To Be or Not to Be Psychoactive: THCa vs Delta-8 THC

Woman smoking high THCa flower in a water pipe. To be or not to be psychoactive, THCa vs Delta-8 THC

Have you ever wondered why you don’t seem to get high after eating fresh cannabis flowers? There’s a simple reason for this. The THC in a freshly harvested cannabis plant is still in its acidic form, rendering it inactive. At this stage, it is called tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) and is the precursor to other forms of psychoactive THC, like Delta-8. Yet, at the beginning of this cannabinoid’s evolution, it is non-psychoactive.

However, light it up, or bake it, and you’ve got an entirely different beast. Depending on the number of double carbon bonds that form during the heating process, you can end up with various forms of THC, including Delta-8, Delta-9, and Delta-10 THC.

Explore the differences between THCa and Delta-8 THC with us and learn how to get the most out of your cannabis plants.

What is THCa?

THCa is one of the hundreds of chemical compounds in cannabis, and is a cannabinoid acid. In other words, THCa is the acidic form of THC and is one of the many non-psychoactive cannabinoids in the cannabis plant [1]. 

THCa is found in various quantities within freshly harvested cannabis, but as it dries, it slowly and progressively decarboxylates. Decarboxylation is the process by which THCa is converted to THC. This process can also happen more quickly when cannabis is smoked, vaped, or cooked. THCa converts to THC more quickly and in higher concentrations when decarboxylated in this latter way. Even so, if the THCa is heated to temperatures that are too high, some of the active THC, as well as other cannabinoids, are lost [1].

What Is Delta-8 THC? How is it different from Delta-9?

Usually found in small amounts in the cannabis plant, Delta-8 THC (or Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol) has become widely popular in recent years, and can be found everywhere from online boutiques to gas station shelves. Delta-9 THC, on the other hand, is a major cannabinoid found in abundance in cannabis. It is also super popular and available across the USA, and is legal in many places. One difference is that the extraction process of Delta-8 THC requires a great deal more effort than for Delta-9 THC.

But why is there such a growing demand for Delta-8 THC? For starters, Delta-8 THC has similar effects to its cousin Delta-9 THC, yet is not as closely regulated because Delta-8 THC, like other hemp derived cannabinoids, is not a federally controlled substance. Thus, many people take advantage of the fact that law enforcement is mainly concerned with Delta-9 THC. Delta-9 is the form of THC most people refer to when they think of the psychoactive effects of THC. Delta-8 THC, on the other hand, elicits milder psychoactive effects than Delta-9 and has a slightly different chemical structure.

Both Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC may produce a euphoric feeling, but in some people’s views, Delta-8 is not so intense or intoxicating. Indeed, popular culture has nicknamed Delta-8 THC “diet weed,” and “marijuana lite.” Side effects for both forms of THC are not always positive, though. Some people experience paranoia or anxiety when they take any form of THC that has been decarboxylated, especially in higher doses [2].

What is Delta-10 THC?

Delta-10 THC is relatively new on the scene, so there is less research about its potential benefits or side effects.

Anecdotally, Delta-10 THC users sometimes claim that the euphoria they experience from the cannabinoid is energizing, yet mellow. Others say the psychoactive nature of the effect is more subtle than that of Delta-9 THC. However, more research is necessary for the verification of these claims [3].

Other cannabinoids: CBD, CBN, and CBG

CBD is another widely known cannabinoid, accounting for up to 40 percent of the plant’s extract. Clinical research on CBD began in recent years, and includes studies about its effect on conditions such as anxiety and pain, but there is not enough evidence yet to verify these hypotheses in humans. Nonetheless, CBD remains popular for a wide variety of potential applications.

CBN and CBG are cannabinoids that have more recently begun to find an enthusiastic audience. Their chemical structures are unique and they work in the endocannabinoid system in different ways. Anecdotally, people use CBN for better rest and relaxation. CBG is often described as energizing or uplifting. However, these claims have not been substantiated by science.

The legality of cannabis and the Farm Bills

Thanks to the Farm Bills, hemp laws currently designate cannabis with 0.3 percent or less Delta-9 THC per dry weight as federally compliant in all 50 states. On the other hand, a plant with more than 0.3 percent Delta-9 THC per dry weight is defined as marijuana, which federal law still treats as a controlled substance on the DEA’s Schedule 1 list.

