By now, most people are familiar with CBD, a cannabis compound that is processed from the hemp plant. Many believe that CBD may help alleviate diverse ailments such as chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, insomnia, epilepsy, and loss of appetite among others.

Besides its perceived health benefits, its popularity is explained by the public’s perception of CBD as a natural substance with few side-effects. Until recently, it looked like CBD was about to take over the world of healthy food supplements.

Lately, however, a new competitor has emerged for that title: CBDa or cannabinoid acid. While similar to CBD, CBDa is a different compound from CBD. It is produced differently and has a different effect on our bodies.

Scientists have known about CBDa for a long time but assumed it had little medical value. Recent medical research and clinical trials, however, indicate that CBDa is a compound with its own beneficial qualities that deserves to be further studied.

What is CBD?

CBD is one of hundreds of cannabinoids found in the hemp plant.

Cannabis contains many cannabinoids such as CBD, THC, CBDa, CBN, CBG, and CBC. Industrial hemp has been grown for centuries because of its high percentage of CBD and very low THC. CBD produced from hemp is now legal in the US, as long as it contains less than 0.3% of THC.

The endocannabinoid System (ECS)

CBD – even Canada’s #1 CBD oil – has been of interest to scientists since the 1990s, when researchers discovered the existence of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is responsible for restoring our bodies’ homeostasis—its natural balance. To do so, it uses two naturally produced cannabinoids, CB1 and CB2.

CBD chemical similarities to CB2 prompted scientists to study its effects on the human body. Several studies suggest that CBD may help the endocannabinoid system in maintaining our natural balance. Specifically, CBD appears to interact with the ECS to make our body produce more of its own cannabinoids to fix any problems.

What are CBD’s benefits?

Following CBD’s legalization in late 2018, several clinical research and studies have been conducted to study its possible health benefits.

While it is still too early for large-scale, conclusive clinical trials, research has so far found that CBD may help relieve people of anxiety and depression. It also shows promise in alleviating insomnia and sleep problems.

Several studies are also exploring CBD and its potential in helping people manage chronic pain, such as joint pain and muscle pain. Its effects may be explained by its anti-inflammatory potential.

Finally, research has established CBD’s effectiveness in helping epilepsy sufferers. The FDA has already approved Epidiolex, a CBD-based anti-epilepsy medication, produced by British-based GW Pharmaceuticals.

What is CBDa?

When you press raw hemp flowers, you get CBDa. CBDa is the acidic precursor of CBD. When the hemp plant develops and the flowers appear, it is CBDa that we will get if we cut a flower.

When the raw hemp flowers are processed, CBDa turns to CBD.

Researchers thought at first that CBDa had no health benefits because it doesn’t seem to interact with the endocannabinoid system. So, CBD producers picked the raw hemp flowers, extracted CBDa, and then used heat to turn it into CBD. This is called the decarboxylation process.

However, recent findings suggest that CBDa has its own merit and should be studied more thoroughly. While it doesn’t interact with the endocannabinoid system, it does interact with COX-2, an enzyme that spreads inflammation throughout the body. It also affects serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is also called the happy chemical because it contributes to our wellbeing and happiness (more on that below).

However, producers wanting to focus on CBDa realized it is unstable in its original state. In order to keep it intact and introduce it to CBD pills, tinctures, and other methods of administration, it requires important technological and medical knowledge.

They also realized that CBDa may be more beneficial when it is combined with terpenes to introduce the so-called entourage effect.

What are terpenes?

Besides cannabinoids such as CBD and CBDa, hemp also contains terpenes—organic compounds found in plants that give them their characteristic aromas.

Terpenes are aromatic oils that have their own valuable qualities. The most common terpenes in the cannabis plant are limonene, beta-caryophyllene, pinene, terpinolene and myrcene. Cannabinoids and terpenes together give us the valuable features of hemp.

Beta-caryophyllene is a natural terpene that can also be found in basil, oregano, cinnamon, clove, and even black pepper. Beta-caryophyllene is of particular interest to researchers, as it is the only cannabis terpene that actively interacts with the human endocannabinoid system.

When terpenes and cannabinoids are consumed together, they may be more beneficial. This is called the entourage effect.

How does CBDa work?

Initial findings are showing that CBDa does not work like CBD. Instead of interacting with our ECS, CBDa seems to bypass it and interact with particular enzymes and receptors directly.

CBDa and inflammation

For instance, it has been found that CBDa interacts with the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. These are responsible for spreading inflammation in the body. Through this interaction, CBDa displays promising results in reducing acute or chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is an underlying cause of several auto-immune disorders such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis. It is caused when the body releases inflammatory enzymes but there is no intruder. White cells will then attack the body’s own cells, mistaking them for pathogens.

GW Pharmaceuticals, the company that produces Epidiolex, has already filed a CBDa medical-use patent for inflammatory skin diseases.

CBDa and anxiety

Also, CBDa interacts with a serotonin receptor called 5-HT1A.This is mainly related to nausea and vomiting but also plays a part in regulating serotonin levels.

Through this interaction, CBDa appears to be effective in treating nausea—something particularly helpful in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Crucially, 5-HT receptors also influence our mood. This could make CBDa an effective future tool in the fight against anxiety and depression. Indeed, CBDa works on 5-HT receptors much the same way as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant medication does. However, its possible side-effects are minor compared to SSRI medication.

CBDa and seizures

When the FDA approved CBD-based Epidiolex, they required the company to also conduct research on CBDa. GW’s research showed that CBDa is an even more effective seizure treatment than CBD.

What else may CBDa heal?

Besides skin inflammation and seizure treatment, GW Pharmaceuticals has filed a CBDa medical-use patent for cancer treatment.

CBDa cancer research to date has only been on isolated cells. However, initial studies indicate that CBDa might stop the migration of a highly aggressive form of breast cancer cell known as MDA-MB-231.

Also, CBDa may have helpful anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, analgesic, and anti-oxidant properties. This could make it a useful tool against a number of conditions, such as auto-immune disorders.

Is CBDa better than CBD?

A particularly significant finding when comparing the two compounds is that CBDa appears more bioavailable compared to CBD.

Bioavailability refers to the amount of a compound that actually reaches the bloodstream. When we take CBD or CBDa, a percentage of it is lost through our digestive system, our enzymes, and various blocking mechanisms such as the skin.

So, when taking a CBD pill, its bioavailability is often assumed to be around 20%: only 20% of the quantity of CBD we took will actually reach the bloodstream. This reduces its potency and effectiveness.

CBDa shows improved levels of bioavailability. It is yet unclear how much more bioavailable CBDa is, but initial findings are showing that CBDa may be up to 100 times more bioavailable than CBD.

This is beneficial in many ways: consumers will need smaller CBDa quantities compared to CBD. More CBDa will reach their bloodstream and start its action. And there is less chance of side-effects.

Crucially, CBDa is non-addictive and non-intoxicating, just like CBD. Therefore, taking CBDa will not give you a sense of “high.”

Should I store CBDa just like I store CBD?

CBDa is heat-sensitive, so you should store it in your fridge. That is why CBDa products have a clearly-labeled shelf life. If left outside the fridge, your CBDa will slowly turn to CBD, due to the decarboxylation process.

While you will still get the benefits of CBD, you will miss out on CBDa ones.

Should I buy products that combine CBDa and CBD?a

Combining CBDa with CBD gives your body the best of both compounds.

When CBDa is turned into CBD, some dormant compounds are activated. But CBDa contains more terpenes. Therefore, combining CBD with CBDa will offer your body CBD, dormant activated compounds, CBDa, and terpenes.