The Austin Chronic: Kevin Curtin Tries Out THCA

Living legally in loophole land

Art by Zeke Barbaro | Photos by John Anderson / Getty Images

Weed Gods willing, we'll all live to see the day when the laws of Texas catch up to 21st century mores and the recreational use and sale of marijuana will, at long-fucking-last, be legal.

Until then, we live in loophole land – which, if you squint, kind of looks like life in a cannabis-legal state. Just last week I went into a store, picked out some flower from a pretty vast cannabis menu, took it home, smoked it, and got pretty dang baked! And it wasn't really weed, but it wasn't not-weed either.

It was THCA cannabis. It's weed that's selected, grown, and harvested in a way that it has high levels of the naturally occurring cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, but less than 0.3% of the intoxicating Delta-9 THC, so it's federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. Here's the thing, though: When you burn, vape, dab, or cook THCA, it immediately activates into THC through a process called decarboxylation – basically breaking down the molecular ring that prevents it from binding to your brain receptors. Never before have I been so fascinated with biological science.

You can find THCA flower and products everywhere – CBD stores, head shops, gas stations, and from online retailers like Cookies (the most identifiable brand in commercial cannabis) – but I chose the place nearest my house: Green Cross CBD.

You know, I worry that when Austin eventually has legit dispensaries, they're going to be so complicated and expensive to open that we'll end up with mostly upscale weed boutiques and chain stores, so I appreciate places like Green Cross CBD that are mom-n-pop as hell: one employee working, no frills, just a lot of product and the only discernible vibe is the interactions between the customers and clerk. And these CBD shops, which have cropped up in Austin over the past five years, deserve credit for being so scrappy and adaptive, riding the waves of legal cannabis crazes – first CBD, then Delta-8 weed, and now THCA.

Green Cross had approximately three dozen large glass jars of THCA flower in addition to concentrates, edibles, and vapes. As I leaned up against the wall, perusing the menu, another customer entered who was probably about as stoked for THCA as people were when light bulbs were invented. His kid-in-a-candy-store enthusiasm was contagious as he recommended to me all his favorite strains. For $15, I bought a gram of Gelato (40% THCA), a cannabis strain I'm intimately familiar with, and by then there was a line at the counter five people deep, all getting THCA products.

So now that I'm a biological scientist, I had to make sure I was following the scientific method. I'd already done my control group research by smoking marijuana for 23 years straight, but now I had to not smoke any weed to ensure I was having an isolated THCA experience. The following is a transcription of my notes:

  1. • Does it look like marijuana? Yes.

  2. • Does it smell like marijuana? Actually, the stank is substantially muted. I guess this is because it's intentionally undercured to limit the THC levels.

  3. • Does it taste like marijuana? Inhaling it, I notice a much more neutral taste. Where the terps at?

  4. • Does it get you stoned? Yes!

I had smoked two big bowls of THCA cannabis and I was indeed lifted – about the same amount as if I'd taken two or three hits of really dank Gelato. Is it exactly the same? No, every cannabinoid profile sparks a specific cerebral alchemy, but I'll put it this way: THCA is more similar to traditional marijuana than H-E-B's Big Time Crunch Ultimate Cheese is to actual Cheetos.

Kevin Curtin will be back in two weeks with more cannabis musings.

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