How is THCa Flower Produced?
THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) is a naturally occurring compound in the cannabis plant. It’s a precursor to THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. When cannabis is heated or aged over time, THCa slowly converts into THC. However, most raw cannabis flower has a significant amount of THCa, which isn’t psychoactive in its raw form.
So, when people refer to “THCa flower”, once again, they’re usually referring to cannabis flower that hasn’t been decarboxylated (or heated) to convert THCa to THC, and therefore retains a high concentration of THCa. In a sense then, most freshly unheated cannabis flowers can be considered “THCa flower”.
Cultivation and Storage Methods for Producing Quality THCa Flower
Now, here’s where things get a bit more technical, as there are some specialized cultivation and storage methods that aim to maximize the THCa content in cannabis flower. So, below is a general overview of how it’s done:
1. Growing Cannabis Plants:
- Start with high-quality seeds or clones. Ensure you plant them in quality soil with good drainage. A mix of coco coir, perlite, and compost can provide an excellent base.
- Like other aspects of cannabis cultivation, producing flowers with high THCa concentrations starts with genetics. By selecting genetics that emphasize THCa production, you will have a better starting point.
- High-quality cannabis plants are grown under controlled conditions, either indoors or outdoors, i.e., requiring appropriate lighting, soil, nutrient levels, water, climate conditions, etc., as well as ensuring the plants are healthy and free of pesticides or other harmful substances. To better break it down for you:
- Light: Cannabis is a photoperiod-sensitive plant, which means it requires a certain light cycle to flower. For most strains, a 12-hour light/12-hour dark cycle triggers flowering. High-quality LED or HPS lights are popular choices for indoor growers aiming for high THCA content. For outdoors, you need to choose a spot with plenty of sunlight, ideally receiving at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. The location should also have good soil and drainage.
- Soil Preparation: Speaking of soil, you will need to amend the native soil with organic matter like compost, worm castings, or well-decomposed manure. This will ensure the plant has access to essential nutrients. The pH level of the soil should ideally be between 6.0-7.0 for cannabis cultivation.
- Nutrients: Cannabis requires various macro and micronutrients throughout its life cycle. Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are especially important. Feed your plants according to their specific phase of growth (vegetative vs. flowering).
- Watering: Keep the soil moist but not overly saturated. Overwatering or underwatering can stress the plant and negatively impact THCA production.
- Climate and Environment: Cannabis plants prefer a temperature range of 68-77°F (20-25°C). Humidity levels should be decreased gradually as the plant matures, starting from 60%-70% in the vegetative stage to 40-50% in the flowering stage. Be prepared to also protect your plants from unexpected weather changes. This might include using stakes or cages for support, protecting against strong winds, or using shade cloths during heatwaves.
- Pruning and Training: Techniques like low-stress training (LST), topping, and defoliation can help increase the plant’s yield and, potentially, its cannabinoid content.
- Pest and Disease Management: Outdoor plants can be susceptible to pests like aphids, caterpillars, and spider mites. Using beneficial insects, neem oil, or insecticidal soap can help. Regularly inspect plants for signs of diseases or pests.
- Certain strains of cannabis may be higher in THCa and could be chosen by cultivators aiming to produce high-THCa flower. Strains that’re bred for high THC content will naturally have high THCa content when they’re unheated. Proper care in terms of lighting, feeding, and pest control can help optimize THCa production.
- Once the plants have fully matured, they are harvested. The timing of the harvest can impact cannabinoid levels, including THCa. Basically, as cannabis is photoperiod-sensitive, outdoor plants typically begin flowering as the days get shorter. Monitor trichomes for maturity to determine the best harvest time – more on those in a bit.
- Typically, growers look for a certain trichome color and maturity to determine the best harvest time. Trichomes, the tiny resin glands on the cannabis plant, are the primary producers of THCa. When the trichomes appear milky white under magnification, it’s generally a good indicator that the plant has reached its peak THCa content.
3. Drying and Curing:
- The harvested cannabis flowers are then dried and cured. This process helps to preserve the cannabinoids and terpenes within the flower.
- A faster drying process may help limit the conversion of THCa to THC, but you don’t want to dry it out too quickly as this can detrimentally impact the quality, taste, and aroma of the flower. So, a slow, controlled drying process followed by proper curing can help maintain high THCa levels at a better rate.
- The curing process must be carefully managed to prevent the exposure to high temperatures or other conditions that could cause decarboxylation.
- The cured cannabis flowers are stored in a cool, dark, and dry environment to maintain their cannabinoid and terpene profiles, including THCa.
- Samples of the cannabis flower can be tested using chromatography techniques to measure the levels of THCa and other cannabinoids.
6. Packaging and Selling:
- The high-THCa cannabis flowers are then packaged and can be sold as THCa Flower.
- They must be stored and handled properly to prevent decarboxylation before they reach the consumer.
It’s important to note that even with these precautions, some THCa may convert to THC over time, especially if the flower is exposed to any heat or if it’s stored for a lengthy period. Always be aware of your cannabis’s composition, especially if trying to avoid THC’s psychoactive effects. Also, if you’re choosing to grow THCa flower outdoors, remember, nature can be unpredictable, so growing outdoors requires constant attention and sometimes improvisation to respond to unexpected challenges.
Tip: If the goal is to isolate THCa in its crystalline form (often called “THCA diamonds” in the world of cannabis concentrates), that involves a more complex extraction process.