In recent years, there’s been a lot of focus on the medical potential of CBD (cannabidiol), a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that has gentle sedative properties. It’s also being used as a treatment for rare forms of epilepsy. CBD wouldn’t exist, however, without CBDA.
What Is CBDA?
CBDA is a cannabinoid. These are the compounds that serve as marijuana’s active ingredients, and there are dozens of them within the plant. When introduced into the human brain and body, cannabinoids mimic the chemicals our brains naturally produce by plugging into the same receptors.
This means that cannabinoids can create a wide range of effects such as causing euphoria, alleviating pain, helping with depression, easing nausea, and more. In their activated state, these cannabinoids are known as THC, CBD, CBG, and so on. Before CBD and other cannabinoids are pharmacologically active, they exist in their acidic forms.
This means that the precursor to CBD in marijuana is CBDA, or cannabidiolic acid. This is also the case with other cannabinoids, meaning that raw cannabis flower contains THCA, CBGA, CBCA, in addition to CBDA.
How Is CBDA Produced?
Before all of these cannabinoids reach that state, however, they all start out as CBGA. Known as “the mother of all cannabinoids,” it’s from this compound that all the rest originate. Via an enzymatic reaction that occurs in the plant’s trichomes, various percentages of the CBGA turn into CBDA, THCA, and other cannabinoids.
This process works using inverse proportions. Think of the CBGA in a marijuana plant as being like a pie. If two-thirds of the pie turns into THCA, that only leaves one-third to transform into other cannabinoids such as CBDA or to linger in its original form as CBGA. This is why marijuana strains that are bred high in THC have such low percentages of CBD and vice-versa.
CBDA vs CBD
The difference between these acidic forms of cannabis and their better-known versions (CBDA vs CBD, for example) are that the acidic forms of cannabinoids aren’t pharmacologically active. THCA, for example, doesn’t cause a euphoric high the way THC does. CBDA has long been thought to have none of the effects of CBD, but scientific studies are beginning to call this into question. Either way, cannabinoids such as CBDA aren’t considered pharmacologically active until they’ve been decarboxylated.
Decarboxylation involves heating the cannabinoid acids in a marijuana plant until they lose their carboxylic acid. When this happens to cannabidiolic acid/CBDA, it turns into CBD.
This heating process can be accomplished though smoking or vaping. Some people decarboxylate their cannabis by spreading it evenly on a baking sheet and putting it into a 230-degree (Fahrenheit) oven for up to 40 minutes until the material turns medium brown. Why put cannabis through this process? Without decarboxylation, popular thought says, cannabinoids are useless. Today, however, some people are beginning to reconsider this theory.
While it’s long been considered necessary to decarboxylate CBDA and transform it into CBD in order to unleash its health benefits, scientific studies are showing that CBDA may have benefits that are all its own.
CBDA Medical Benefits
The majority of the research studies around cannabis have been focused on the non-acidic forms of its cannabinoids. This has largely left the world in the dark in terms of the benefits of their acidic precursors. However, a growing body of research is beginning to shift the tide in terms of the way the world thinks of CBDA, its potential benefits, and its uses.
Research studies have shown CBD to be a promising treatment for depression, but is the same true of CBDA? Scientists have found that CBDA not only affects the same receptors as CBD (ones that control feelings of anxiety and well-being), but that it works as an antidepressant at doses that are 10 to 100 times less than the ones required of CBD.
Could CBDA be effective for people with epilepsy? GW Pharmaceuticals believes that it may be. The manufacturer of the CBD-derived epilepsy drug Epidiolex has also patented the use of CBDA for epilepsy as it looks into its potential. As with CBDA for depression, the pharmaceutical firm seems to believe that CBDA may work for epilepsy at lower doses than CBD. They’re also investigating whether the two might work best when used together, as CBDA may take effect faster while CBD provides longer-lasting effects.
Scientists studying CBDA benefits also believe it may be effective against nausea. The same receptors that control anxiety and well-being also regulate feelings of nausea, as well as vomiting. Like CBD, CBDA interacts with these receptors to calm queasy feelings. In fact, the research suggests that when it comes to choosing CBD vs CBDA for this purpose, CBDA is actually more effective.
A 2012 study out of Hokuriku University in Japan found that CBDA was effective at inhibiting the growth of an aggressive form of breast cancer. While researchers found the results to be promising, more studies are needed to determine the mechanisms through which the CBDA worked. In addition to preventing growth, one study found that cannabidiolic acid can prevent breast cancer cells from migrating, meaning that it limits the disease’s opportunity to metastasize to other parts of the body.
Scientists have been working to figure out what this all means. What is the mechanism through which CBDA affects cancer cells and how can this be put to use in real-world treatment? While a 2014 study made a connection between CBDA as a COX-2 inhibitor and its breast cancer-fighting ability, more research is necessary to fully utilize CBDA as a weapon against the disease.
CBDA’s role as a COX-2 inhibitor makes it more than a cancer-fighter; it also makes it an excellent anti-inflammatory. COX-2 is the enzyme targeted by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Researchers found that CBDA not only blocks this enzyme; it does it even better than THC.
How to Consume CBDA
While studies are still ongoing to discover CBDA’s potential medical uses, some health-conscious people are hoping to harness any potential CBDA benefits by consuming it at home. The best way to do this is to start with raw cannabis leaves and flowers from plants that haven’t been cured. They can be used to infuse into cannabis topicals such as balms or creams, as well as ingested orally.
Raw, uncured marijuana can be difficult to find. Where it’s legal, some people simply grow their own, while others check local dispensaries to see if they can procure fresh, CBDA-rich marijuana. Store raw cannabis leaves or flowers in the refrigerator just like any green, leafy vegetable.
- Juicing it (mixing it with fruit juice to make it less bitter)
- Lightly steaming the leaves
- Tossing the leaves with a salad
- Mixing it into sauces or salad dressings
- Garnishing food with it
Looking Deeper Into CBDA…
Where does this all leave cannabis consumers? Should they decarboxylate their marijuana to transform the cannabidiolic acid into CBD or seek out raw cannabis and reap the rewards of CBDA? When it comes to the potential benefits of CBDA vs CBD, only time and more research will tell if one works better than the other. In the meantime, both of these cannabinoids are individual parts of a plant that’s proving to be both potent and more powerful than previously imagined.
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- CBD (Cannabidiol) - 101 Guide to CBD side effects, medical benefits, and ingestion methods.
- CBD vs THC - The difference between CBD and THC: effects, medical uses, and THC/CBD ratios.
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