THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on April 15, 2024
7 min read

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is a type of chemical called a cannabinoid in the cannabis plant that may have potential medicinal use. It's also popular because you can heat it to change it into another type of cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or delta-9 THC.

Marijuana and hemp are two types of cannabis plants that are a part of the same species. THCA is found in the flowers of the cannabis plant. There’s usually more THCA in fresh cannabis plants, especially in raw cannabis buds, compared to dried plants.

There’s a lot of buzz around THCA because people use it to get high. You can get THCA from buying hemp, which isn’t under the same controls as marijuana. Then, after heating it up, you can convert it into THC and get high. People use this method if they can’t access marijuana or if it’s illegal where they live. 

The difference between marijuana and hemp is how much THC they contain. Hemp is defined as having less than 0.3% of THC while marijuana contains more. Hemp doesn’t have enough THC to cause a high, but it does contain THC.

The health benefits and risks tied to THCA aren’t fully understood, at least when it comes to published medical research. A few studies have explored THCA from a medical standpoint. While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of THCA on the body, it may be a promising area of study for future medical treatments.

THCA and THC are different cannabinoids. One can get you high and the other can’t. 

When THCA is heated, smoked, or vaped, it turns into THC. THC is the main ingredient in cannabis that can give you that high, euphoric feeling. 

THCA vs. Delta-8

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8 THC) is a cannabinoid in the cannabis plant just like THCA. There aren’t large amounts of it in the cannabis plant. But it’s still THC, so it can get you high.

Delta-8 is typically made from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD)—a chemical that doesn't contain THC. Delta-8 is often thought of as an herbal extract of hemp. When delta-8 is labeled as being from hemp, you may not think it can make you feel high, but it can. Most people say delta-8 and delta-9 produce a similar high. THCA alone can’t make you feel high.

THCA vs. Delta-9

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC), also referred to as THC, is the leading psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, which means it can make you feel high. It’s a cannabinoid that’s stronger than Delta-8. There’s more delta-9 in the plant compared to delta-8.

THCA comes in different forms: 

  • The actual flower of the plant
  • A patch
  • Diamond crystals 

It’s also popular in edible forms, like gummies. You can also eat the buds raw.

THCA flower

Cannabis flowers or buds, which contain THCA, are another way to get THCA. You can vape or smoke the THCA flower. When THCA is marketed in flower form, it can be sold as hemp if the buds meet the 0.3% THCA federal limit. Some people eat the flower for medicinal purposes.

THCA patch

THCA can be put into a patch that you stick on your skin. The patch delivers a consistent amount of THCA into your bloodstream, potentially without making you feel high. This is similar to the way a nicotine patch gives you small amounts of nicotine. 

THCA diamonds

TCHA diamonds are THCA in tiny crystals or white powder. To make it, you extract THCA from cannabis and then add heat and pressure to form crystals called diamonds. The crystals are commonly added to marijuana to raise the THC levels for a greater high. Some people like this because getting THCA in diamond form makes their marijuana last longer.

Crystalline THCA, or diamonds, is the most common form of THCA used for dabbing, which involves inhaling the fumes. In addition to vaping, dabbing can change THCA into THC. 

If you were to extract THCA and consume it, it may have therapeutic effects helpful for pain relief for nausea. It won’t make you feel high though.

If you smoke or vaporize THCA, it instantly changes into THC, which can produce a high.

There’s a natural way that THCA can be turned into THC. Over time, if a cannabis plant spends too much time in the sun, the heat and oxygen will change the THCA molecules into THC.

Regardless of whether you consume THCA or THC, both can have effects on your body.

THCA doesn’t make you feel high or cause intoxication the way marijuana can. But if you eat THCA raw, or take an edible that contains it, traces of it may show up on a drug test.

Consuming or using THCA can lead to unpleasant side effects like feeling nauseous or having an upset stomach. THCA can cause itching and rashes on your skin or lead to respiratory symptoms. It can also interact with prescription medications, which could be serious.

There are side effects if you convert THCA into THC, too. If you heat, cook, or vape THCA, it produces THC and that can have other side effects similar to consuming marijuana. These side effects can include:

  • Feeling relaxed or euphoric (high)
  • Change of perception
  • Memory and cognition problems
  • Dry mouth and feeling thirsty
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Higher heart rate
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Reduced mobility

If you use THC consistently, you may experience long-lasting side effects. This is especially true for people who use THC a lot during their teenage years. 

Some people become addicted to THC and have a hard time if they try to stop taking it. 

Another long-term side effect includes respiratory related issues if you smoke or heat up the THCA. After all, smoking any chemical can impact your lung health. This can lead to chronic bronchitis and/or other respiratory issues. Using high-potency THC, especially heavily, has been linked to an increase in mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Yes. THCA is getting more popular because it’s legal and accessible in most states in the U.S. THCA is legal as long as the cannabis contains less than 0.3% of it. State laws can vary.

Marijuana is regulated by the federal government as a controlled substance, but hemp isn’t. While hemp isn’t federally regulated as a controlled substance, it can be changed to produce the same THC in marijuana. This can cause a legal loophole in areas where marijuana is illegal because you can buy THCA and alter it to get high the way you would with marijuana.

Some research done on animals shows that THCA has anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, and anti-seizure effects.

A recent study on mice showed that it had neuroprotective effects (it protects nerve cells against damage) in lowering the proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Mice treated with THCA had better cognitive function, too. Other research shows it may improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome or help with weight loss. 

Since most studies were done in animals, more research in humans is needed in order for doctors to use THCA treatment for medical purposes.

In addition to the side effects, there are risks with using THCA. If you buy it as a raw food supplement in capsule form, a label would be able to prove the substance is, in fact, THCA. But if it’s unregulated (not controlled by laws), you can’t be sure about what’s in it. Dangers can arise from unregulated products.

There are also concerns about potential contamination. This is because changing the plant can involve other chemicals that may be harmful. 

It’s also tough to tell how potent the levels of THCA may be in one plant compared to another. That can make it difficult to tell exactly how much THCA you’re getting. This means that you may not have the same results every time you take it. 

Proper THCA labeling is also a risk that can make it hard to purchase a quality product. A 2022 report evaluated 53 samples of hemp and found that 49 of them fit into the marijuana category. This means that they had higher amounts of THCA, which isn’t allowed to be sold as hemp.

In addition to doing what you can to use THCA safely, if you choose to take it, make sure it’s stored safely so children can’t access it.

While the specific acid, THCA, can’t get you high if you consume it, it may have some medical benefits like easing pain, nausea, or reducing inflammation. When THCA is heated or smoked, however, the THCA changes into THC that can make you feel high and alter your perception and behavior. 

People looking for THCA products can find them online. THCA is available in flower or crystal form, as well as in edible forms and patches. Some people eat the buds raw.

Depending on where you live and the laws there, you may be able to legally purchase hemp and modify it to create THC.

Is Delta-9 stronger than THCA?

Yes, it’s stronger. Delta-9 is the same thing as THC. THCA in its pure form doesn’t include THC.

Does THCA turn into Delta-9?

When heated, THCA turns into Delta-9 THC, which is the same thing as THC.

Is THCA natural or synthetic?

THCA is found naturally in the cannabis plant.

Can THCA be addictive?

When people abuse marijuana and cannabis products, it can lead to marijuana use disorder. If you are getting THC from THCA, you’re consuming the same cannabinoid in marijuana. There aren’t approved medications for marijuana use disorder specifically. But treatment might involve therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational enhancement therapy.