What's the Difference Between CBD and CBDA?


Cannabidiol (CBD) and Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA) are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both offer potential health and wellness benefits, which has sparked immense interest in these compounds in recent years.

But what exactly is the difference between CBD and CBDA? And how do they compare in terms of effects and uses?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about these two cannabinoids, from their chemical structures to their purported benefits. We’ll also look at the key differences between CBD vs CBDA so you can determine which one is right for you.

What's the Difference Between CBD and CBDA?

What is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, one of over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis sativa plants.

It is the second most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana. However, unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating. It does not cause a high or impairment.

CBD interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell-signaling network that helps regulate various biological functions like sleep, appetite, pain and more. Specifically, CBD indirectly interacts with the ECS’ cannabinoid receptors, including CB1 and CB2 receptors.

This interaction is believed to be responsible for many of CBD’s effects. From a chemical standpoint, CBD is similar in structure to THC. But a slight difference in atomic arrangement is thought to be responsible for its lack of intoxicating qualities.

Now that medicinal and recreational cannabis is legal in many places, CBD products have exploded in popularity for their purported health benefits. Oils, tinctures, edibles, topicals and more infused with CBD can be easily purchased both online and in stores.

According to some research, CBD may help with conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation, seizures and more. However, robust clinical research is still limited at this time.

What is CBDA?

CBDA, short for cannabidiolic acid, is a chemical precursor to CBD. In raw cannabis plants, CBDA is the most abundant cannabinoid. It starts out in an acidic form that over time, either through aging or heating, will convert to CBD.

Specifically, exposure to heat causes CBDA go through a process called decarboxylation. This removes a carboxyl group and transforms CBDA into CBD. For example, during smoking or cooking cannabis, the heat decarboxylates CBDA turning it into the CBD that produces effects in the body.

CBDA won’t cause impairment or intoxication. And like CBD, early research indicates CBDA may offer certain therapeutic effects. It’s gaining recognition for benefits like reducing nausea, inflammation and anxiety.

However, since CBDA converts to CBD with heat, you’ll usually only find raw CBDA extracts or juice made from raw, unheated cannabis plants. CBDA products are not nearly as common as CBD. But some companies now offer isolated CBDA oils, capsules and more.

Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics of what CBD and CBDA are, let’s look closer at how they differ.

Key Differences Between CBD vs CBDA

While CBD and CBDA share similarities, they have distinct differences you should recognize:

  • Chemical structure: The main difference between CBD and CBDA is their chemical structure. CBDA features a carboxylic acid group attached to its chain, while CBD does not.
  • Abundance: In raw cannabis plants, CBDA is the most plentiful cannabinoid. Only through decarboxylation does CBDA transform into CBD.
  • Effects: CBD and CBDA interact differently with the endocannabinoid system, producing different effects as a result.
  • Benefits: Research indicates CBD and CBDA may offer overlapping benefits for certain conditions. But some benefits appear unique to each cannabinoid.
  • Products: You can easily find CBD oils, edibles and lotions from cannabis or hemp. Raw CBDA products are rarer since most cannabis goes through processing.

Let’s expand on these key differences in the sections below.

Chemical Structure: What’s the Difference?

The distinct chemical structure between CBD and CBDA results in differing interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid system. This then causes their unique effects.

CBD structure

The molecular formula of CBD is C21H30O2. It contains a pentyl and hydroxyl group.

CBDA structure

CBDA has the molecular formula C22H30O4. The presence of the carboxylic acid group gives CBDA its “A” or acidic designation.

It’s this carboxyl group that over time will detach from CBDA through decarboxylation and become CBD. Decarboxylation often happens through heating, lighting or aging.

For example, smoking and vaporizing heats up raw cannabis flowers, transforming CBDA into CBD. This CBD is then ingested into the lungs and body for effects.

Abundance: Raw vs. Processed Cannabis

CBD and CBDA differ significantly in their levels depending on whether cannabis is raw or processed:

  • Raw cannabis: In raw cannabis flowers, CBDA dominates over CBD, making up over 90% of cannabinoid content.
  • Processed cannabis: Heating cannabis decarboxylates CBDA, converting it into CBD. In smoked/heated cannabis, CBD will be present in much higher quantities.

