Distinguishing Between All Types of CBD and THC-A Products

Consumers who stay informed can make the best decisions about the latest products and their effects
26 June 2024
Photo by Zane Bolen

CBD and THCA are two distinct cannabinoids with several features in common. CBD is famous as the non-psychoactive counterpart to THC, and many people swear by its calming effects that can help relieve inflammation, anxiety, and insomnia without making them feel high. THC-A is also non-psychoactive, and early research indicates it might share health benefits with CBD, such as fighting inflammation and working as a sleep aid. It may also share THC-like benefits, such as treating nausea and pain. 

Despite their similarities, CBD and THC-A products aren’t interchangeable, and some can even have wildly different effects that consumers need to know about. The most significant distinction is that THC-A converts to THC when exposed to heat, meaning products designed to smoke, vape, or dab will yield a potent high. CBD, on the other hand, is never psychoactive. 

This article compares THC-A and CBD products, explaining the various available types, their effects, and how consumers access and purchase them. 

Photo by Justin Aikin

Understanding THC-A and CBD

Background on THC-A

THC-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) is the acidic form of Delta-9 THC (regular THC) that occurs prominently in young hemp and cannabis plants. Today, many products feature the THCA, and consumers can find affordable THC-A here. However, consumers must understand how the acidic THC precursor works.

  • Naturally non-psychoactive: In its raw state, THC-A is non-psychoactive due to its chemical structure, which prevents it from binding with cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system as THC does. 
  • Decarboxylation: However, THC-A’s chemical structure changes through decarboxylation, a natural transformation process that occurs from heat exposure. 
  • Applying heat: Heating THC-A will convert most of it into THC, the compound that produces mind-altering effects. 

Background on CBD

CBD (cannabidiol) is another cannabinoid that hemp and cannabis plants naturally produce in significant quantities. CBD is most well-known as the non-psychoactive counterpart to THC, meaning it doesn’t interact with specific receptors in the brain to produce euphoric “high” feelings. However, CBD interacts with neurotransmitters in the body known to mediate mood, inflammation and body temperature in ways that many people find therapeutic. 

Key differences in CBD and THC-A: Effects and uses

THC-A and CBD have many things in common, yet critical differences between these compounds and their effects affect how consumers might choose to use them. 

Early reports indicate THC-A displays a few effects and health benefits in line with CBD, a compound noted for its calming, anti-anxiety effects, relieving physical pain associated with inflammation, and improving sleep

  • THC-A reduces inflammation (possibly even more effectively than CBD), helping with chronic pain and inflammation in arthritis and fibromyalgia. 
  • THC-A could help relax muscles and serve as a sleep aid.
  • THC-A displays activity that could help treat seizure disorders like epilepsy, an effect once only attributed to CBD.  

Heated THC-A vs. CBD:

CBD is always non-psychoactive, regardless of consumption method. Heating THC-A “decarbs” it, altering its chemical makeup and transforming most of it into THC. If someone smokes or vapes THC-A, they will experience psychoactive effects associated with high-potency THC products, such as:

  • Altered perception
  • Euphoria and mood boost
  • Increased energy
  • Intense relaxation
  • Neuropathic pain relief 

Some people lean toward CBD and THC-A because they enjoy benefits like anxiety and pain relief without the psychoactive effects of THC. Others might be interested in THC-A derived from hemp for a potent buzz similar to THC. Before those customers reach for THC-A, they should keep in mind the product type.

Types of Products Available

Common THC-A products

THC-A is available in various psychoactive and non-psychoactive product types, including flowers, pre-rolls, concentrates, tinctures, and syrups.

THC-A flower and pre-rolls: THCA flower is hemp flower designed for smoking containing high THCA levels (often up to 25%) and low THC levels (below 0.3%) for compliance purposes. Pre-rolls are pre-formed joints containing THCA hemp flower that come ready to smoke, ideal for newbies or those who like convenience. Both products elicit psychoactive effects. 

THC-A concentrates: Concentrates, which include oils, vapes, wax, shatter, and diamonds, feature more potent THC-A concentrations (often 50% for vapes, up to 85% for wax and shatter, and 95% for diamonds). These feature THC-A infused into an e-liquid, live resin, crystalline substance, or oil designed for heating in vaping devices, such as vape pens, dab rigs, or wax pens. These are designed to elicit a mind-altering effect. 

