Know Your Cannabinoids: What is CBDA and THCA?

What is CBDa? What is THCa? CBDNerds breaks down the THCa vs CBDa debate to help you understand what each one does and how they work.

Paul James Updated on March 30, 2022

As prohibition slowly comes to an end, our understanding of cannabinoids and how they affect the endocannabinoid system are becoming clearer. There are two cannabinoids that scientists have taken particular notice to – cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA). While both come from the cannabis plant, THCa typically comes from marijuana and CBDa comes from hemp. With so little out there about these cannabinoids, many people ask, “what is CBDa and THCa?

Both of these are precursors to cannabidiol (CBD) and delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in the cannabis Sativa plant (as well as other cannabis strains, such as the hemp plant) as acidic forms. Little is known of what these cannabinoids can do in and of themselves. Yet, more research is beginning to appear as to how CBDa and THCa may have therapeutic potential similar to the effects of cannabis found in other cannabinoids (such as cannabigerol acid [CBGa], cannabigerol [CBG] or cannabinol [CBN]).

CBDa and THCa help develop a variety of major cannabinoids. Throughout this article, we’re offering a definitive guide into CBDa and THCa.

What is CBDa?

Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) is the cannabinoid precursor to cannabidiol (CBD) found in the raw cannabis plant. Through a process known as decarboxylation, when cannabis is heated or dries up, the compound turns from CBDa to CBD. This precursor to CBD is non-psychoactive. The potential benefits of CBDa include:

  • Analgesic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Antioxidant
  • Prevents cancer cells from spreading
  • Reduces feelings of nausea and vomiting
Cannabis Plant

CBDa works similarly to CBD in the sense that it doesn’t directly affect the CB1 receptor and CB2 receptor in our endocannabinoid system (ECS). Rather, it inhibits COX-2 enzymes and produces 5-HT receptors which all play important roles in our ECS.


Since it isn’t as popular as CBD, it’s rare you’ll find a product on the market containing isolated CBDa. However, you can give it a try by juicing raw cannabis plant and consuming. It should be noted, through juicing, you’ll obtain a full spectrum of cannabinoids besides CBDa. Not to mention, CBD oil and other CBD products usually DO NOT contain CBDa (including full-spectrum blends).

What is THCa?

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is the cannabinoid precursor to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in raw cannabis plants. Similarly to CBDa and CBD, THCa changes into THC through decarboxylation. When a cannabis bud is dried, the THCa develops into THC. However, since most marijuana (including medical cannabis) is smoked, THC is further released through the heating process associated with lighting a joint or bong hit.

Also similarly to CBDa, the only real way to consume THCa is by juicing a raw cannabis plant. Many people are turning towards this form of consumption as it offers a whole new spectrum of therapeutic benefits not found in cannabis flowers. When it comes to THCa, there are no psychoactive effects and the potential benefits are believed to include:

  • Anti-emetic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-proliferative
  • Antioxidant
  • Antispasmodic
  • Appetite stimulant
  • Neuroprotectant
  • Pain reliever


Research concerning THCa is very new and scientists still don’t have a complete understanding as to how it affects our ECS. THCa is believed to influence our 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) receptors, producing serotonin in our body. It’s also believed to inhibit COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes as well as boost concentrations of endocannabinoid 2-AG.

CBDa vs THCa

There aren’t too many differences between CBDa vs THCa. As you can see above, their lists of known medical properties are quite similar, with only minor contrasts. However, when heated up, CBDa and THCa are quite different as THCa turns into the psychoactive molecule THC whereas CBDa turns into the non-psychoactive molecule CBD.

Still, both are cannabinoid acids. The largest differences between these two molecules are when they’re converted into THC and CBD.

THCa vs CBDa

What is CBDa and THCa Crystalline?

If you’ve done research, you’ve probably come across the terms CBDa and THCa crystalline. These are ways to identify the way both cannabinoid molecules look on a microscopic level. Both CBDa and THCa look similar in this sense as they appear very much like snowflakes, compressed rock salt, or the tips of trichomes.

Furthermore, when CBDa and THCa are isolated to create products such as tinctures or topicals, they come out looking very crystallized. This crystallized form of the molecules is the purest you can find, with a potency of around 99.9%. This means, there’s none of the following in CBDa and THCa isolated products:

  • Fats
  • Flavonoids
  • Lipids
  • Terpenes


Unfortunately, the process of getting CBDa and THCa into this crystallized form is both very complicated and kept highly secret. In other words, there are only so many people doing this and, in effect, it’s not viable for the average consumer to come across these isolated cannabinoids.

Still, we do know a little about the process.

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How is CBDa and THCa Isolated?

Since CBDa and THCa cannot be heated (or else they’ll turn into CBD and THC), the cannabis extract method works differently from decarboxylated methods, those currently well-known to the cannabis industry. It starts with a set of washes and separations that both isolate the cannabinoid and removes potential toxins (such as terpenes and flavonoids). The first of these washes are usually done through solvents as these are effective in purifying CBDa and THCa.

From there, the cannabinoids will be put through something known as “preparative chromatography”. This is used to separate molecules by passing them through different methods at various speeds. The last part of isolating THCa and CBDa removes the last bit of potential toxic particulars through solvents.

How to Consume CBDa and THCa

As already mentioned, is CBDa or THCa is heated, the effects attached to those chemicals will no longer be active. Warning: If you heat up THCa, you’ll produce THC which causes the entourage effect of psychoactivity.

With that, one of the most popular forms of consumption is oral ingestions. You can take CBDa or THCa in a pill form or prepare it with food. However, if you do prepare it with food, keep in mind that you can’t heat the cannabinoid. A popular choice is mixing it with pesto as this is a cool condiment that goes great with a variety of dishes.

There are other ways to consume CBDa and THCa, such as placing it on the skin. However, you should be very careful when experimenting with other consumption methods as both cannabinoids are highly sensitive to heat.

Even just leaving your crystallized CBDa and THCa in the sunlight too long can turn it into CBD and THC.


But more than anything, you’re lucky if you even have the opportunity to get crystalline cannabinoids. Both CBDa and THCa in their pure form are extremely rare and most cannabis connoisseurs will never get the opportunity to try them. Partly because there are so few cannabis products containing the phytocannabinoids.


If you’re really eager to try either CBDa or THCa, your best bet is finding someone with either a raw hemp or marijuana plant and juicing it. It should be noted, there are currently no known side effects for CBDa and THCa.

Cannabis Leaf

Paul James

Paul James is a seasoned cannabis and CBD writer and expert. He is a mental health blogger who advocates CBD as a natural alternative to prescription medications. You can read more about this and other natural alternatives on his blog:"

Frequently Asked Questions

CBDa is the precursor to CBD and, in turn, doesn’t come with nearly as many medical benefits. CBDa will only turn into CBD when it is heated up.