What is THCA and How Do You Find It?
Raw cannabis is a superfood. While the term may be overused these days, raw cannabis stands apart from almost every other vegetable. Unlike other plants, cannabis is abundant in compounds called cannabinoid acids.
Cannabinoids are considered the primary therapeutic ingredients in the cannabis plant. While researchers are searching for additional plants that may produce similar compounds, thus far, these nutritional molecules are thought to be unique to cannabis.
While many cannabis enthusiasts already know that inhaling and ingesting cannabis has a wealth of therapeutic properties, there are many surprising benefits of keeping the plant raw.
Raw cannabis refers to fresh cannabis flower and leaves that have not been dried, cured, or heated. Raw cannabis is cannabis that has been recently cut down and refrigerated just like basil, kale, and just about any other medicinal herb.
When you inhale or ingest psychoactive cannabis, you are actually consuming a breakdown product of cannabinoid acids.
Cannabinoid acids are not psychoactive. Rather, one of the most dominant acids, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), only transforms into mind-bending tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with heat and age.
While many write off THCA as an inactive cannabis compound, that sentiment couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most cannabis research has focused on psychoactive THC, but a growing body of evidence suggests that THCA may have some healing powers on its own.
What is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)?
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is one of the most abundant chemicals produced by raw cannabis plants. As mentioned above, THCA is the precursor to psychoactive THC. Psychoactive THC may have the better reputation, but overlooking the potential of raw THCA is a mistake.
The THCA molecule is birthed from another cannabinoid acid, cannabigerolic acid. This compound is thought to have many functions for the cannabis plant. Research suggests that THCA protects leaves from harmful UV-B light radiation.
Additional research has found that THCA produces necrosis in cannabis leaves. This is intriguing since THCA resides in the trichome resin glands that sit on the surface of cannabis leaves and flowers.
When cannabis plants secrete this chemical into their leaves, it causes cells to die. This is necrosis. In a way, THCA is sort of like an external immune system that gives the plant the ability to prune itself and recycle nutrients to other parts of the plant.
The cannabinoid acid may also help defend the plant against microbial pathogens. When humans consume THCA, they are consuming part of the natural pharmacy that the cannabis plant creates to protect and heal itself.
Why is THCA beneficial?
THCA is far from a benign molecule that simply passes through the body. Instead, this non-psychoactive compound has far-reaching potential in the human body. Here are five reasons why THCA should be a part of your diet:
A 2011 study published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin found that THCA is a potent anti-inflammatory. THCA inhibits two enzymes commonly targeted by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications, like aspirin.
These two enzymes are COX-1 and COX-2. Both of these enzymes synthesize pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, which are thought to contribute to pain, fever, and swelling.
The laboratory research found that THCA treatment inhibited both COX-1 and COX-2 by over 30 percent, which is significant.
An additional study published in 2014 suggests that psychoactive THC actually boosts COX enzymes. This 2011 research is important, then, as it suggests that THCA has some anti-inflammatory potential that is different from its euphoric offspring.
The 2014 study even went as far as to suggest that COX-2 inhibitors may increase the medical potential of psychoactive THC treatments. Perhaps that co-occurring treatment could come in the form of raw cannabis.
2. Neuroprotective antioxidant
A 2012 study published in Phytomedicine found that THCA was protective against an oxidative neurotoxin that is used to model Parkinson’s Disease. In Parkinson’s Disease, dopamine-producing neurons in the brain die off, contributing to disordered movement.
Though the study examined mouse cultures, the researchers concluded that both THCA and psychoactive THC protected dopamine-producing neurons from death.
Various compounds in the cannabis plant are neuroprotective antioxidants. This means that they help protect nerve cells from oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress occurs when the body cannot properly detoxify or repair the damage caused by free radicals.
Pollutants and UV radiation contribute to the formation of free radicals that can cause harm to the body. However, free radicals are also created naturally as breakdown products within the body. They are usually fine but can contribute to disease if they are not properly neutralized.
Reactive agents like free radicals steal electrons from other compounds, damaging DNA, lipids, proteins, and cells. This can contribute to cancer and other diseases, like degenerative neurological disorders.
When this detoxification process is out of whack, the body cannot properly restore itself to health and free radicals continue to wreak havoc.
Antioxidants prevent this damage from occurring. Antioxidants are compounds that reduce oxidative stress and neutralize electron-stealing chemical agents. As a potentially potent antioxidant, it may be beneficial to include a little more THCA into daily life.
As mentioned above, researchers have suggested that THCA produces necrosis in plant cells. In humans, this ability may prove useful in cancer treatment. Cancer cells have stopped responding to normal cell death triggers.
Early preclinical research shows that THCA may hinder the growth of prostate cancer cells. A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that THCA had an antiproliferative effect in prostate cancer cells.
THCA is not considered the most potent anti-cancer cannabinoid. In fact, the study articulated that cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabichromene (CBC) were the most effective against prostate carcinoma cells.
Still, this adds further evidence that including THCA-rich dietary cannabis into a treatment regimen may be worthwhile. Early research of psychoactive THC suggests that the cannabinoid can actually trigger cell death in prostate cancer.
Tired of vomiting? Some raw cannabis juice might help. 2013 research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology indicates that THCA has antiemetic properties. Emesis is a fancy term for vomiting.
After making a few rats and shrews sick to their stomachs, scientists treated the rodents with THCA. The raw cannabinoid acid reduced nausea behaviors in rats and vomiting in shrews, leading the study authors to conclude that the cannabis compound may be a more potent alternative to THC for control of these conditions.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found that both THC and THCA are potent triggers for a cell receptor called TRPA1. This cell receptor is an important target for pain research.
Mice without TRPA1 receptors show very little response to pain stimuli, indicating that the protein plays a vital role in pain sensation. The TRPA1 receptor is also thought to contribute to temperature sensing, which may be why compounds like THC tend to make people feel colder.
Where do you find THCA?
The first way people are using THCA is through tinctures from manufacturers such as Treatwell Health, based in California.
Another way is through raw cannabis, which is an under-appreciated superfood. Will we find raw leaves in grocery stores anytime soon? It’s not likely, but they certainly should be there next to the organic wheatgrass and parsley.
With such a wide variety of health benefits, it’s understandable why many medical cannabis patients include raw cannabis into their treatment regimens.
While some brands of full extract cannabis oil are kept raw, most patients get their daily dose of THCA by adding raw cannabis greens to their diet. Here are a few ways to use raw cannabis buds and leaves:
- Blended salad dressings
- Raw salads
- Gently steamed greens
- Raw garnish
- Raw sauces
Tip: you can also add chopped cannabis greens to a warm sauce right before serving.
Want to learn more about cannabinoids? Be sure to check Green Flower's latest live class: "Understanding Cannabinoids" with Samantha Miller!
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