What Do THCA and CBDA Do? A Closer Look at the Acidic Cannabinoids

Today we’re looking at the two most common acidic cannabinoids. THCA stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. CBDA stands for cannabidiolic acid. They are known as the acidic cannabinoids, and are precursors to cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Basically, when CBDA or THCA are heated, they release carbon dioxide (CO2) and become activated and turn into neutral cannabinoids, CBD or THC. This process is known as “decarboxylation”.

Cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) also have their acidic precursors: cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), cannabichromenic acid (CBCA), and tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid (THCVA). Cannabinol (CBN) does not have an acidic precursor as it comes from the degradation of THC. Here are some potential benefits of THCA, CBDA, CBGA, CBCA and THCVA, and some information about the debate surrounding their uses.

Potential Uses of Acidic Cannabinoids

Here’s several symptoms and conditions acidic cannabinoids could be useful.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)

Chemical structure of THCA - Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid. Removing CO2 converts THCA to THC.
Chemical structure of THCA. Removal of CO2 turns THCA into THC. Author: Cacycle. Source: Wikimedia

Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)

CBD and THC Processing in the Human Body
Biosynthesis from THCA to THC and CBDA to CBD in the human body.

Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGA)

Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGA) - chemical str
Structural formula of cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) – C22H32O4. Author: Bri. Source: Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Cannabichromenic Acid (CBCA)

Biosynthesis of cannabichromenic acid (CBCA).
Biosynthesis of cannabichromenic acid (CBCA). Author: Miles Markman. Source: Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Tetrahydrocannabivarinic Acid (THCVA)

THCVA - Tetrahydrocannabivarinic Acid, C20H26O4
THCVA – Tetrahydrocannabivarinic Acid, C20H26O4. From Sigma Aldrich.

How Useful Are Acidic Cannabinoids?

Many people who are interested in the medical properties of cannabis but not the euphoric part associated with THC often start looking at all the other cannabinoids in the plant. CBD is often the first one, but then they start looking at all the other non-psychoactive ones. CBC, CBG, CBL (cannabicyclol) and so on.

The acidic cannabinoids are a part of this discovery phase. The reason why acidic cannabinoids are so attractive? They do not really have any affinity for cannabinoid receptors, and thus have no psychoactive or intoxicating effect.

Yet, those who are looking for a medical effect would reasonably ask, “If the acidic cannabinoid does not have an affinity for the cannabinoid receptors, is it actually working at all?” Furthermore, acidic cannabinoids are notoriously unstable, and readily turn into their neutral counterparts upon exposure to heat and ultraviolet light. The logical answer would be, “No; or, more accurately, unlikely.” For this reason, many believe that cannabinoids have to be decarboxylated to have a medical effect.

On the other hand, there are some studies showing that acidic cannabinoids do have some potential medicinal properties, and do seem to have some effect on other receptors in the body, e.g. CBDA and serotonin receptors. However, what precise effect the acidic cannabinoids may be having and how they work is not fully understood.

The Entourage Effect – Combining THCA with THC, CBDA with CBD etc.

One theory is that combining decarboxylated cannabinoids with their acidic counterparts helps improve both cannabinoids’ overall efficacy. The problem with this approach is that it makes distinguishing between the effects of THCA and THC, CBD and CBDA etc. a messy endeavor.

Some would reasonably argue that the acidic cannabinoids are not really having any major effect, whereas others say that retaining the acidic cannabinoids and combining them with their neutral counterparts makes them both more effective. The neutral cannabinoids’ affinity for cannabinoid receptors may help create an entry point for the acidic cannabinoids.

As there are studies showing that acidic cannabinoids are having some physiological effect, there does seem to be some medical benefit to using them. However, logically speaking, the acidic cannabinoids are not pharmacologically active and thus are likely not to have any direct medical benefit on their own.

These are two conflicting ideas, but the entourage effect gives us an explanation – albeit a limited one – on how and why acidic and neutral cannabinoids work together. Terpenes may play a part, too.

Acidic Cannabinoids and Their Uses: Overall

The acidic cannabinoids are complicated compounds to deal with, and it is difficult to separate their effects from their neutral counterparts. There are some studies showing that the acidic cannabinoids have a physiological effect of some sort via interaction with other receptors (e.g. serotonin), as well as anecdotal reports of people finding benefit from using raw cannabis.

On the other hand, acidic cannabinoids do not have an effect on cannabinoid receptors, and their instability makes it very difficult to know if it is the acidic cannabinoid or the neutral one that is the one exerting its effects. As the interplay between the two is so complex, it is probably best to think of being able to utilize acidic cannabinoids alongside their neutral counterparts as being a net benefit in the cannabis experience, contributing in some way to the entourage effect.

Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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