The Differences Between CBD vs CBDA

Most people have heard of cannabidiol—the primary therapeutic, non-psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, but other cannabinoids like CBDA have more recently garnered attention. The main difference between CBDA and CBD is that CBDA is a parent compound that can ultimately convert to CBD, but there’s much more to the story. 

One of the major cannabinoid precursor compounds, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), was shot into the spotlight almost overnight when researchers from the University of Oregon discovered early in 2022 that the cannabinoid binds to the spike protein of SARS-COV-2 (aka COVID-19). Since then, cannabis enthusiasts have become interested in discovering other CBDA benefits and differences, if any, between CBDA vs CBD.

How CBDA and CBD Develop in the Cannabis Plant

The two most well-known cannabinoids—THC and CBD—are only two of more than 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. And in many cases, these cannabinoids aren’t even present in the plant material at all—their precursor cannabinoids are.

All cannabinoids develop from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) “the mother of all cannabinoids,” which converts into tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabichromenic acid (CBCA), and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA).

When the buds of the female cannabis plants are harvested, the cannabinoids remain in their acid, or “raw” forms. However, during the drying and curing process, some unstable acidic cannabinoids like CBDA start to convert, in this case, into CBD.

Decarboxylation

The reason we don’t hear much about raw cannabinoids is that they won’t get you high—which is the primary goal for many recreational cannabis consumers. Moreover, these acidic cannabinoids convert into THC, CBD, CBC, and so on as soon as the plant material is heated through smoking, vaping, or dabbing, so they are seen more as the means to an end rather than an end in and of themselves.

The only way you could consume CBDA would be to consume un-decarboxylated cannabis, such as:

  • Eating fresh cannabis leaves

  • Drinking fresh cannabis juice

  • Adding unheated live resin to homemade edibles

  • Taking full-spectrum CBD tinctures, oils, or capsules that have been stored in a cool or cold place

Interestingly, a growing number of studies show that CBDA could have health benefits that are sometimes superior to the CBD benefits with which we’re already familiar. There may be a case for considering this raw, acidic cannabinoid.

Potential Benefits of CBDA

Powerful Anti-Inflammatory

In 2008, CBDA was discovered to have a similar molecular structure to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) [1]. In this study, CBDA oil blocked COX-2, an enzyme produced in the presence of inflammation, and was more effective at doing so than THC. The acidity of CBDA was thought to be a key reason for its effectiveness.

While frequently prescribed, pharmaceutical NSAIDs come with a risk of side effects including “stomach pain, nausea, bleeding, ulcers, gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation” and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke [2], effects that haven’t been associated with CBDA. Clinical studies will reveal exactly how the safety profile of CBDA compares to that of NSAIDs.

Powerful Nausea Inhibitor

Both CBD and CBDA activate the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood, anxiety, sleep, and nausea. Because of this chemical relationship, CBDA has been studied as an anti-nausea drug and found to be around one thousand times more powerful than CBD at inhibiting nausea and vomiting in rodents [3]. If the same holds true for humans, CBDA could offer hope for chemotherapy patients who struggle with nausea as a result of their treatment.

Effective Anti-Convulsant

Just as CBD oil has been prescribed for certain rare forms of childhood epilepsy in the form of Epidiolex®, CBDA has demonstrated anticonvulsant effects in a rat maximal electroshock seizure test [4]. In this study, CBDA was as effective as CBD at reducing convulsions. Furthermore, its potency was improved by the inclusion of minor cannabinoid constituents, which supports the theory that cannabinoids work together to produce their effects—commonly referred to as the “entourage effect.”

May Prevent the Spread of Breast Cancers

A study published in 2012 investigated the effect of CBDA on highly invasive MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells and found that this compound inhibited the migration of the cells [5]. What this means in simple terms is that cannabidiolic acid could help to stop aggressive breast cancers from spreading. Raw hemp juice for the win!

Protection from COVID-19

Early in 2022, an article in Forbes revealed that two cannabinoid acids that are common in hemp plants—cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBD)—bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which can “prevent the virus from entering cells and causing infection.” In the abstract of the study, the researchers concluded that “these cannabinoids, isolated or in hemp extracts, have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2.” [6].

