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The differences between cannabis compounds CBDA and CBD

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The differences between cannabis compounds CBDA and CBD

By Tori Smith April 01, 2021

For those who don’t already know, cannabis has two main chemical components: CBD (cannabidiol) – a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the plant’s psychoactive component (in other words, the part that gets you high).

While cannabis has always been used for its psychoactive properties, the usage and consumption of cannabis for CBD has increased in popularity in recent years – mainly because of the numerous therapeutic benefits users swear by (you get the help without the high).

But the potential of cannabis doesn’t stop with CBD and THC. There’s a lesser-known substance slowly gaining ground with cultivators and consumers – CBDA (cannabidiolic acid). Like CBD, it’s found naturally in cannabis but comes with its own set of unique properties.

Being able to recognise the differences between CBD and CBDA allows consumers to understand their differing medicinal properties.

CBDA and CBD: let’s break it down

To get your head around the differences between CBDA and CBD, you need to start at the beginning – with CBGA (cannabigerolic acid ). All other compounds in the cannabis plant descend from CBGA, it’s the head of the family, so to speak! From CBGA, the chemical compounds we know and love are formed.

But how are they formed? Well, CBGA needs to undergo a specific process. In its normal state, CBGA is an acidic, non-active compound. To activate it, it needs to undergo the decarboxylation (decarbing) process in which heat and oxidation start the transformation process.

Decarboxylation can naturally occur just as a result of letting plants sit for some time, but a more efficient method is to heat the plant matter in an oven or through combustion when smoking dried herbs.

Once activated, compounds transform – CBDA into CBD, THCA into THC and so on.

Is one better than the other?

Simply put, CBD is the active form while CBDA is non-active. This is the fundamental difference between them, but beyond that, CBD provides some medicinal properties that CBDA does not.

However, until recently, scientists didn’t think that cannabinoids had any effect in their non-active form, so they didn’t bother to run many studies on CBDA. As it turns out, it is teeming with potential medicinal benefits.

Do you ingest CBD and CBDA in the same way?

CBD, unlike CBDA, is fat-soluble. You can be really flexible when it comes to ingesting CBD, dependent on what suits you. Options include, but aren’t limited to: CBD-infused edibles and beverages; tinctures to be placed under the tongue; CBD oil; topical lotions/balms; activated extracts; food supplements and canna caps (CBD-infused caspules).

CBDA is slightly less versatile as it usually needs to be consumed as fresh cannabis leaves. It is available as a resin, tincture or plant extract but it’s much more usual to add it to food as-is. It can be prepped as cold-pressed tea, blended with fruit juice, sprinkled on a meal like a garnish, stirred into sauces, or added to a salad.

How do CBD and CBDA interact with the body?

CBD has an edge over CBDA in terms of bioavailability (the rate at which the cannabinoids are processed by the body). Because CBD is better metabolized by the body, low doses deliver the desired effects. This is in contrast to the much higher concentration required to feel the benefit of CBDA. In this regard, CBD is more potent than CBDA.

CBD stimulates the adenosine, serotonin, and vanilloid receptors which detect muscle inflammation and pain. It also inhibits the activity of the CPR55 receptor, which impacts blood pressure, the development of bones and the onset of anti-proliferative properties.

Studies reveal that CBDA influences the body by regulating the non-endocannabinoid enzymes COX-1 and COX-2, which affect the body’s inflammatory response.

Medically, what can CBD do that CBDA cannot?

Due to the decarbing process, CBD has several medicinal benefits that CBDA does possess. These include:

  • anti-anxiety
  • antidepressant
  • anti-spasmodic
  • anti-convulsive
  • antioxidant
  • pain relief
  • bone fracture healing
  • reduction of vascular tension
  • relief from the symptoms of diabetes, psoriasis and ischemia

What therapeutic benefits can the compounds provide?

When it comes to therapeutic benefits, there is a slightly more level playing field as both compounds offer similar advantages, with the only real difference being the efficacy of the compound (CBD having higher efficacy).

Please bear in mind there have been limited studies conducted on CBDA to date. It’s important to disclose that most of the clinical trials exploring CBDA’s health benefits have been only conducted on animals.

Anti-inflammatory benefits

CBD has long been lauded as an alternative for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). CBD subdues chronic pain and the immune response of the body, doing this without the risk associated with many manufactured medicines. CBD may also be a potent remedy against arthritis, a joint inflammation characterized by pain and structural damage.

CBDA also delivers anti-inflammatory benefits with no adverse affects. CBDA’s structure is much like the chemical makeup of NSAIDs.


CBD and CBDA have shown enormous potential for their anti-cancer properties. A 2012 study revealed that CBDA inhibited the activity of malignant breast cancer cells by preventing the tumor from developing and spreading to healthy cells.

Alternatively, CBD encourages the self-destruction of the cells, which stops the proliferation of malignant cells. It also inhibits the growth of human breast carcinoma.


CBD is prized for its ability to neutralize the psychotic-like symptoms caused by THC but without inducing adverse effects. A 2012 study demonstrated that CBD offers relief from psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

Furthermore, a 2011 study assessed CBDA its antipsychotic effects. It was discovered that the compound can be used as an adjunct treatment for psychotic disorders alongside other cannabinoids.


Both compounds exhibit anti-nausea and antiemetic properties through the stimulation of an enzyme involved with various physiological responses such as nausea and vomiting.

However, CBDA performs notably better as an anti-nausea treatment and also eases anticipatory nausea.


CBD is highly sought-after in part for its antimicrobial properties. CBD and other major cannabinoids can be a powerful antibacterial agent against strains or MRSA.

Plants with a higher amount of CBDA have more pronounced antimicrobial action, which suggests that CBDA can also act as an anti-microbial agent.

Just one chemical process separates these two compounds, and yet they behave in very different ways. We hope we’ve given you a little more insight today!