What is the difference between acidic (raw) and decarboxylated (heated) cannabinoids? And which is better?
Phytocannabinoids are produced by the cannabis plant as carboxylic acids and are typically decarboxylated into their neutral form by heat when smoking, vaping, baking or otherwise processing. During decarboxylation cannabis loses some of its natural healing properties such as volatile terpenes and heat sensitive compounds such as enzymes. The biological effects of decarboxylated cannabinoids like Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been extensively investigated; however, research is limited regarding the bioactivity of acidic cannabinoids like Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). It’s worth mentioning that THCA as it is found in the raw cannabis plant is not psychoactive. It’s not until THCA is heated that a carboxylic acid group is removed from the molecule creating THC, then it becomes psychoactive.
Currently over 110 known cannabinoids are produced by the cannabis plant, with THCA and CBDA being the most well known cannabinoids. Although research of acidic cannabinoids is less abundant than decarboxylated cannabinoids, recent studies show raw cannabis can be up to 50x more bioavailable to your cells, where the therapeutic magic takes place (1, 5). Recent studies and anecdotal reports thus far seem to indicate great promise in the pharmacological value of these compounds (2) for the treatment of many illnesses including but certainly not limited to breast cancer (3), anticipatory nausea (4, 6), neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation (5, 6) and other inflammatory issues (7), as well as for its antibiotic or insecticidal properties which is likely why the plant produces these compounds (8).
So what is better acidic or decarboxylated cannabinoids? The answer isn’t that simple and since experts agree more data is needed we recommend consumption of various varieties of cannabis, various cannabinoid and terpene profiles, and various dosage regimens, at least until you figure out what works best for you. For those who wish to avoid psychoactivity, acidic cannabinoids are especially valuable.
Consumption of cannabinoid acids by juicing fresh cannabis plant matter has been advocated but this approach requires access to enough plants for daily harvesting of fresh leaves (about 30 plants). Obviously, this is not practical for most people. A more practical approach may be to buy cannabis flower and make your own cannabis tea or purchase cannabis extracts that are high in acidic cannabinoids. Since the Washington State recreational cannabis market is saturated with decarboxylated products, finding extracts containing acidic cannabinoids may be challenging; however, Discovery Garden has been producing an acid, aka raw, extract known as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). This concentrated form of the plant is as close to nature as possible. One gram of raw RSO is equivalent to consuming 10 grams of raw flower.
1. Pellesi, L, Licata, M, Verri, P, et al. Pharmacokinetics and tolerability of oral cannabis preparations in patients with medication overuse headache (MOH) - a pilot study. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2018; 74(11): 1427-1436.
2. Izzo, A, Borrelli, F, Capasso, R, Di Marzo, V and Mechoulam, R. Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. 2009; 30(10): 515-527.
3. Takeda, S, Okajima, S, Miyoshi, H, et al. Cannabidiolic acid, a major cannabinoid in fiber-type cannabis, is an inhibitor of MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cell migration. Toxicology Letters. 2012: 214(3): 314-319.
4. Rock, E, Sticht, M, Limebeer, C and Parker, L. Cannabinoid regulation of acute and anticipatory nausea. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. 2016; 1(1): 113-121.
5. Nadal, X, del Rio, C, Casano, S, et al. Tetrahydrocannbinolic acid is a potent PPARy agonist with neuroprotective activity. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2017; 174: 4263-4276.
6. Brierly, D, Samuels, J, Duncan, M, Whalley, B and Williams, C. Neuromotor tolerability and behavioural characterisation of cannabidiolic acid, a phytocannabinoid with therapeutic potential for anticipatory nausea. Psychopharmacology. 2016; 233(2): 243-254.
7. Takeda, S, Misawa, K, Yamamoto, I and Watanabe, K. Cannabidiolic acid as a selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitory component in cannabis. Drug Metabolism and Disposition. 2008; 36(9): 1917-1921.
8. Jikomes, Nick. “Cannabis 101: List of Major Cannabinoids in Cannabis and Their Effects.” Leafly, https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/list-major-cannabinoids-cannabis-effects