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Have you ever tried raw cannabis juice or a smoothie? Fresh, uncured, and unheated cannabis is rich in compounds called cannabinoid acids. Unlike the heated, cured, and aged stuff, cannabinoid acids do not get you high. Rather, they provide a whole lot of health benefit without any change in consciousness. THCA is one of the most abundant cannabinoid acids, often totaling up to 20 percent of the bud. Here’s what you need to know about THCA and what it might benefit.

What is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)?

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Most people familiar with cannabis know that the herb is commonly smoked. After an especially long day, there’s nothing quite like coming home to a little cannabis. Smoking flower or dabbing concentrates, however, are limited, though lovely, ways to enjoy the herb.

As it turns out, there may be some benefit to raw cannabis. Raw cannabis is cannabis that has been uncured and unheated. When fresh and unheated, the resin glands (trichomes) of the cannabis plant are rich in compounds called cannabinoid acids.

One of the most abundant is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is the precursor to the famous psychoactive, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Fresh cannabis that is not heated and has not been aged does not contain much THC – if any at all. Instead, the cannabinoid present on the cannabis plant as THCA. THCA is considered non-psychoactive, meaning that it does not cause a “high” when you consume or inhale the cannabinoid.

In order to experience a psychoactive high from cannabis, the bud or leaves need to be heated. Heat stimulates a process called decarboxylation, in which temperature transforms THCA into the more famous compound, THC. It’s THC that has the mind-altering effects, not THCA. THC is a breakdown product of THCA.

Unfortunately, most of the research on cannabis has focused on psychoactive THC. However, in recent years, raw cannabis has become significantly more trendy.

What is THCA good for?

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There is much research to be done on THCA. As things stand now, however, preclinical research has uncovered a wide variety of potential uses for THCA. THCA has demonstrated a wide variety of beneficial effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The endocannabinoid system has been described as the largest neurotransmitter network in the body.

According to one source, THCA has a wider variety of effects on the ECS than both THC and CBD. Some of these roles include anti-spasmodic effects, anticonvulsant effects, anti-insomnia effects, and is reported to be immune supportive.

However, there is slightly more substantial evidence that THCA may hold potential in the following areas:

1. Anti-cancer

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One way to evaluate the potential of cannabinoids is to know what these compounds do for the cannabis plant. Raw THCA has been found to produce necrosis in plant cells, which means that the cannabinoid seems to help the plant prune off dead or dying cells.

The human immune system has similar functions, inducing what is called “programmed cell death” when cells become too damaged, aged, or diseased. In cancer cells, this programmed cell death malfunctions. This means that diseased cells fail to die when they are supposed to, and they continue to proliferate.

One 2013 study in cell cultures and animal models found that THCA inhibited the proliferation of prostate cancer cells. This fits in line with additional research which has found that cannabinoids, in general, seem to express anti-proliferative effects in various forms of cancer.

In the majority of pre-clinical studies (cell cultures and animal models) have shown that THC, not THCA, seems to have the most potent effects on cancer cells. Yet, with its necrosis-promoting characteristics in the plant itself, this anti-inflammatory cannabinoid is speculated to potentially contribute to a healthy environment inside the body.

This potentially includes cancer prevention, through high-quality scientific studies are sorely needed.

2. Insecticide

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To the cannabis plant, cannabinoids act as an external immune and defense system. Researchers speculate that THCA is a natural insecticide, repelling unwanted predators.

Though most people heat their cannabis products, this is a good reason to consider adding some raw cannabis oil to a skin cream to repel summertime pests. This also might give THCA a future in pest management products.

3. Anti-inflammatory

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Like many of the over 113 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, THCA is considered a potent anti-inflammatory. As an anti-inflammatory, THCA has a wide variety of potential uses. Inflammation is thought to be one of the root problems of modern disease.

Though a little inflammation is a healthy response to stress, accident, injury, or illness, systemic inflammation is speculated to contribute to everything from depression to autoimmune diseases 

4. Neuroprotective antioxidant

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The U.S. Federal Government already admits that cannabinoids are neuroprotective antioxidants. Yet, using cannabis to keep your brain healthy is not a trend that has readily been passed down to everyone. Research shows that cannabis does not have to be psychoactive to reap this potent antioxidant potent. Raw THCA is an antioxidant, too.

An antioxidant is a compound that helps neutralize harmful compounds called free radicals. Free radicals are pollutants and toxins that are thought to contribute to a host of medical problems, including aging.

Preclinical research from 2012 has found that THCA seems to somehow neutralize damage caused by oxidative neurotoxins that are used to model Parkinson’s Disease. Though research has yet to be thoroughly completed, this is a good sign that THCA has potential use in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases caused by oxidative stress.

5. Anti-emetic

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It’s not uncommon for patients and cannabis-fans alike to turn to the herb for relief from a bad stomach ache or a bout of vomiting. As luck might have it, raw cannabis may be a helpful nausea-fighter as well.

Early research suggests that THCA is an anti-emetic, which means that those experiencing nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss may not have to get high to find symptom relief.

6. Analgesic

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Though it’s a bit early to say, preclinical research has discovered that THCA seems to engage with a key type of cell receptor that contributes to the ability to feel and experience pain.

Research has found that, somehow, THCA seems to act on the TRPA1 receptor. This receptor part of what enables humans and animals to respond to environmental irritants like pain, temperature, and itching sensation.

If early research is any indication, raw cannabis and THCA may be especially appreciated by those with painful muscle cramping and tension conditions. Not only is there some evidence that THCA can reduce pain, bit it is also expected to calm muscle spasms.

How do you use THCA?

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To get the most out of THCA, many consumers juice or blend raw cannabis leaves and/or bud. To draw from Dr. William Courtney, ingesting raw cannabis means that consumers can take in over 1,000 times more beneficial cannabinoid acids than they can when consuming psychoactive THC.

Some argue that activated THC is actually more bioavailable (usable) for the body, which is why it takes so little to produce beneficial effects. Yet, in anecdotal cases, many medical cannabis patients find incorporating raw cannabis into their diet a useful addition to other treatments.

Many cannabis consumers take full advantage of the THCA in their unwanted fan leaves or buds through:

  • Juicing
  • Blending
  • Steep in warm water for a tea
  • Using as a garnish
  • Incorporating THCA into salads and dressings

You can simply throw a few leaves into your morning smoothie or collect fresh buds to put into a juicer for a potent anti-inflammatory drink.

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Anna Wilcox

Anna Wilcox is a Pacific Northwest native with a passion for cannabis and natural health. Contact her on Twitter @delilahbfield.
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