So in raw cannabis, CBDA is the star player. Yet most people consume the cannabis flower in some heated or processed form, whether it’s smoking a joint, vaporizing buds or infusing oils.

This heating converts CBDA to CBD through decarboxylation. Now CBD takes over as the dominant cannabinoid responsible for the effects.

What does this mean for the differences between CBD vs CBDA when it comes to consumption?

Well, to harness the benefits of raw CBDA, you need to ingest it without heat exposure. Products like raw juicing cannabis, taking CBDA oils or eating raw CBDA powder.

For CBD, you can consume cannabis or hemp products that have undergone decarboxylation to transform the CBDA. This includes vaping, smoking, oils, edibles and more.

So depending on your preferred products and benefits, you may opt for a raw CBDA extract or product for one that’s undergone decarboxylation to offer CBD.

Effects: How They Interact With The Body Differently

Despite their close relationship, CBD and CBDA interact with the endocannabinoid system differently, causing unique effects as a result.

CBD effects

CBD is suggested to interact with endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body. However, it appears to have low binding affinity for both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS.

Rather, research indicates CBD may indirectly alter cannabinoid receptor signaling. This could happen through several channels:

  • Increasing levels of endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG
  • Binding to ion channels, neurotransmitter receptors and other signaling molecules
  • Activating TRPV1 vanilloid receptors

Through these interactions, CBD may impact the activity of receptors like 5-HT1A serotonin receptors and transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. This activity may support CBD’s effects on things like pain, anxiety, inflammation and seizures.

However, we still have much to learn about precisely how CBD works in the body.

CBDA effects

Like CBD, CBDA seems to have little binding affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, CBDA effects differ in some key ways:

  • Compared to CBD, CBDA exhibits stronger activation of the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, an important target for anxiety and depression drugs.
  • CBDA appears to suppress cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme involved in inflammation
  • In contrast to CBD, CBDA may suppress fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that breaks down endocannabinoids

Research is still emerging. But these mechanisms suggest CBDA also influences key receptors and enzyme pathways in the body and brain. This activity could support benefits on mood, pain and inflammation.

So in summary, both CBD and CBDA interact with the endocannabinoid system differently. This results in each one generating unique effects and therapeutic actions.

Benefits: Some Overlap, But Some Differences

Based on their varying interactions with the body, CBD and CBDA are suggested to offer both overlapping and distinct benefits. Here’s how the research stacks up so far:

Overlapping benefits

  • Pain relief: Both CBD and CBDA may activate serotonin receptors involved in pain control.
  • Nausea relief: In animal studies, CBD and CBDA reduced nausea and vomiting.
  • Neuroprotection: Via anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant properties, CBD and CBDA may support nervous system health.
  • Anti-inflammatory: CBD and CBDA seem to suppress inflammatory markers through different channels.

Distinct benefits

  • Seizures: CBD shows more robust evidence for reducing seizure frequency and severity compared to CBDA.
  • Anxiety: CBDA appears more potent for increasing serotonin signaling involved in anxiety and depression.
  • Acne: Early studies found CBDA has stronger antimicrobial effects against acne-causing bacteria than CBD.

Keep in mind research is still emerging, especially for CBDA. But the current science indicates these cannabinoids offer both overlapping and unique advantages.

By tapping into both CBD and CBDA, you may achieve more full-spectrum benefits. This is exactly why some cannabis extracts leave CBDA intact, creating what’s known as a “whole plant” formula.

Products: Raw CBDA vs. Decarboxylated CBD Products

Given their difference in abundance in raw vs. heated cannabis, CBD and CBDA have contrasting representation among commercial products:

  • CBD products are widely available and range from oils, isolates, edibles, topicals and more. CBD is often sourced from hemp plants.
  • Raw CBDA is rarer in the marketplace today. Some companies sell raw juices, CBDA extracts and capsules.

Why is this the case? Well, since heating cannabis transforms CBDA into CBD through decarboxylation, most cannabis products go through processing. This processing then converts CBDA into CBD, the dominant cannabinoid in heated cannabis flower and oils.