CBDA vs CBD Compared

How CBDA Interacts with the Endocannabinoid System

Even though they are chemically related and both CBD and CBDA act on the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors, CBD and CBDA interact differently with the network of cannabinoid receptors in the human body (the “endocannabinoid system”).

CBD appears to modulate cannabinoid receptors indirectly and keep the body’s own cannabinoids (anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol [2-AG]) circulating in the bloodstream for longer [7]. In contrast, CBDA inhibits the COX 2 receptor, which is related to inflammation.

Another difference is that while CBD moderates the effects and the “high” of THC, CBDA doesn’t have this effect. This might be a plus for consumers who don’t want to lose the recreational aspects of cannabis while enjoying the health benefits of CBDA.

Effectiveness and Absorption

According to research, CBDA is much better absorbed by the body than CBD [8], meaning that far less CBDA is required to provide the same level of benefit.

Moreover, rodent studies show stronger effects for CBDA vs CBD against inflammatory pain [9], nausea [3], and potentially anxiety as well, as both nausea and anxiety are associated with the same serotonin receptors in the brain.

Unique Benefits

There are several benefits that are shared by both CBDA and CBD, including anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, antioxidant, appetite-regulating, and anxiolytic properties. There are other properties that appear to be unique to each cannabinoid:

  • CBD has potential benefits for skin health, specifically psoriasis and acne [10, 11].

  • Unique CBDA benefits include properties as an anticonvulsant, antibacterial, and breast-cancer-mitigating compound, as well as binding to the spike protein of SARS-CO-2.

Challenges for CBDA’s Commercialization

The main challenge for producing and marketing cannabidiolic acid is that heating CBDA turns it into CBD. Even if the manufacturer were to take great care to make sure the CBDA was kept cold, the customer would only need to leave the product at room temperature for a few days and it would start to turn into CBD.

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli scientist who isolated the chemical structure of THC in the 1960s, found a way in 2019 to stabilize CBDA with a methyl ester addition. While it’s not yet known if the synthetic version of cannabidiolic acid is as effective and as easily absorbed as its natural counterpart, this is an exciting development.

What about the other Precursor Cannabinoids?

This new interest in CBDA naturally begs the question as to whether the other precursor cannabinoids might also have more to offer than we previously might have thought.

  • Researchers in Sydney have discovered that cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) is effective against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)[2020, 12].

  • Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) may help to improve “the symptoms of obesity-associated metabolic syndrome and inflammation” [13]. It is also associated with reducing chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting and acting on the immune system [14].

As laws surrounding the marijuana and hemp plant become more relaxed, we can hope to see more funding allocated to cannabinoid research. For now, customers in legal cities like Seattle, Washington, will just have to do some experiments of their own.

Is CBDA Legal in My State?

CBDA from hemp plants can legally be sold anywhere that hemp extracts are legal—just like CBD oil. The main question is whether the product you want to buy contains any THC, as some states don’t allow CBD products with any THC.

Before purchasing a CBDA tincture, check whether your state allows full-spectrum cannabis products, CBD oil with less than 0.3% THC, or CBD oil with no THC. Most states allow adults to possess hemp-derived CBD and a few others allow CBD if you have medical marijuana certification.

How Can I Try CBDA?

If you’re curious to try CBDA, the options at present are fairly limited.

  1. The best option would be to purchase full-spectrum CBD products like cannabis tinctures or live resin concentrates that have been tested in a laboratory and confirmed to contain CBDA.

  2. The other way would be to find someone who grows their own cannabis plants and can make you some raw cannabis juice.

Ultimately, we hope CBDA will become more accessible after more clinical trials are performed and the compound is formally approved by the FDA—either in its natural or synthetic form.

CBDA: Exciting Potential for Health and Well-Being

Having examined the similarities and differences between CBDA and CBD, it should have become clear that there are so many potential applications of the cannabis plant and its compounds that we’ve only really scratched the surface.

While CBD and THC are more well known, more easily extracted and isolated, and far more resistant to heat, acidic cannabinoids like CBDA, CBGA, CBCA, and THCA appear to offer unique health benefits with exciting potential for therapeutic use.