THCa will get you high, but is it legal in Texas?

Another hemp-derived cannabinoid has hit the market in Texas. This is called THCa, short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. THCa occurs naturally in the hemp plant and is a precursor to delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets users high.

THCa is non-psychoactive, but when heated (like in a joint, for example), it turns into delta-9, which is psychoactive.

This is all exciting stuff for Zachary Maxwell, president of the Texas Hemp Growers Association. But it also raises some important legal questions for industry and consumers. Maxwell posted a notice on the association’s website with some caveats about THCa.

Manufacturers have recently begun producing isolated crystallized THCa that can be infused into flowers and other products to increase concentration. THCa is even starting to replace the popular psychoactive cannabinoid delta-8 THC in some shops. The stuff is plentiful and occurs naturally in hemp, so it would be easy to assume it’s safe and legal to consume, Maxwell said. This assumption would likely be supported by lab tests provided by THCa manufacturers, who claim the products have less than 0.3% delta-9 and are, therefore, compliant with US and Texas hemp laws.

But these tests don’t always tell the full story. “And because they don’t tell the whole story, they’re putting retailers and customers in law enforcement’s direct line of fire,” Maxwell wrote on his website.

He explained that there are two main methods used to test the concentration of THC and other cannabinoids in products: high pressure liquid chromatography and gas chromatography. Maxwell said most labs that test consumer goods will use high-pressure liquid chromatography because this method can identify concentrations of different THCs. “This method is preferred by producers, as it will almost always ensure they test with a result of 0% delta-9 THC” even if the material contains THCa, Maxwell said.

“There is a general ignorance of cannabis law by the authorities and we cannot assume that every official is up to date on the state of the law.” – Zachary Maxwell, Texas Hemp Growers Association

tweet this Gas chromatography converts THCa into delta-9 THC. It’s not an industry-preferred testing method, Maxwell said, but it is preferred by law enforcement agencies. The Texas Department of Public Safety told Maxwell that its in-house lab uses gas chromatography to test seized cannabis products.

A quick internet search of these products in Texas will show that some advertised have high levels of THCa and less than 0.3% delta-9. Looking at lab test results for one of these products which said it had 28.7% THCa and 0.29% delta-9, Maxwell found that it had been tested using high pressure liquid chromatography.

“But if this same flower were tested using gas chromatography, it would produce a result of over 0.29% delta-9 THC,” Maxwell wrote. “Surprise! You are now trafficking “marijuana” by the state definition. If it is a vape or a concentrate, it is an automatic crime.

This is why he recommends even more caution to producers, retailers and consumers dealing with THCa. He suggests people only buy products with test results showing 0.3% or less total THC.

People in the hemp and legal marijuana industry are probably already familiar with THCa. Rod Kight, a hemp industry attorney in North Carolina, wrote a blog post about him on THCa last September. Kight explained that in legal marijuana states, products are often advertised based on their total THC content. While these marijuana products may be advertised as having THC content in excess of 20%, Kight said, most of that is actually THCa.

“In summary, THCa hemp flower is no different from the marijuana flower currently sold in recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries in states with regulated marijuana markets,” Kight wrote.

In the hemp market, the United States Department of Agriculture requires hemp crops to have a total delta-9 and THCa concentration of 0.3% or less. However, this does not apply to manufactured or finished products found on the shelves of tobacconists. This is why THCa levels can be so high.

THCa is just the latest workaround to the limitations of delta-9. After hemp laws capping delta-9 were passed, manufacturers found that 0.3% delta-9 in edibles is more than enough for consumers to feel psychoactive effects if they consume enough. Legal delta-9 products have flooded the market ever since.

Wyatt Larew, co-founder of Bedford-based hemp company Wyatt Purp, sells these delta-9 products, as well as THCa flower at several smoke shops in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. While some are creating isolated crystallized THCa to add to hemp flower, Larew said his products are natural. When customers get some of his company’s THCa buds, sold under the Kingpin Kush brand, Larew said all they’re getting is low delta-9, high THCa hemp.

He acknowledges that most law enforcement agencies would test his product using gas chromatography and classify it as illegal marijuana. However, he said the same product could be taken to a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-accredited third-party lab for a $40 high-pressure liquid chromatography test to prove it does not exceed the legal amount of delta-9.

“If they [the police] try my cannabis, they’ll call it marijuana and say it’s 28% THC,” he said. If that ever happens and he gets stuck on a marijuana charge, Larew said he’d be prepared to defend himself in court with tests by DEA-accredited laboratories to demonstrate that its products comply with federal and state law.

The legalization of hemp in the United States and Texas has brought products with different cannabinoids such as delta-8. Many of these don’t occur abundantly enough in nature to feel their effects. So, manufacturers have taken the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD, which is found in abundance in the cannabis plant, and converted it into other compounds. With some lawmakers keen to ban these lab-created cannabinoids, Larew said what his company is doing with delta-9 and THCa “is the future” for the cannabis industry.

While THCa products may be new to the market, the potential legal issues surrounding them are not. Running these hemp-derived THCa products in Texas is just a risky business, legally, Maxwell said.

“There is a general ignorance of cannabis law by the authorities and we cannot assume that every officer is up to date on the state of the law,” Maxwell said.

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