Understanding Raw vs. Activated Cannabinoids
2 min

Understanding Raw vs. Activated Cannabinoids

2 min

Until activated, cannabinoids are not psychoactive. Could raw cannabinoids offer increased therapeutic benefits to medical marijuana patients who want effective treatment without an intoxicating high?

Most of us are familiar with the "grow it, dry it, smoke it" approach to weed, but that's not what all medical marijuana patients are into. For some, the main goal isn't to get high; it's to squeeze out every last bit of therapeutic power they can from cannabis, in the safest, most effective way possible for their specific illness.

With that in mind, both researchers and individual patients are comparing the effects of raw cannabinoids to activated ones to find the highest therapeutic value between the two. Before you run your own personal experiment, here are a few things you should know:

How are raw and activated cannabinoids different?

Contrary to popular opinion, fresh cannabis has almost no THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). Instead, all those mushroom-shaped trichomes are filled with THCA (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). THCA can be thought of as raw THC and must go through a chemical transformation, usually through heat, to change into active THC, the psychoactive form that makes you feel high or intoxicated.

When you smoke or vape cannabis, the heat instantly activates the THCA, changing it to THC. The same thing happens if you bake your weed in the oven at the right temperature for the right amount of time, or if you slow cook it in butter or oil to make cannabutter for edibles. The activation process is more commonly known as "decarbing."

Raw CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) changes to activated CBD (cananbidiol) in exactly the same way. Neither CBDA nor CBD are psychoactive on their own, so they won't ever get you high. However, CBD does interact with THC to moderate the psychoactive effects for a calmer, more relaxed feeling, and it has a different set of medical effects compared to CBDA.

Do raw cannabinoids have better medical benefits than activated cannabinoids?

For medical purposes, raw cannabinoids could be better than activated cannabinoids for two reasons.

First, simply because they're not psychoactive, patients should be able to consume more total raw cannabinoids than activated ones for increased therapeutic benefits, assuming that THCA and CBDA have at least as much healing power as THC and CBD. However, research hasn't been able to prove this theory. In cancer studies, scientists found that CBD was more effective against breast cancer than CBDA, hands down.

Individual patients, on the other hand, do not agree. Some users suffering from autism, ALS, fibromyalgia, neurologic pain and multiple sclerosis have anecdotally reported a noticeable decrease in their symptoms within days to weeks after they added raw cannabinoids to their treatment regimen. Once stopped, symptoms returned quickly.

Secondly, raw cannabinoids work differently compared to activated cannabinoids. Activated cannabinoids are usually better for immediate relieve of acute pain, nausea, and appetite. Raw cannabinoids tend to be more effective for long-term treatment for chronic conditions like insomnia, inflammation and slowing down cancer.

This is because raw and active cannabinoids interact with different receptors and enzymes in the human body. THC primarily activates the CB1 (cannabinoid) receptors in the body's endocannabinoid system. THCA, on the other hand, works mostly through the 5HT-1A (serotonin) receptors. CBD and CBDA are much more similar. They both work through the 5HT-1A receptors like THCA, but CBDA appears to be much stronger than CBD.

Raw cannabinoids also block COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes to control inflammation and the pain that comes from inflammation. This is promising because inflammation is the underlying cause of a lot of illnesses, and other NSAID drugs that block the same enzymes have been blamed for heart attacks and strokes in some patients.

Raw vs. activated cannabinoids doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. Lab reports reveal that smoking cured bud only converts about 30% of THCA to THC. Extracts are a little more efficient, but you still only get about a 70 to 90% conversion rate. And, some people do a partial decarboxylation when prepping their bud for edibles or topicals for a wider spectrum of medical benefits.

So far, we don't know for sure that raw cannabinoids are better than their active counterparts for medicinal use. The research studies are promising, but the results have been mixed. With better understanding, we hope that future patients will have better access to safe, targeted medical marijuana treatment designed to give them relief from their specific symptoms. Either way, cannabinoids are powerful compounds; both raw and activated have great potential, so let’s hope research continues to investigate their beneficial uses.

Adam Parsons
Adam Parsons
Professional cannabis journalist, copywriter, and author Adam Parsons is a long-time staff member of Zamnesia. Tasked with covering a wide range of topics from CBD to psychedelics and everything in between, Adam creates blog posts, guides, and explores an ever-growing range of products.
Growing Seedshop
Search in categories