The cannabis plant is truly amazing. Scientists have studied and are continuously learning more about cannabinoids—the chemical compounds within the cannabis plant—and how they interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. The effects from cannabis depend on the percentage of THC and other cannabinoids in the marijuana taken and will vary person to person.
The cannabinoid that most people are familiar with is THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol. As medical cannabis gains acceptance in the United States, more people are becoming familiar with CBD, or Cannabidiol. But, there’s a very unique chemical compound in cannabis called THCa, or Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid, that deserves some explanation.
THCa can be found in abundance in growing and freshly harvested cannabis plants. While it’s true that THCa converts to THC as marijuana dries and is heated (the decarbozylation process), THCa is not a psychoactive cannabinoid.
Many patients use topical ointments with THCa in them to relieve sore muscles, bruising, insect bites, rashes, mild abrasions and other skin conditions. Cannabis-infused topical ointments come in lotions, balms and oils that are absorbed through the skin for localized relief of pain, soreness and inflammation.
Because THCa has no psychoactive effects, topical ointments are a popular choice for patients who want the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the ‘high’ associated with THC. Some topical manufacturers focus on strain-specific ointments and many add essential oils such as cayenne, wintergreen and clove for additional relief.
THCa may also be ingested by eating or juicing raw cannabis in its natural state. Juicing is becoming quite popular in states where cannabis can be grown legally. Juicing fruits and vegetables is a familiar and easy technique for many people; juicing raw cannabis is no different.
One patient, who is now an advocate for juicing raw cannabis, is Kristen Courtney (formerly Peskuski). High Times published an article about her experience called “Raw Medicine” in 2011. Kristen was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was 16 years old. The illness quickly turned into an auto immune disorder that left her bedridden for four years. After looking for alternative treatments, Kristen began juicing raw cannabis and claims her pain stopped after one month. She went from taking over 40 prescription medicines daily to taking just a few. Other patient stories reveal THCa helps to alleviate insomnia, muscle spasms, and pain.
Not many scientific articles have been published specific to the health benefits of THCa, but some research is available. In 2011, study results were published in Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin Vol 34 revealing anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids including THCa for potential treatment of arthritis and lupus. In 2012, a study was published in Phytomedicine that showed THCa demonstrated neuroprotective properties including significantly increased cell counts. Imagine the potential THCa could have for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases! There was also a study in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2013 showing THCa to have anti-emetic and anti-nausea properties for treatment of nausea and appetite loss.
More scientific research is needed to completely understand THCa and the health benefits packed into the leaves of the raw cannabis plant. Regardless, a growing number of patients are finding THCa to be effective with or without the research.