THCa vs THC - What is the difference

THCa vs. THC: What is the Difference?

The minor cannabinoid market has quickly expanded, from just CBD, to CBN, to delta 8, to THCa, delta 9, and beyond. For consumers, it’s easy to become confused by the minor differences, especially when it comes to THCa vs. THC. 

THCa flower is a THCa product that’s also quickly rising in popularity across the US. Upon first glance, the THCa flower looks just like any other hemp or cannabis bud. So, as a consumer, what is the difference between THCa and THC?

We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to answer that question! Keep reading to learn:

Table of Contents


To start, let’s get into the basics of THCa vs. THC. First and foremost, both are compounds that hemp and cannabis plants naturally produce. Upon consumption, they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for maintaining “homeostasis,” or the overall state of feeling “well.”. 

That’s how they’re similar, yet there are four distinct ways THCa vs. THC differ. Let’s break down those next. 

THCa vs THC - What is the difference. Chemical composition and psychoactivity differences.
THCa vs THC - What is the difference. legalities and activation method differences.

Chemical Composition 

THCa contains a carboxylic acid group, making it the acidic form of THC, therefore distinguishing the two by chemical composition. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is technically the precursor to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and the carboxylic acid group falls off upon heat exposure (like applying a flame). 


THC is the cannabinoid that’s associated with hemp or cannabis’ psychoactive, or euphoric, effects, that’s the primary drive behind recreational legalization. THCa, however, in its raw form (prior to heat exposure), does not produce psychoactive effects. Alone, it does offer consumers potential benefits like reducing inflammation, and neuroprotective effects. 


Today, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, THCa and delta 9 THC are legal and widely available as byproducts of hemp extraction. This bill allows products with THCa and less than .3% THC to be sold in any state that hasn’t explicitly enacted any legislation banning the use or sale. 

The big difference is that products with more than .3% THC are  individually legalized for medical and adult-use in the majority of US states. 

Activation Method

THCa, without being converted to THC, has no psychoactive effects. So, if you’re consuming THCa to achieve a high associated with THC, it must be exposed to heat.

THCa vs. THC: How to Consume

Speaking of consumption, next we’ll cover all the common ways to consume THCa and THC.

THCa vs THC - What is the difference. How to consume inhaling and orally.
THCa vs THC - What is the difference. How to consume sublingually and topically.


The number one way of consuming THCa and THC is by vaporizing or smoking products like THCa flower, vape carts, pre-rolls, etc. This method offers consumers fast acting effects, but it isn’t for everyone due to its potential harm to the lungs. When inhaling THCa and THC, the “buzz” will last anywhere from 45 minutes – 2 hours. 


Another common way to consume THCa and THC is through edibles, like gummies, chocolates, and beyond. Because THCa and THC are then metabolized by the digestive system, it’ll take effects anywhere from 45 minutes – 1.5 hours to kick in. However, this also means effects last longer, anywhere from 4-6 hours. 


THCa and THC oils are also available for consumption sublingually. This means holding the liquid under your tongue for absorption directly into the sublingual artery or bloodstream. Sublingual consumption offers fast-acting effects (immediately or up to 15 minutes), higher bioavailability, and accurate dosage. 

Because there is no heat involved with this method, it’s a way to consume THCa without converting it to THC. 


Lastly, and less commonly, THCa and THC can be applied topically when the cannabinoids are infused into lotions, salves, balms, or creams. This is preferred by consumers seeking pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory effects for targeted, localized areas of trouble. 

What is THCa?

THCa, short for tetrahydrocannabinol acid, is the acidic and raw version of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and comes from cannabis plants. Because it has a carboxylic acid group in its chemical structure, without decarboxylation (we’ll discuss that soon), THCa does not bind to receptors that produce psychoactive effects. 

What is THC?

THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main cannabinoid produced by cannabis plants and is widely known for its psychoactive effects.

How THCa Converts to THC

So, how exactly does THCa convert to THC? THCa converts to THC through a process known as “decarboxylation.”. Below is a step-by-step look at how that occurs:

How THCa converts to THC - process explained.
  1. First, heat is applied to THCa, normally through a light, a torch, or a low-temp oven when baked. 
  2. The heat causes the carboxylic acid group to break off of the compound. 
  3. Once the carboxylic acid group is removed, the compound is officially converted to THC—think the “a” dropping from THCa. 
  4. Now that it’s THC, the compound can bind to endocannabinoid receptors, therefore activating the psychoactive effects of the compound.

THCa vs THC: Top Benefits to Know

As you know, cannabis and hemp were illegal and therefore very minimally researched for decades. That means much of what we know in regards to THCa benefits so far is anecdotal, with a few studies backing up what consumers experience themselves. 

THCa and THC comparison table with all benefits.

To learn more about the potential therapeutic effects of both THCa and THC, let’s review some of the latest studies on each: 

THCa Benefits Research

THC Benefits Research

THC research is proving that the munchies are real, with appetite-stimulating benefits for those who lack an appetite from medications or suffer from eating disorders.

The Final Word:  THCa vs THC

Explore THCa and THC. Cannabinoid effects are different.

Like any new supplement or addition to your wellness routines, it’s always best to explore THCa vs. THC for yourself. Cannabinoid effects can vary greatly from person to person, based upon unique characteristics like weight, metabolism, tolerance, etc. 

As you’ve learned here, THCa and THC have benefits for the mind, body, and spirit, and both are ideal choices depending on your preference of consumption type, access, etc. 

One thing both cannabinoids have in common is that they’re rapidly rising in popularity among consumers. Be sure your shelves are stocked with quality THCa vs. THC products for all of those exploring each.

 Learn more about Elevated Trading wholesale THCa flower, and more today. 

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