or concentrates, all of which require decarboxylation or heat activation to produce an effect. So when we ponder "What is THCa?" it's also vital to consider how it can enhance the cannabis experience.
What does THCA do?
Research into THCA and its potential applications is still in the early stages, but initial studies and anecdotal evidence suggest some promising therapeutic benefits.
Anti-Inflammatory: Some studies suggest THCA could have potent anti-inflammatory properties, making it potentially useful for conditions like arthritis and lupus.
Neuroprotective: Preliminary research indicates THCA might provide neuroprotective benefits, making it a potential therapeutic candidate for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Antiemetic: There's some evidence to suggest that THCA might have anti-nausea and anti-vomiting effects, making it a possible aid for those undergoing treatments that suppress apitite.
Since THCA is non-psychoactive, it doesn't induce the euphoria or 'high' associated with THC. Most of the effects associated with THCA are tied to its potential therapeutic benefits. However, it's important to note that most of these potential benefits are based on preliminary studies and anecdotal evidence.
Although THCA is generally considered safe and non-intoxicating, it's always recommended to consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or if you are taking other medications.
As laws and attitudes around cannabis continue to evolve, it is hoped that more robust, clinical studies will be conducted to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of THCA and other cannabinoids. THCA's unique properties are part of the wider entourage effect theory, which postulates that all the natural compounds in cannabis — cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids — work together synergistically to produce the plant’s overall effect. This is why whole-plant cannabis extracts are often more beneficial than isolated compounds.
Decarboxylation of THCa
Please note that decarboxylation of THCa is illegal in the UK, as it has a very high likelihood of producing illegal cannabinoids. Information here is presented for educational purposes only; allowing businesses and individuals to minimise their risks when handling and working with legal cannabinoids.
Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that releases a carboxyl group from a molecule, with carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product. Specifically, decarboxylation of THCa is a heat-triggered transformation, resulting in psychoactive THC. Decarboxylation is a versatile process, with a range of methods, each suited to different end applications:
Smoking and vaping, for example, are traditional means of decarboxylation. The flame or vaporiser's heat instantly transforms THCA into THC, allowing the user to experience the psychoactive effects immediately.
For those who use THCa in a culinary context, baking or cooking provides a means of decarboxylation, usually involving the THCa or hemp being ground into a fine powder, spread onto a baking sheet, and heated at a low temperature over an extended period.
For those seeking precision and convenience, specialised decarboxylation devices often provide an optimal solution, offering accurate temperature controls features to ensure maximum efficacy without compromising the product's quality.
Very importantly, THCA doesn't strictly require a strong external heat source for decarboxylation to take place. Under normal room temperature conditions, it can gradually decarboxylate into THC on its own, albeit slowly.
To slow this process and stop THCa decarbing, it must be stored and transported with careful consideration of:
- Storage Temperature: Keep the THCa in a cool environment. Decarboxylation is slowed vastly at lower temperatures.
- Avoid Light Exposure: Store THCa in a dark place, as light can stimulate the decarboxylation process.
- Airtight Packaging: Store the THCa in a vacuum-sealed or airtight container to minimise exposure to oxygen, which can accelerate decarboxylation.
- Control Humidity: Utilise humidity control packs in your THCa storage to maintain a consistent, optimal humidity level, which can help to slow down the decarboxylation process.
- Freshness: The fresher the plant material, the less THCA will have converted into THC; even before storage and transportation.
It's important to reiterate that failing to maintain any of these steps can result in significant conversion to THC in a matter of weeks. While THCa is legal, it requires significant care and management to keep it that way.
In summary, THCA is a fascinating compound that may offer numerous health benefits. It represents just a fraction of the potential that cannabis and its many compounds have to offer. As our understanding of these compounds continues to grow, so too does the potential for developing new therapies that can benefit a wide array of individuals and conditions.