The Battle of THC-A and THC: Finding the Best Option for Pain Relief

Cannabis for pain relief is increasingly popular as growing research and case reports suggest its profound therapeutic potential. One of the main components of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has long been known to have potent analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. But what about its non-psychoactive counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A)?  

This article examines the question, “what is the difference between THC and THC-A?” exploring the distinctions between THC-A and THC and their pain-relieving potential.


What is THC-A?

THC-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) is a cannabinoid in young harvested cannabis plants. It is an acidic form of regular THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that produces no psychoactive effects when consumed raw. Instead, studies show THC A possesses immense therapeutic benefits, similar to CBD, such as anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antiemetic properties.


How is THC-A Different Than THC?

THCA and THC are both tetrahydrocannabinol chemicals. However, THCA’s chemical structure bears an extra carboxylic acid group. THCA’s additional carboxylic acid group makes it too large to bind to the neural receptors that THC attaches to, which causes marijuana’s trademark high. As a result, THCA is non-psychoactive in its raw form.

THC-A must first be decarboxylated before it can produce any psychoactive effects. Decarboxylation occurs naturally over time or through heating processes like smoking or vaporizing cannabis flowers or concentrates. Once decarboxylated, THC-A loses its carboxylic acid group and converts into its active form – Δ9–tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), aka regular THC.

THC A and THC’s distinct molecular structures give them distinguishing pain-relief properties.


What Are the Different Types of Pain?

To understand how THC-A and THC help with pain, it’s essential to understand the different types of pain.


Nociceptive Pain

Nociceptive pain is the most common pain resulting from body tissue damage. Nociceptive pain can feel dull, sharp, throbbing, cramping, or aching. Injuries like breaking a bone are the most common form. But people can also experience nociceptive pain from burns, cuts, and joint damage.


Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain differs from nociceptive pain in that it does not occur in response to specific stimuli, like injuries or disease. Instead, neuropathic pain results from diseases or injuries that cause nerve damage. The resulting nerve damage creates painful sensations, including burning, numbness, tingling, and sensitivity to touch.


Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is any type of persistent or recurrent pain lasting longer than three months. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School report that one in five Americans experience pain daily or every other day. That’s over 20% of the U.S. adult population.

Chronic pain can be episodic or continuous and may be accompanied by depression, fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia. Both nociceptive and neuropathic sources can cause it but may also have an unknown cause.


THC-A Vs. THC For Nociceptive Pain

When treating nociceptive pain with cannabis products, THCA and THC can be effective options depending on individual needs and preferences.

Studies suggest that both cannabinoids can reduce inflammation, which helps alleviate symptoms associated with nociceptive pain, such as swelling and tenderness around injured areas.

Medical cannabis doctors report anecdotal evidence that THC-A can reduce pain for some patients with arthritis pain. However, other health professionals report improvements by combining THC-A and THC. This data shows both cannabinoids can be effective for nociceptive pain.


THC-A Vs. THC For Neuropathic Pain

Cannabis products featuring THC, such as edibles and ointments, offer hope to those afflicted with neuropathic pain. A study in CMAJ, a Canadian medical journal, reported that patients who smoked THC experienced less neuropathic pain and improved comorbidities, such as poor sleep and depression.

Additionally, a meta-analysis of 1,750 patients with neuropathic pain revealed that THC extract, synthetic THC medications, and cannabis flower effectively delivered pain relief compared to a placebo.

Comparatively, studies involving nerve pain and THC-A are limited. Still, Dr. Allan Frankel, a medical cannabis specialist in California with decades of experience treating patients with cannabinoids, reports success with a facial nerve trauma patient. The patient regained near-normal feelings in their face and gums following his treatment using a combination of CBD and THC-A.


THC-A vs. THC For Chronic Pain

Regarding treating chronic pain with cannabis products, studies suggest that both cannabinoids may offer some relief from symptoms associated with this type of condition. However, most studies involve THC and are very positive for patients. That’s because THC offers diverse pain-relieving mechanisms.



  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Blocks specific nerve pain receptors
  • Makes people feel euphoric and, therefore, less bothered by pain


Unfortunately, there are limited scientific studies involving the use of THC-A to treat chronic pain. However, anecdotal reports from medical cannabis specialists suggest that both cannabinoids can benefit people with chronic pain.


THC-A Products

There are several ways to consume non-psychoactive THC A for its pain-relieving potential. The key is to ingest raw or unheated marijuana to ensure THC A does not decarboxylate and convert into standard THC (unless getting high is the goal).

  • Juicing – Raw cannabis can be juiced and blended into smoothies and other drinks. This method allows pain patients to get the benefits of consuming raw cannabis without tasting it.
  • Tinctures – Cannabis tinctures are liquid extracts made by soaking cannabis in alcohol or oil for an extended period. Tinctures can be taken sublingually (under the tongue) or added to food and drinks.
  • Capsules – Cannabis capsules are another way to ingest raw cannabis without tasting it directly. The capsules contain either ground flower or oil extractions from the plant material that have not been heated and still contain THCA.

THC Products

People can consume THC through a variety of methods:

  • Smoking or vaping flower is ideal for near-instant pain relief as the THC is absorbed through the lungs and enters the bloodstream quickly.
  • Dabbing concentrates made from extracted THC, such as waxes, oils, and shatter, is a more potent way to consume THC that is also fast-acting due to the high concentration of THC in these products.
  • Edibles are an excellent option for those who don’t want to smoke or vaporize their cannabis. Edibles are made by infusing food with THC extract, which can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours to take effect.
  • Tinctures are liquid extracts made by soaking cannabis in alcohol or oil for an extended period. Tinctures can be taken sublingually (under the tongue) or added to food and drinks.
  • Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils applied directly to the skin. This method of consumption is ideal for localized pain relief as the THC in the topical only affects the area it is used to.

The Bottom Line

THCA and THC are critical components of marijuana with potential pain-relieving properties. THCA does not produce any intoxicating effects when consumed, making it a good choice for those who want to avoid the high associated with THC. For those with neuropathic pain and who prefer the psychoactive effects of marijuana, THC is the way to go.



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