By Dr. Dustin Sulak
Phytocannabinoids found in cannabis and hemp exist in two states: acidic (for example THCA, CBDA) & neutral (THC, CBD). While the focus has been on neutral cannabinoids, new research –and my own clinical observations– indicate that cannabinoids in their original, acidic form possess incredible healing properties that work both together with and different from their neutral counterparts.
In this article, I share what we know about acidic cannabinoids today and why you should incorporate them. Here’s what I’d like you to know:
- Patients report adding THCA and CBDA significantly changed their chronic, inflammation-based conditions including pain and insomnia
- Patients report feeling the effects quickly and the benefits continue to build over 30 days
- Low doses of acidic cannabinoids are effective and will save you money because they absorb 5-50 times better than their neutral counterparts when taken by mouth
- The acidics (THCA & CBDA) are non-psychoactive when taken alone; When combined with THC they are syngestic and increase their benefits
- Acidic cannabinoids increase the therapeutic benefits of the “entourage effect”
What are Acidic Cannabinoids?
Most people are surprised to learn that cannabis and hemp plants do not directly produce the well-known cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), or any of the hundreds of others researchers have identified.
The original, raw forms of cannabinoids that plants produce are called acidic cannabinoids such as THCA and CBDA (The “A” stands for “acid”). Acidic cannabinoids have a time-limited presence, however, as they slowly convert to their better known, more stable “neutral” counterparts at room temperature, or more rapidly when exposed to high temperatures, in a process known as decarboxylation.
Both acidic and neutral forms of cannabinoids can provide therapeutic benefits to animals and people through their effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and other targets in the body. The acidic cannabinoids are non-intoxicating, have some distinct effects compared to their neutral counterparts, and work well together to increase effectiveness based on synergistic actions known as the “entourage effect”.
Major and minor cannabinoids and the ‘Entourage Effect’
The concept of the entourage effect was introduced in 1998 by Israeli scientists Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam to describe the actions of our body’s own cannabinoids, (endocannabinoids) which work with each other to balance our physiology. Interestingly, the phytocannabinoids (from the cannabis plant) similarly work together to enhance each other’s benefits and decrease side effects. In almost every study evaluating the entourage effects of cannabis, it’s been shown that multi-component compounds (like whole plant extracts) work better together than isolated or synthetic cannabinoids.
It’s important to note that not all cannabinoids are present in every plant or in the products manufactured from cannabis or hemp plants. The more abundant cannabinoids are considered major cannabinoids while the less abundant ones– often including the original, acidic forms– are considered minor cannabinoids.
The top three acidic cannabinoids we know the most about right now are THCA, CBDA, and CBGA, the natural precursors of the major cannabinoids THC, CBD, and CBG:
THCA vs. THC
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is not only the most well-known cannabinoid, it’s also the most studied. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, as well as many of the medicinal properties. THC has been shown to have numerous medicinal effects, including relief of pain, inflammation, spasticity, nausea, anxiety, itching, seizures, and much more.
THCA is non-impairing based on animal studies and anecdotal human reports. The little research available on THCA has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties and anti-nausea properties in mice at doses much lower than its THC counterpart. Unlike THC, THCA does not appear to stimulate the CB1 or CB2 receptors either, but some of its activity may be indirectly dependent on their function.
A recent study showed that THCA can increase the activity of the CB1 receptor when it’s stimulated by a synthetic cannabinoid, and likely does the same when taken with THC. Coadministration of THCA with THC will also slow down the breakdown and excretion of THC, another way in which THCA can increase the power of THC.
In my clinical practice, I have been impressed by the anti-seizure properties of THCA in extraordinarily low doses, as well as its anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties. I’ve also found it effective in patients who are very sensitive and unable to take THC.
CBDA vs. CBD
Non-impairing cannabidiol (CBD) has become an exciting focus of medical research, popular media, and legislation related to cannabis. CBD has been shown to relieve anxiety, depression, pain, seizures, psychosis, inflammation, spasm, nausea, and more.
In many ways, CBDA works similarly to CBD, with activity at serotonin and capsaicin receptors. Unlike CBD, CBDA has not been shown to influence cannabinoid receptors, and it has been shown to target the COX enzymes associated with inflammation, a similar mechanism as popular over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs.
CBDA gets absorbed significantly better –5-11 times better– than CBD when taken orally. There’s also some evidence-based on animal models that CBDA is stronger and more potent than CBD, not just because it’s getting absorbed better but because it’s actually acting more strongly in the body in addressing symptoms including nausea and vomiting, pain, and inflammation, and seizures.
