THCA and CBDA – An Investigation Into The Realm of Non-Psychotropic Cannabinoids
An Examination of THCA and CBDA – Identifying Their Structure and Function
Although cannabis has found its way into the heart of cultures and societies for millennia, our understanding of this complex plant has only begun to blossom within the latter half of the 20th Century. Made infamous by political propaganda and surface-level investigations, many assume THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the sole cannabinoids responsible for its psychoactive and therapeutic effects. However, as outlined by Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, over 400 chemicals have been isolated from cannabis. While these compounds are separate, many work synergistically to modulate its psychotropic and therapeutic effects through a process known as The Entourage Effect (2).
Two cannabinoids receiving more attention due to their medicinal potential is THCA (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and CBDA (cannabidiolic acid). In the most fundamental explanation, these cannabinoids are the precursors to their more infamous and recognized counterparts, THC and CBD. Found only in fresh, unheated, unprocessed cannabis flowers, and produced by glandular trichomes, they differ not only in molecular structure, but also in how they interact within the human body (3).
In a broad scope, the majority of cannabinoids transform into two primary states: acidic and neutral. When heated by smoking, cooking or processing for extracts, THCA and CBDA undergo a process known as decarboxylation, which ultimately releases carbon dioxide molecules. On average, THCA and CBDA feature relatively similar molecular formula, which consists of 22 Carbons, 30 Hydrogens, 4 Oxygens. When decarboxylated, the formula shifts to 21 Carbons, 30 Hydrogens and 2 Oxygens. This molecular conversion turns non-psychoactive acidic cannabinoids (THCA/CBDA) into its active, or neutral, state, THC or CBD (4)(5).
While we understand the psychoactive and therapeutic benefits of neutral cannabinoids, how does the originating molecular state of these compounds interact with the human body? Moreover, is it possible to retain THCA and CBDA concentrations for cannabis extracts?
Due to its molecular structure, THCA doesn’t stimulate the psychoactive effects, or high, as its decarboxylated counterpart. However, both THCA and CBDA interact with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), but in a vastly different methodology than its neturel form. In brief, THCA and CBDA influence the ECS without being a cannabinoid receptor antagonist (6). Even so, it appears to influence the endocannabinoid system by releasing and inhibiting mechanisms responsible for inflammation and autonomic nervous system functions (7).
Because of their influence on the endocannabinoid system, and ability to modulate a variety of biological actions, creating extracts without disrupting their molecular structure is of particular interest throughout the cannabis industry. Instead of using heat to create an extract, cold-process extractions essential retain THCA-CBDA concentrations while producing a readily-available solution.