In contrast, when it comes to other forms of THC, the law is less clear. For example, the guidelines by which the plants are tested leave THCa in legal gray area because it will only test as psychoactive after it is decarboxylated. Yet, testing for Delta-9 THC only happens before the plants are harvested to determine if they are considered hemp or marijuana. This makes it possible for federally compliant hemp to have high levels of THCa that will convert to THC.

Hemp’s commercial resurgence came after the 2014 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) list of Schedule 1 substances. This bill made hemp federally compliant and allowed long-forbidden research into hemp-derived cannabinoids to begin.

The 2018 Farm Bill expanded on this, allowing people to produce, sell, and consume hemp-derived products. Legal experts assured cultivators, sellers, and consumers that all other plant materials and substances derived from legally-defined hemp were federally-compliant [4].

Even so, many states now allow adult use of medical and recreational marijuana containing much more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. 

Is THCa legal?

We’ve already touched on the question of legality when it comes to THCa. Though it is officially legal if the THCa came from a federally compliant hemp plant, the cannabinoid has the unique potential to transform from a non-psychoactive cannabinoid to a psychoactive one when heated.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, cannabis high in THCa is legal as long as it comes from hemp that was tested preharvest for Delta-9 THC and its final content determined to be less than 0.3 percent Delta-9 THC by dry weight. However, legal arguments continue to circulate around THCa, so it’s important to do up-to-date research before buying or selling products with THCa.

How to turn THCa into THC, and beyond

The process of a decarboxylation reaction has to take place for THCa to turn into any form of psychoactive THC. Heat, light, or oxidation over time can do this work slowly, or, if it is put under more concentrated heat, it transforms quickly from one chemical structure to another.

When cannabis is consumed through vaporization or smoking, this process happens as you heat it to produce smoke or vapor. Automatically, the heat from your flame will convert THCa into THC.

In contrast, if you plan to turn your cannabis into THC edibles or topicals, you must decarboxylate (“decarb”) your plants beforehand. That’s why you will not feel the expected psychoactive effects of THC if you consume THCa by eating raw cannabis leaves or flowers. The plant has not yet changed from its acidic to its neutral form.

Most people in the cannabis world associate decarboxylation with the process of turning THCa into THC, but other cannabinoids also have acidic precursors. For instance, a cannabinoid acid such as CBDa is the precursor to CBD. But the chemistry continues to change, even after decarboxylation. THC, for example, continues to oxidate and change structurally with additional light and heat until it may become another cannabinoid, such as CBN or another form of THC. These iterations of cannabinoids, after their initial decarboxylation, are called “artifacts” or “products of degradation [5].”

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“Decarbing” at home for edibles, tinctures, and topicals

There are several ways to decarboxylate your cannabis plant at home. The easiest method is via your oven. Follow these steps to change your THCa into THC for edibles, tinctures, and topicals:

  • Preheat your oven to 250°F. (Keep in mind there will be a strong cannabis aroma in your house for several hours after.)
  • Use parchment paper to line a baking sheet. The parchment paper will make it easier to collect and store your decarboxylated cannabis after baking.
  • Rip the buds of your cannabis into small pieces. Some people prefer to grind it before decarboxylation.
  • Bake the cannabis for 25-30 minutes. Do not bake at higher temperatures or for longer amounts of time or there will be some decomposition of the cannabinoids.
  • After the time is up, remove the trays from the oven and allow the cannabis to cool fully. You will notice that it will have changed from green to beige.
  • Collect the decarboxylated cannabis and put it into an airtight glass container, like a jar.
  • Ultimately, place the container of decarboxylated cannabis in a place far from heat sources, in a dark, cool spot.
  • It’s best to use your cannabis to make oils, salves, or other edibles within three to six months in order to preserve the potency of the cannabinoids [6].

Benefits of THCa consumption

To experience the benefits of THCa—minus the intoxicating effects of post-decarboxylated THCa— it’s necessary to consume the raw plant or extracts before the cannabinoids have had a chance to begin their natural drying-related decarboxylation. However, raw cannabis does not keep for long without beginning to rot. Thus, if you hope to utilize the properties of THCa, it’s best to eat or juice your raw cannabis soon after harvest.

Though eating raw weed is not for everyone, some find they enjoy the potential health benefits associated with acidic cannabinoids like THCa. In some animal studies, THCa is being studied for, and shows the potential to provide therapeutic benefits, including possibilities of offering neuroprotective activity [7]. Though more research is needed to draw any conclusions about efficacy in inhumans, THCa may prove helpful for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and associated diseases that involve brain degeneration. In a 2017 mice study, the THCa seemed to have prevented degeneration in certain regions of the mice’s brains [8].

