In this contributor article, Marco Troiani of Digamma Consulting discusses the chemistry of cannabinoid acids, and the chemical process behind smoking and decarboxylation of cannabis.
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The Decarboxylation of Cannabinoids
Decarboxylation of cannabinoids is crucial to understanding cannabis as medicine. Each cannabinoid acid decarboxylates into its corresponding free cannabinoid, such as THCA decarboxylating into THC and CBDA decarboxylating into CBD. Although the body is capable of converting cannabinoids into a variety of metabolites, once a cannabinoid acid enters the body it is generally not converted to its free cannabinoid form. This means that administering THCA and THC will have different effects on the human mind and body, and this essential difference can be found among all cannabinoids. Below is an overview of the major cannabinoids and the pharmacological and medical differences between their acids and their free forms.
THC / THCA
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a well-known cannabinoid that acts as the primary intoxicant and euphoriant of cannabis. THC is also one of the most practical and safe treatments for neuropathic, chronic, and other types of pain(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). THC is effective in addressing both the immunological and symptom component of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)(5, 6, 13, 14, 15, 16).
Despite the fact that THCA is not an intoxicant, it is a powerful medicine. THCA is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory agents in cannabis(7, 17, 18). Smokers receive very little to none of this cannabinoid, due to its decomposition in the smoking process. THCA is an anti-inflammatory agent, and according to one study, a more powerful neuroprotective agent than THC(19). THCA is a powerful COX-1 and COX-2 antagonist, similar to aspirin and ibuprofen, but with far less toxicity to the liver(17).
The effects of THCA and THC reflect the diversity of action on the human body a cannabinoid and its precursor acid can have. The other cannabinoids, CBD, CBG, CBC, and THCV all have acid forms which have distinct effects on human health.
CBD / CBDA
Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to be an effective medicine for people suffering from anxiety(5, 7, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28). CBD has also been shown to be effective at fighting breast cancer cells(29, 30). Many studies find that CBD promotes apoptosis, or cell suicide, in breast cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells unaffected.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is CBD’s acid precursor from raw cannabis flower. CBDA has also been shown to fight human breast cancer, but in a different way. Whereas CBD causes apoptosis in breast cancer cells, CBDA has been shown to slow or stop metastasis of breast cancer cells by arresting their motility, or ability to move throughout the body(31). This evidence would indicate that a breast cancer patient may want to talk to their doctor about dual CBD/CBDA therapy, taking both decarboxylated CBD and raw CBDA together.
CBG / CBGA
Cannabigerol (CBG) has been shown to have some potent anti-inflammatory properties that are particularly applicable in inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)(32). Additionally, CBG has been shown to have some properties not known among many other cannabinoids, such as an ability to interact with human adrenal receptors and serotonin receptors(33). Currently, more studies need to be done on Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGA) in isolation from CBG to learn what, if any, differences there are between the cannabinoid and its precursor acid on human health.
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About the Author
Marco Troiani is one of the founding members of Digamma Consulting and the laboratory manager. He was also the laboratory manager of DB Labs from its founding 2015-2016. His responsibilities included developing detection methods for terpenes and solvents (GC-MS), metals (ICP-MS), pesticides (GC-MS-MS), and Total Yeast and Mold, Total Aerobic Bacteria, Total Coliform Bacteria, and Salmonella spp. in cannabis and associated products.