Cannabinoid Acids – What are they and what are the health benefits of using them?

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Simply explained, cannabinoid acids are precursors to the cannabinoids we all know and love, like THC and CBD. They are found on the stems, leaves and flowers of certain strains of raw cannabis before any type of heat application or processing takes place.

In fresh buds, most cannabinoids are present in the form of plant acids. Heat will break down these acids, causing them to lose their carboxyl group and become regular cannabinoids (for example: THCA to THC, or CBDA to CBD). This process is aptly known as decarboxylation, but we’ll get more in depth on that later. Until now, the focal point of most cannabis research has been centered around activated cannabinoids, rather than the raw acidic forms. As the industry continues to grow and develop, more emphasis is placed on the importance of minor cannabinoids, cannabinoid acids, terpenes, and other lesser-known cannabis compounds.

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What are cannabinoid acids?

Cannabis doesn’t create cannabinoids in the way we are familiar with them. Instead, it synthesizes several different cannabinoid acids; eight that we know of, to be specific. In order to become cannabinoids, these acids must be activated – or decarboxylated – using heat, light, and oxygen exposure. Above we briefly mentioned THCA and CBDA, but let’s quickly go over all of the known cannabinoid acids:

  • CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid, becomes cannabigerol)
  • THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, becomes tetrahydrocannabinol)
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid, becomes cannabidiol)
  • CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid, becomes cannabichromene)
  • CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid, becomes cannabigerovarin)
  • THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid, becomes tetrahydrocannabivarin)
  • CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid, becomes cannabidivarin)
  • CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid, becomes cannabichromevarin)

CBGA, THCA, CBDA, and CBCA are the most abundant cannabinoid acids. All of the plant’s compounds start as CBGA and various enzymes eventually convert it into the other three. In addition to these major acids, there are another four corresponding “V” compounds with slightly shorter chemical structures, and they are: CBGVA, THCVA, CBDVA, and CBCVA.

THC University

Cannabinoid acids do not have any psychoactive effects, however, they do have numerous medical benefits. In the few studies that have emerged, cannabinoid acids were found to have antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticidal properties. In nature, their function is to defend the plant, so it makes sense that they work similarly in humans.

More on decarboxylation

Decarboxylation, also referred to as “decarbing” for short, is the process of using heat (and sometimes light and oxygen exposure) to convert cannabinoids from their natural acidic state to their ‘activated’ form. By heating raw cannabinoids, a chemical reaction takes place that removes the carboxyl acid group and releases CO2.

There is no agreed best temperature at which to decarb cannabis flower, although there are some useful guidelines to consider. We know that most of the plant compounds begin to boil somewhere between 320 and 356 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you don’t go this hot. It’s also known that many terpenes – which are naturally occurring aromatic oils that give plants their smell and offer their own unique health benefits – start to boil when you reach the 300 degree F mark.

Therefore, you should probably keep you decarbing temperatures to between 200 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit. But note that the lower the temperature used, the more time your flower will need to decarb; and vice versa. It also varies based on the cannabinoid as well, when it comes to debarbing CBD rather than THC, it’s necessary to heat the material for longer. About twice as long, by most estimates, and some would argue that higher temperatures are better as well.

How to utilize raw cannabinoids are what are the benefits?

To reiterate, cannabinoid acids are only found in raw cannabis material that’s fresh (not dried or cured) and hasn’t been exposed to any kind of heat. Although they are less frequently discussed compounds for the time being, you can find some tinctures and oils that incorporate extracted cannabinoid acids, mainly THCA and CBDA.

Aside from that, the most efficient way to harness these cannabis acids is through your diet. You can use the raw, uncured buds and leaves to make juice, smoothies, salads, dressings, and cold sauces. However you would eat any other leafy green vegetable such spinach, kale, or swiss chards, the same can be done with your cannabis plant matter.

They can also be finely chopped and used as an herb just like parsley, oregano, dill, or basil. This would not only add a rich flavor profile to your dish, but it would certainly improve the nutritional content as well. Store it in the crisper drawer with your other salads and veggies. Luckily for us, we live in a time where cannabis use doesn’t have to be done behind closed doors, so you can find many delicious recipes using raw flower online.

What are the medical benefits?

Cannabis acids act quite differently in the body than standard cannabinoids. Instead of interacting with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), cannabinoid acids inhibit the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme, which is associated with the inflammation response. In this way, cannabinoid acids can offer anti-inflammatory effects similar to that of commonly prescribed NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). 

Looking at CBDA specifically, one 2013 study found that it was a thousand times more powerful than CBD at binding to the 5-HT₃ serotonin receptor, which is linked to nausea and anxiety. It can be used effectively to treat numerous mental health conditions such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder, as well as different digestive illnesses.

When it comes to THCA, research is still in its infancy, but there is some preliminary data and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence indicating that it may have a critical part in the future of medical cannabis. Some of these early studies suggest this cannabinoid acid could possibly be helpful in treating Inflammation, Neurodegenerative conditions, Nausea and loss of appetite, and Prostate cancer.

Self-reported use of THCA describes success in treating insomniamuscle spasms, and pain. This is only anecdotal evidence though and more studies will have to be conducted before we can substantiate any of these claims.

Final thoughts

Although research is lacking, we do have some evidence that cannabinoid acids can play a pivotal role in treating different medical conditions. Since they have no intoxicating properties, and with the growing interest in natural diets and healthcare options, this brings an entirely new focus on the benefits of consuming raw cannabis or using products that utilize cannabinoid acids.

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