Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the U.S., affecting around 40 million adults. Anxiety disorders cause worry and stress about social interactions, personal health, work, or phobias. Anxiety and related health issues, such as depression and sleep problems, are among the most common reasons people turn to cannabis and hemp. Studies show the plant’s cannabinoids, notably Delta-9 THC, are promising therapeutic agents to help people relax and relieve tension.
Another cannabinoid gaining popularity on the cannabis scene lately is THCA. When it comes to anxiety management, does THC or THCA work better? Here we look at the differences between these cannabinoids, their functions, and what they offer for anxiety relief.
THC vs. THCA
Aside from one letter added to the name, what is the difference between THC and THCA?
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, is the most well-known hemp and cannabis cannabinoid responsible for the plant’s famous psychoactive effects that make users feel high.
THC creates these effects by acting on receptors in the brain and central nervous system that help regulate various functions, like pleasure, pain, sleep, appetite, and hormones.
Common Delta-9 THC effects include:
- Feelings of joy or exhilaration
- Heightened imagination
- Improved sensory perception
THCA, short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is another naturally occurring cannabinoid in hemp and cannabis plants. It is almost identical to THC chemically but contains an extra carboxyl group, which makes it larger in shape.
Because THCA has a different structure than THC, it can’t bind to the same receptors in the brain that produce marijuana’s euphoric, trippy effects. As a result, THCA won’t make people feel high.
From THCA to THC
In simple terms, THCA is the precursor to THC.
THCA mainly exists in young, freshly harvested marijuana plants. As marijuana plants become exposed to heat, a natural chemical process called decarboxylation removes THCA’s extra molecular ring and converts it into THC.
Decarboxylation can happen through
- Heat exposure during drying, curing, and storage.
- Smoking, vaping, dabbing, or cooking cannabis for edibles
How Does THC Work for Anxiety?
Cannabis is popular for anxiety relief because Delta-9 THC’s interaction with brain receptors (called CB1) affects neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation. Specifically, THC stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical that causes euphoria and happiness.
Many scientists think THC in cannabis can potentially treat various health problems, including psychiatric conditions. THC’s effects on the brain have several benefits for those seeking anxiety relief:
Mood boost: THC’s dopamine production has instant mood-boosting effects. Also, studies reveal that people with anxiety are deficient in a chemical called anandamide (the “bliss molecule”), likely contributing to decreased happiness and self-esteem. THC has a similar chemical structure to anandamide and can interact with the body to counteract this deficiency.
Relaxation: Anxiety causes stress, feelings of being “on edge,” and irritability. Studies focused on THC show increased feelings of relaxation among daily users. THC can also ease muscle tension caused by anxiety, easing spasms, cramps, spasticity, pain, and muscle stiffness.
Energy: Anxiety often causes low energy levels and lethargy. THC’s mood-boosting effects can counteract episodes of exhaustion, feeling rundown, and having no ambition to do anything. THC can even motivate people to exercise.
THC dosage likely plays an important role in its efficacy. A University of Chicago study revealed that low doses of THC produced anxiety-relieving effects, while higher doses could have the opposite effect. Much of the cannabis sold in the U.S. has a high THC concentration, which can have adverse side effects in some users, such as:
- Rapid heartbeat
THCA Health Benefits
THCA doesn’t interact with receptors in the brain as THC does. However, THC and THCA have many overlapping effects.
- Helping with appetite loss
- Relieving nausea
- Reducing chronic pain and muscle spasms
THCA also appears to provide benefits similar to CBD, marijuana’s other widely known cannabinoid. Research indicates THCA can:
- Minimize inflammation
- Support better sleep through pain reduction
- Possibly assist with seizure disorders
Evidence that THCA can help directly with anxiety is minimal. A study on mice at the University of Saskatchewan found that THC, CBD, THCA, THCV, and CBG positively impacted anxiety.
Additionally, early statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that THCA displays a few major medical benefits that could assist those suffering from anxiety, including:
Relaxation: THCA can be calming and relaxing without psychoactive effects, similar to CBD products. It can serve as a sleep aid and help with insomnia, a common anxiety symptom. THCA’s anti-inflammatory properties can also help relax muscles and relieve pain.
Brain health: Anxiety shrinks the hippocampus, an area of the brain that plays a significant role in learning and memory. THCA displays neuroprotective properties that could help improve brain function, even possibly treating conditions affecting memory, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Mental Clarity: Some THCA users report more energy and mental clarity, helping them focus and concentrate better.
Best Products for Anxiety Relief
Anxiety patients seeking relief have many THC products to choose from, including:
- Smokable flower: Smoking Delta 9 THC directly from the source material quickly sends THC to the brain via the circulatory system and can provide calming effects in minutes.
- Oils, extracts, and tinctures: These versatile options are easy to add to food or beverages or place under the tongue.
- Edibles, such as gummies and candies: THC edibles travel through the digestive system, which slows and intensifies their effects. They can provide more extended relief, such as for insomnia or managing tension throughout the day.
Heating cannabis will convert THCA into THC, such as in products that require smoking, vaping, cooking, or dabbing. To get the most benefit from THCA, users must consume raw or low-heat cannabis products, such as:
- Juices and smoothies
- Cold pressed extracts
- Low-temperature infusions
- Capsules, tinctures, or oils
The Bottom Line
THC and THCA are cannabinoids that can help the body manage pain, inflammation, and muscle tension. THC comes out on top for anxiety relief due to its ability to interact with neurotransmitters that directly boost mood and increase physical relaxation.
THCA doesn’t interact with neurotransmitters, but it might benefit anxiety symptoms in less-direct ways, such as through better sleep, reduced tension, and helping brain areas related to memory.