Does THCa get you high?

The cannabinoid receptors in your body’s central nervous system respond differently to THCa than to other forms of THC, like Delta-8 and Delta-9. That’s why you do not feel an intoxicating effect when you take THCa. The cannabinoid acid in THCa does not bond with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system that would enable the euphoric high associated with decarboxylated THCa.

Does Delta-8 THC get you high?

Unlike THCa, Delta-8 THC binds with the CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, the same process as with Delta-9 THC, resulting in a psychoactive effect. 

Delta-8 THC can get you high, and many users report that the high is milder than that of its Delta-9 cousin. Another anecdotal difference reported is that Delta-8 THC vs Delta-9 THC may make you sleepier and less euphoric, leading some folks to use it for rest and relaxation, yet everyone’s system is unique and effects will vary [9].

Where do you find THCa Flower?

Ready to buy THCa flower? You can order THCa Flower online from Earthy Select! Get ready for powerful effects with superb quality and flavor in each of Earthy Select’s premium THCa strains. Care is taken with full traceability from seed to shelf. Every harvest is hand inspected and each strain is third party lab tested at approved facilities to ensure purity and potency. All of our THCa hemp flower is federally-compliant with the US Farm Bill and available in small batch indica and sativa strains.

Delta-8 THC benefits

For those who wish to steer clear of the more intense psychoactive effects of Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 THC might be a worthy alternative. Some people find that Delta-9 THC makes them paranoid or anxious, whereas Delta-8 may be less cerebral and more calming. Another advantage of Delta-8 THC is that it is not a federally controlled substance. Remember though that Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 THC alike, if they’re from lawful hemp, are federally compliant and may be easier to obtain.

Will THCa make me fail a drug test? What About Delta-8?

When THCa enters your bloodstream it can be metabolized into THC-COOH; the metabolite that THC creates in your body. Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC also metabolize into this same metabolite, so many drug tests screen for the presence of THC-COOH as an indicator of cannabis use. This means that the test will not distinguish between THCa and other forms of decarboxylated THC.

This occurrence could result in a drug test failure if the test screens for cannabis use. However, most drug tests used by federal workplaces have a way of preventing trace amounts of THC-COOH from causing a positive result. Nonetheless, if you need to pass a drug test, it would be best to avoid any cannabis products for several weeks prior to the time of the test [10].

Final thoughts on THCa vs Delta-8 THC

Ultimately, whether THCa or Delta-8 THC will be a better choice for you depends on what you’re looking for. If you seek the therapeutic benefits of cannabis but not the intoxicating effects, THCa products or raw cannabis might be just what the proverbial doctor ordered. Buy THCa Pre-Rolls now! However, if you’re looking for a milder version of the classic Delta-9 THC high, along with some other potential benefits, Delta-8 THC products are a good bet. You can order 100 mg Delta-8 Gummies online!

Learn more in The Future of THC.

Medical Disclaimer / Legal Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice or medical advice. We attempt to be accurate and up-to-date, but the legality of cannabinoids and the science of cannabis are evolving. The author is neither a legal professional nor a medical expert. Before buying or using any products, you should check with your local authorities and medical providers.


    1. Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid
    2. What Is the Difference Between Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 THC?
    3. Delta-8 vs Delta-9 vs Delta-10 & Delta-10 Effects
    4. HIA Position Statement on Delta-8 and Hemp Cannabinoids
    6. Decarboxylating Cannabis from THCa to THC
    7. Effect of Combined Doses of Δ9 Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol or Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid and Cannabidiolic Acid n Acute Nausea in Male Sprague-Dawley Rats 
    8. Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid is a Potent PPARγ Agonist With Neuroprotective Activity
    9. Does Delta-8 Get You High?
    10. THC vs THCa
    11. What is THCa Powder? 
    12. THCa Isolate
    13. What Are THCa Diamonds?

Frequently Asked Questions

It is very likely that THCa will show up on a drug test. Drug tests can screen for a wide variety of compounds. Though only a few cannabinoids possess psychoactive qualities, tests sometimes do not detect the difference between THC and THCA molecules.

THCa is non-psychoactive and non-psychotropic. Yet, when it is decarboxylated, it is turned to Delta-9 THC, which is psychoactive and psychotropic.

Yes, this is fine but it will have less Delta-9 THC compared to being completely decarboxylated. Remember that if THCa has been heated at temperatures that are too high or low, or for too long or not long enough, some of the THCa may remain un-decarboxylated.