If you’ve ever looked at third party lab reports for a CBD oil product, you’ve probably noticed the myriad of cannabinoids listed. In addition to the popular CBD and THC cannabinoids, things such as CBDa and THCa are also included in the reports.
These cannabinoids are typically found in very small amounts compared to CBD and THC. But you may be wondering what they are. You may also be wondering why someone can consume “raw” cannabis flower and have no intoxicating effects.
In this article, we’ll explain these cannabinoids, decarboxylation and other information that will answer these questions.
What is CBDa and THCa?
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis plants don’t produce CBD or THC as they grow. Instead, they produce the acid precursors to those cannabinoids, CBDa and THCa.
This is why if you look at the lab tests for “raw” cannabis flower, you’ll notice it being much higher in THCa and CBDa than most other cannabinoids. In fact, before the THCa and CBDa comes the cannabinoid CBGa. Often considered the “mother” cannabinoid, all other cannabinoids stem from CBGa. The nifty chart below helps demonstrate the growth of cannabinoids and the conversions they can go through.
These acid precursor cannabinoids are not “activated” and the THCa is largely non-intoxicating compared to THC. Despite the fact that they’re considered not “activated”, it would be wrong to assume that means the acid precursor cannabinoids are inactive or useless. These cannabinoids tend to be lesser studied cannabinoids, and less sought after, but some of the benefits of CBDa are its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-emetic properties.
You may now be wondering how CBDa and THCa convert into CBD and THC. That is done using a process called decarboxylation.
What is Decarboxylation?
The “a” tagged on to the end of CBDa and THCa stands for something called a carboxylic acid group. This group needs to be broken off and removed by decarboxylation to get CBD and THC.
Decarboxylation is when you expose cannabis to heat. Heat and time are the two main factors with decarboxylation. Some of the THCa and CBDa can convert naturally due to the natural sun beating down, curing, and drying. So it’s not surprising to see minor amounts of the “active” cannabinoids present on lab tests of “raw” cannabis. But to really get that conversion going, more intervention is needed.
For some, this means smoking or vaping the flower itself. Smoking or vaping decarbs the flower immediately which is then inhaled. But smoking or vaping isn’t always the preferred method. Nor does everyone have access to flower. In fact, smoking is actually pretty inefficient at converting all cannabinoids due to the high heat. Much is degraded and lost, especially terpenes.
Additional processing is required to make popular products such as sublingual drops, edibles and topicals. For these, the raw cannabis material has to be decarboxylated. This must be done over longer periods of time and at lower temperatures. There are various processes by which this is done. But the end result is often a concentrated, decarboxylated cannabis extract that is then infused into the sublingual drops, edibles, or topicals.
Other Cannabinoid Conversions
While we’re at it, let’s quickly discuss some other interesting conversions, such as CBN and 11-Hydroxy-THC.
CBN, another popular cannabinoid, is actually degraded THC. Through additional decarboxylation (time and heat), the “activated” THC converts into CBN. Often, this decarbing is unintentional.
Flower that has been improperly stored for extended periods of time (sometimes years) and then used tends to be extra sedating. This is due to the growing presence of CBN. This cannabinoid is especially popular for insomnia and sleep due to its extra sedating effects.
Another cannabinoid that’s interesting is 11-Hydroxy-THC. Have you ever wondered why high THC edibles tend to get people extremely “high” and intoxicated with even the smallest amounts? It’s due to 11-Hydroxy-THC. This cannabinoid actually isn’t produced naturally by cannabis either. When you consume THC via edible forms, it converts within the body into 11-Hydroxy-THC. It’s also incredibly potent and considered even more intoxicating than regular THC. So, be careful with those edibles! Thankfully, CBD is non-intoxicating. So CBD edibles from hemp do not carry this risk of conversion.
Raw cannabis plants (including marijuana and hemp) don’t naturally produce CBD or THC. Instead, they produce CBGa which converts into CBDa and THCA. These cannabinoids then convert into the better known cannabinoids, CBD and THC.
Decarboxylation (heating) is the process that effects the conversion to CBD and THC. Decarbing can occur naturally over time or more quickly via human intervention. Those decarbed cannabis extracts are then infused into the finished products that are sold to consumers.
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