There are a lot of misconceptions about cannabis, even among patients in the medical cannabis community. These falsehoods can really hurt and confuse patients, and with so many new patients coming into the world of medical cannabis, the number of misinformed patients is quickly growing. In this post I want to address some of the strange things I have come across in the last year or so.
Last fall I walked into a dispensary in Albuquerque, and after checking in I was led back to the product area and was helped by a very friendly bud tender. They greeted me with a statement that just blew me away. “We have many strains over 20% THC, real THC, none of that THCa stuff!” What?
A few weeks ago I waited on a woman who came into our clinic for her cannabis medicine. I sensed she was agitated, and I was correct. She asked me if we had any cannabis with THCa in it, stating that strains containing THCa were the only ones that work for her. She said it made her angry that more dispensaries didn’t carry these strains. I was astounded. After I picked my jaw up off the counter I tried to explain that ALL strains of cannabis flower contained THCa, and that the THC percentage on the labels only represents the “potential” THC in a given strain. She looked at me as if I just told her God was dead, became even more irritated, and said that other dispensaries sold flower with THCa and that was what she wanted. I explained again that all raw cannabis contained THCa, not THC, and that the style of labeling test results can vary at each dispensary. Some show the breakdown of THCa and THC and some didn't. She was too angry to hear me. I asked her to come over and look at the Elemental Wellness chart of cannabinoids so I could explain THC and THCa and she said no, that she was in too much of a hurry and left. Wow. Do we need to standardize labeling of Cannabis products?
These incidents and many others make it apparent to me that there are a lot of misconceptions about cannabis and cannabinoids within our medical cannabis community. I felt bad for the patient who was so misinformed and wondered if she came up with her misconception on her own or was she told that by another misinformed dispensary worker. I’ll never know.
THCa is the precursor to THC, and the conversion of THCa to THC takes place only after the cannabis is heated. The “A” on THCa stands for “acid”. Fresh or raw, unheated cannabis presents THC in its acid form. Dried, cured and aged cannabis may have some small conversion of THCa to THC, but not much. THCa has powerful medicinal properties on its own, but is non-psychoactive. It is converted to the psychoactive form when heated, as in smoking, vaping or cooking. This conversion is called decarboxylation, meaning a carbon in the THCa molecule is dropped when the cannabis is heated. Heat changes the molecular structure. Once you heat the raw cannabis the THCa is gone and replaced by THC.
Another rather serious yet prevalent misconception about THCa that I hear quite often is that it won’t show a positive result for THC when you take a drug test. I wish this misconception would die already. I have heard this time and time again from patients who consume raw, fresh cannabis as in juicing the leaves or using them in salads. These folks think they won’t test positive for THC in urine, hair or blood tests. WRONG! The cannabis metabolites that are the marker for a positive drug screening show THCa and THC as the same thing. Be careful folks! There is a lot of “fake news” about cannabis out there. Stay informed and stay safe.
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