What are CBDA and THCA?
Research on the medical application of cannabis has made many advances in recent years and the benefits, both medicinal and therapeutic, of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC have been demonstrated. However, these compounds would not exist without their acidic precursors: CBDA and THCA.
All cannabinoids derived from cannabis and hemp come from the same "parent" compound: CBDG. Through various enzymatic reactions that occur in plant trichomes, CBGA is converted into CBDA, THCA and so on. The proportions of these compounds can vary depending on environmental factors such as sunlight, rain, temperature, altitude, and plants can also be altered to create more of one and less of the other.
How do CBDA and THCA become CBD and THC?
When "raw" compounds - such as CBDA - are heated to the point of losing their carboxylic acid (decarboxylation), they are activated. These are now the cannabinoids we know and use widely, and in this particular case CBDA becomes CBD. This happens with many other compounds produced by cannabis, for example THCA becomes THC and CBGA becomes CBG.
It is generally believed that before this process occurs, these compounds are less effective and do not interact with our endocannabinoid system as efficiently. For example, to obtain the intoxicating effect - the "high" of cannabis - one cannot simply eat the flower of the plant as it must be heated (either by smoking, steaming or baking) before consumption in order for the compound to be activated. These processes we have mentioned activate any THCA in the flower and convert it to THC. However, as more research is being done on these acidic compounds, it is being discovered that they may have more beneficial properties than originally thought.
Current research on CBDa and THCa
Research on the medical application of CBDA has been going on for about the last 10 years, and currently testing is only being conducted on non-human subjects. However, what has been discovered is incredibly promising. CBDA does not interact with ECS in the same way as other cannabinoids, via the CB1 and CB2 receptors. What seems to happen instead is that it inhibits the processes of the COX-2 enzyme, thus preventing it from performing its function. COX-2 is the enzyme responsible for inflammation and is what nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are designed to attack. By eliminating the process of this enzyme, CBDA can stop inflammation and the associated pain. In other words, make it a viable, and perhaps even better, alternative to pharmaceutical painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Other areas to consider
Nausea is often one of the most debilitating side effects of chemotherapy. Because of its persistent feeling, nausea is described and considered a more damaging effect than actual vomiting itself. For some, this side effect is enough to make them want to stop treatment altogether, as conventional anti-nausea drugs are often not effective enough. CBDA has been shown to be very effective in reducing nausea because it interacts with the same receptors that control this feeling. It has even been suggested that, in terms of treating nausea, CBDA may be more effective than CBD and other anti-nausea pharmaceutical drugs.
Another area where CBDA may be beneficial is in the treatment of depression. CBD is already useful in regulating anxiety and other symptoms of depression. However, research suggests that CBDA may be more potent than CBD, even if given in lower doses. It appears to have a strong affinity for the same receptors that control serotonin absorption. In other words, they work in the same way as many pharmaceutical antidepressants. This makes the future of CBDA in both the medical and therapeutic worlds very bright.
In addition, studies focusing on the medicinal properties of THCA are underway, although they are still at a very early stage. Current results and anecdotal evidence suggest that THCA may be useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and inflammation. But, in any case, more research is needed on the effects of CBDA and other cannabis compounds in their acid state, in order to understand their full potential.
How do you get your daily intake of CBDA and THCA?
As its popularity grows, it's becoming easier to buy oils, tinctures and capsules of only CBDA or THCA, but if you can't access it this way, there are other ways to do it. The leaves and flowers of the hemp plant are full of CBDA (the fresher the cuttings, the better), so by adding the leaves to your salad, or to your smoothies and sauces, you'll be ingesting CBDA in its purest form.
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Rahn, B. (2019). What Is THCA & What Are the Benefits of This Cannabinoid? [online] Leafly. Available at: https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-is-thca-and-what-are-the-benefits-of-this-cannabinoid [Accessed 28 Oct. 2019].
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