Finally, when taken together with THC, CBDA doesn’t diminish THC’s psychoactive effects like CBD does. For people who use THC for recreational or spiritual purposes but would also like the benefits of CBD without diminishing the THC effect, CBDA is an excellent alternative.
RELATED ARTICLE: GUIDE TO USING CBDA
CBG vs. CBGA
To date, very little research has explored the effects of CBG and even less CBGA. CBG has been shown to relieve pain, reduce skin redness, and inhibit lipoxygenases, enzymes that produce inflammatory molecules, more potently than THC.
Evidence suggests that CBGA may have its own therapeutic uses, however, it is best known for its role in the formation of other cannabinoids. Like the other cannabinoids, CBGA can convert into CBG by heat and time. However, the plant also converts CBGA to THCA and CBDA.
The Value of the Acidic Cannabinoids
While we have yet to fully understand the full medical potential of acidic cannabinoids, early research is already showing that “acidics” have greater bioavailability, which means they get absorbed significantly better than their neutral forms. There’s also some evidence that they may even act more strongly in the body in addressing symptoms.
How to Get the Acidic Cannabinoids
Many medicinal components, including the acidic cannabinoids, are diminished or lost when smoking or vaporizing cannabis flower, though very small amounts of acidic cannabinoids can be absorbed through these delivery methods.
Instead, eating raw cannabis preparations is an excellent method for getting acidic cannabinoids and incredibly easy to do. Small amounts of fresh raw cannabis flower (e.g. 0.25 gram) can be eaten directly (chewing for a few minutes can speed onset). While large doses can cause some digestive upset, few other side effects have been reported from raw cannabis. For your health and safety, always choose cannabis flower that is organic, and pesticide-free.
Another way to get raw cannabinoids is by brewing cannabis tea. This can be done by boiling hot water and filling up a cup and then adding flower the size of a small pea or pencil eraser to steep for 4-5 minutes. The tea will provide very little THC, so is unlikely to produce psychoactive effects, because THC has low solubility in water. If brewing THC flower, and if you add milk or cream, the THC content increases. If you want a THCA-predominant tea then do not add any fat or oil. The hot water (<212 •F) helps to extract acidic cannabinoids but will not significantly decarboxylate the acidic cannabinoids.
Wide-spectrum products such as tinctures and drops that are formulated for precision dosing are another excellent method for getting acidic cannabinoids. Since most acidic cannabinoids are lost or destroyed by conventional extraction and manufacturing methods, choosing brands with products that contain significant amounts of acidic cannabinoids (THCA and CBDA) will be likely to provide superior benefits. Make sure to keep these products refrigerated so the acidic cannabinoids don’t gradually convert to neutral ones at room temperature.Also look for results of third-party testing by an independent laboratory or certificates of analysis (COA) confirming the range of cannabinoids in the product including acidics and verifying that it is clean and free of contaminants such as mold, bacteria, pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals.
How Much Do I Need to Take & How Often
I often recommend patients drink a cup of cannabis tea (THCA or mixed THCA/CBDA) twice daily for two weeks before evaluating its impact on your physical and mental health.
If you have acidic cannabinoid products, start with 5-10mg twice daily and gradually work up to 20mg if needed. Most people report noticing the effects and how the benefits increase over the first 30 days. CBDA can have a peppery taste when taken in drops, which can be washed away with a sip of water.
For acute nausea, I often recommend chewing a small pea-sized cannabis flower, then keeping it between the gum and lip without swallowing.
The acidic cannabinoids are available, safe, and powerfully therapeutic– be sure to include them in your relationship with cannabis!
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About the Author
Dustin Sulak, DO, one of the first physicians in Maine to incorporate the legal use of cannabis as a medicine in 2009, is the founder of Integr8 Health, a medical practice in Maine that follows over 8,000 patients using medical cannabis. Today he is globally recognized by his peers as a pioneer of clinical applications, formulations, and usage protocols.
He is co-founder of Healer, a medical cannabis brand founded to address the challenges of helping patients and health providers get the best results with safe, reliably dosable products and education on how to best use them. Healer’s distinctive product formulations and educational material are based on his work.
Healer medical cannabis products are currently available in Maine and Maryland. Healer Whole Plant Hemp CBD products are available nationwide. For more information about Healer medical cannabis products, visit www.Healercannabis.com or visit us at 110 Orion St. in Brunswick. For education on how to use cannabis as medicine or information about Healer Whole Plant Hemp CBD products, visit www.Healer.com.
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