by Miranda on 06/11/2017 | Medicinal

International Study Proves Neuroprotective Effects of the Phytocannabinoid THCA

Phytocannabinoid THCA The list of diseases for which the phytocannabinoids in the Cannabis Sativa L. plant have medicinal properties and benefits does not stop getting longer. Now, an international study shows that Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCA, which is found in raw cannabis, has important neuroprotective effects.

Phytocannabinoids, the active principles of the Cannabis Sativa L. plant, determine the extent of its properties and therapeutic benefits for our health. The list of diseases and disorders for which these cannabinoids prove to be beneficial increases every day as research moves forward. The turn has come now to Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid or THCA, a phytocannabinoid in acid form found in raw cannabis. An international team of researchers has published a study that shows that THCA has important neuroprotective effects, which makes it a potential and promising treatment of metabolic, neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases.

In order to better understand the scope of the study at hand, I would like to make a brief introduction to some basic concepts related to the science of cannabinoids, with which some may be more familiar, and other not so much.

What are Phytocannabinoids?

In general, the word “cannabinoid” is usually used to refer to all chemical substances that, independently of their origin and structures, are linked to our own endocannabinoid system, specifically to cannabinoid receptors located in our body and brain.

All those chemical substances form a large and varied group that can be divided into three subgroups:

  • Herbal Cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids naturally synthetized by the plant;
  • Endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids, such as anandamin or 2-AG, are produced by animal organisms and the human body;
  • And synthetic cannabinoids, as their name suggests, are made synthetically in a laboratory.

Endocannabinoids are part of a modulation system of our body that includes the targets on which the plant cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids act. When we smoke, ingest or vaporize cannabis, these phytocannabinoids interact with the cells our body to produce medicinal benefits.

A close up photo of the tip of a growing plant bearing a ripening bud of cannabis, and the molecular diagram of the cannabinoid CBG (cannabigerol) superimposed over it.

To date, more than 100 phytocannabinoids have already been identified, which include their acidic and neutral forms, analogues and other transformation products. Among the most known and studied cannabinoids present in marihuana, hashish or other extracts based on, or derived from, the Cannabis Sativa L. plant are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN). Some of the least known are cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabidivarin (CBDV), and a long etc.

The rise of research on cannabinoids derives from the expectations created by the potential therapeutic applications in medicine of these substances, which undoubtedly are a subject of global interest, which goes beyond the scientific or clinical areas.

THCA, A Cannabinoid Acid without Psychoactive Effects

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCA is a compound or cannabinoid acid found in raw cannabis before a known chemical reaction called “decarboxylation” occurs. This reaction takes place when cannabis is heated or dried, and due to it, the acids transmute in their neutral and psychoactive forms. That is, this chemical process is what makes cannabis psychoactive, and the reason why cannabinoid acids lack psychoactive effects. This is an important aspect that is now the subject of scientific research.

Specifically, THCA is converted in Δ9-THC – the famous and main psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant – by combustion, vaporization or heating at a suitable temperature. Hence, it is not possible to smoke or inhale cannabinoid acids, they can only be ingested or applied topically.

A photo of a table with a clear plastic beaker of bright green cannabis juice and a cannabis joint in a small ashtray on it, and a group of people sharing cannabis juice in the background.

Neuroprotective Properties of Cannabinoids

We come back again to the study that concerns us today, and that proves once again the interest of scientific research for medicinal cannabis and for the therapeutic properties of these compounds – especially non-psychoactive ones, such as CBD.

Medical research has been carried out by the Maimónides Institude of Biomedical Research of Cordoba, Spain, in collaboration with three of the leading companies working in the field of medical cannabis research – Phytoplant Research SL, VivaCell Biotechnology Spain SL, and Emerald Health Pharmaceuticals – and the resulting study has been published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

Researchers have found that Tetrahydrocannabinolic  Acid or THCA has a great neuroprotective potential and, therefore, may be a promising treatment for neoinflammatory and degenerative diseases – such as Huntington’s disease (HD) – as well as for debilitating neurodegenerative diseases – such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among others.

Occording to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 6.8 million people die every year due to these neurodegenerative diseases, most of which affect cognitive functioning and other bodily tasks such as balance, movement, speech, or even breathing and heart movements.

The study has shown that THCA, the non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid biosynthesized by the Cannabis sative L. plant in greater amounts, has such effect in its raw form through the activation of the PPARy receptors – instead of acting on the endocannabinoid system – eliminating from the medical equation the psychotropic or undesired brain effects.

As Dr. Xavier Nadal, director of the I+D Extraction Department of the Phyloplant Research SL. company, “This finding will open a new range of neuroprotective applications of cannabinoids, avoiding psychoactive side effects.”

In Vivo  Study Results

The study has been carried out in experimental animals, specifically, in rodents, with the aim of studying the bioactivity of THCA – which at the moment has been little studied by science, whereas it is now included in different preparations based on cannaibis – and determining if Δ9- THCA regulates the PPARy pathway and prove its neuroprotective activity in vivo. 

A photo of a slice of part of the brain preserved in a clear substance, labelled ‘Depigmentation of Substantia Nigra in Postencephalitic Parkinson’s Disease 68/1960’.

The results obtained showed that cannabinoid acids bind and activate PPARy with greater potency than their decarboxylated products. PPARy is the nuclear receptor of some cannabinoids, and signling via PPARy plays a role in neuroinflammation and in epilepsy. Since Δ9- THCA is a potent PPARy agonist, it displayed neuroprotective and neuroinflammatory activity in an animal model affected by Huntington’s disease. To the rodents that had been inoculated with the mitochondrial toxin 3-nitropropanoid acid, THCA helped them improve motor deficit and prevent striatal degeneration through a PPARy-dependent pathway.

On the other hand, tetrahydrocannabinolic acyd caused the mitochondrial mass to increase in neuroblastoma N2a cells, and prevented the citotoxicity induced by serum deprivation in STHdhQ111/Q111 cells. It also showed that it attenuated microgliosis and astrogliosis, in addition to reducing the expression of proinflammatory mediators and markers usually associated with HD.


The research team concludes in its study that Δ9- THCA has a powerful neuroprotective activity that is worth taking into account when applying treatments in the case of Huntington’s disease, and possibly in the case of other neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. They also concluded that the botanical preparations that are not decarboxylated can contain high levels of other non-psychoactive cannabinoid acids, such as Cannabidiolic Acid or CBDA and Cannabigerolic Acid or CBGA, which act on PPARy.

The interesnt and relevance of this type of studies lies in the fact that they provide us with evidence that these cannabinoid compounds contained in the Cannabis Sativa L. plant have significant pharmacological potential. Even though at the moment, most of these studies are preclinical, that is, they have not been carried out in humans, there is no doubt that the results demonstrate the medicinal potential of cannabis as an alternative and / or complementary treatment that could help many patients that suffer different aiments and disorders all over the world.

A photo of an outdoor garden with two large cannabis plants in the foreground and fruit trees in the background.

However, we cannot forget that, unlike hemp CBD, THCA comes from its sister plant, which, unfortunately, remains illegal in much of the world. For this reason, many studies and research about cannabinoids have not yet been carried out in human patients, due to current legislation that forbids the plant and classify it as having no medical value. As long as the laws do not change and move forward, science will continue to be a barrier.

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Gary Bagnall

The giant pharmo companies will loose billions if we can all just grow our own medicine for free.
And governments care more about money than people, so untill they find a way to tax it I doubt it will become legal in England, though Scotland and Wales may go for it sooner.


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