THC-A tinctures and syrups: Tinctures and sryups are edible products featuring THC-A extracted from hemp and bottled in liquid form, often with droppers for convenient dosing. Consumers can easily place THC-A directly under the tongue or mix it with other beverages. THC-A tinctures and syrups are typically non-psychoactive because they don’t involve heat, unless in formula blends with other psychoactive cannabinoids like Delta-8 THC.

Popular CBD products

Many brands take advantage of CBD’s soothing effects and medical potential. CBD products don’t involve heat, so oils, edibles, and capsules are the most popular. 

CBD oil and tinctures: Made from CBD extract infused into a liquid form, CBD oil, and tinctures can be taken sublingually (under the tongue) or added to food and drinks. These products have varying strengths, so consumers can tailor their ideal dose. Oils and tinctures also absorb into the bloodstream rapidly, making them the fastest-acting ways to get CBD into the system.  

CBD edibles: CBD edibles contain CBD extract but in forms, such as teas, gummies, and chocolates. Edibles take longer to absorb because they must pass through the digestive system, yet they offer longer-lasting effects.  

CBD capsules and pills: Capsules make it easy to dose CBD extract and incorporate it into a wellness routine. CBD capsules and soft gels also must pass through the digestive system, so their effects will be delayed, but they can remain in the system longer, similar to edibles. 

Buying Experience: THC-A vs. CBD

Availability and accessibility

Legal status and regulations for THCA: THC-A legality is a gray area in many places in the United States. On the one hand, hemp products containing large amounts of THCA are legal in some states as long as they contain less than 0.3% delta-9 THC. 

On the other hand, some states have explicitly prohibited hemp-derived cannabinoids like THC-A, and some have “total THC” laws in place, which take into account that heated THC-A will convert to THC. They specify that the combination of THC and THC-A (using the formula THC + (0.877 × THCA)) must remain under 0.3% in hemp products.

Consumers must know local laws and regulations before purchasing THCA.

Legal status and regulations for CBD: CBD legality is more cut and dry than THC-A in most places. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, which made hemp-derived CBD products with 0.3% THC or less legal at a federal level. 

However, some individual state laws differ, especially regarding the threshold of THC content. For instance, in Idaho and Kansas, CBD from hemp is legal so long as there is no traceable THC content.

Price comparisons

Typical price ranges for THC-A products: 

  • THC-A flower ranges from $9 to $15 per gram.
  • Prices for a single pre-roll joint range from $13 to $19.95.
  • Vapes and concentrates range from $39.95 to $59.95 for 1-4 grams.

Typical price ranges for CBD products:

  • On average, a 30 ml bottle of quality CBD oil ranges between $50-$100.
  • CBD capsules are similar in cost yet priced per mg. A 900 mg bottle (about 18 ml equivalent) often costs $40-$50. 
  • CBD gummies often cost $30-$50 for 20-40 pieces packages.

Purchasing channels

CBD and THC-A come in many product types, but they differ a lot in where people can find them. 

Where to buy THC-A: Online retailers have the widest selection of THC-A products. Some dispensaries and vape shops also offer THC-A, although the selection and product types might be limited. 

Where to buy CBD: Online retailers also offer a wide selection of CBD at competitive prices. However, CBD is more readily available than THC-A at other physical establishments, including:

  • State-regulated dispensaries
  • Vape shops
  • Health-food stores
  • Pharmacies

Always look for THC-A and CBD from reputable companies that conduct third-party testing and verify their results in an easy-to-read COA (certificate of analysis).

The Bottom Line

Consumers buying CBD and THC-A, both naturally non-psychoactive cannabinoids known to help with inflammation, anxiety, and sleep, should pay close attention to the product type to ensure they meet their desired effects. THC-A has dual effect profiles depending on whether products involve heat, which transforms THC-A into buzz-worthy THC. CBD isn’t affected by heat, yet it is most fast-acting as an oil or tincture, while edibles and capsules usually last longer. 

Consumers who stay informed can make the best decisions about the latest products and their effects. CBD and THC-A continue to grow in popularity, so shoppers should explore both product types to narrow down which best fits their personal preferences and needs.