However, as research on CBDA increases, some companies now purposefully avoid decarboxylation. This allows them to harness the benefits of CBDA alongside CBD.

Some consumers also juice raw cannabis plant material to ingest raw CBDA and other cannabinoids. But since raw cannabis is still illegal in many places, access to products high in CBDA is limited.

In summary, CBD-rich products are widely accessible. But seeking out raw CBDA means looking for products made from unheated cannabis.

Which Is Better: CBD or CBDA?

Based on the research available so far, CBD and CBDA both offer intriguing and unique benefits. But is one cannabinoid superior to the other?

The answer is: we don’t really know yet.

Early studies suggest CBDA and CBD work best together. They appear to complement each other through overlapping and distinct effects. Choosing a product with both CBD and CBDA allows you to maximize the benefits.

However, in some cases, one cannabinoid may be preferable over the other. For example:

  • For inflammatory conditions, the anti-inflammatory properties of CBDA make it a highly appealing option.
  • For anxiety relief, CBDA may modulate serotonin receptors more effectively than CBD.
  • For epilepsy, CBD has more substantial research support compared to CBDA.

Both cannabinoids are safe, non-intoxicating and backed by emerging science. Which one is “better” for you comes down to:

  • Your health goals – are you seeking anxiety relief, pain relief, etc.
  • The research support behind each cannabinoid for your condition
  • Your preferred delivery format – do you want raw CBDA or decarboxylated CBD

Speak to your doctor if you’re considering supplementing with either CBD or CBDA for a specific health concern. They can help weigh the current research and potential for benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have some questions surrounding CBD vs CBDA? Here are answers to some common queries.

Does CBDA get you high?

No, CBDA does not cause any intoxicating effects. Like CBD, CBDA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that will not get you high.

What’s better for anxiety: CBD or CBDA?

Based on early research, CBDA may modulate serotonin receptors more strongly. In animal studies, CBDA appears more effective for depressive and anxiety behaviors. However, human studies are still needed.

Can I take CBDA and CBD together?

Yes, you can safely supplement with CBDA and CBD together. Early studies suggest CBD and CBDA’s complementary properties work best in tandem for whole plant benefits.

Does CBDA turn into CBD when you smoke weed?

Yes. When you smoke or heat raw cannabis flower, it causes the CBDA to convert into CBD through decarboxylation. This CBD then offers the benefits during consumption.

In the US, CBDA falls under the same legal gray area as CBD. While still unclear, as long as the CBDA is sourced from hemp and contains less than 0.3% THC, it’s not likely considered illegal at the federal level. However, state laws still vary.

Can CBDA get you high?

No. Like CBD, CBDA is completely non-intoxicating and will not cause impairment or a euphoric high.

Experience the Benefits of CBD and CBDA

As you can see, CBD and CBDA share intriguing similarities and differences. Both offer a host of wellness advantages backed by emerging science.

While research continues to unfold, current evidence suggests the entourage benefits of combining CBD and CBDA. This allows you to harness their overlapping and complementary properties.

If you’re new to cannabis-derived products, speak to a doctor first to weigh potential benefits versus risks. Start slow with lower doses and monitor effects closely when adding CBDA or CBD to your routine.

Enjoy exploring these intriguing cannabinoids and stay tuned as more research brings clarity to their many benefits. The future looks promising for both CBD and CBDA.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between hemp CBD and cannabis CBD?

  • Hemp CBD is extracted from industrial hemp plants, which naturally contain higher CBD and lower THC levels. By law, hemp must contain no more than 0.3% THC.
  • Cannabis CBD comes from marijuana plants bred to be higher in CBD and lower in THC. Still, CBD levels are typically lower than hemp-derived CBD.
  • Hemp CBD is legal in most places, while cannabis CBD is restricted like marijuana. However, hemp and cannabis CBD are chemically identical.

What are the side effects of CBDA?

  • Currently, CBDA is considered very low risk with minimal side effects. Potential side effects may include diarrhea, changes in appetite, and fatigue.
  • At high doses, it's possible CBDA could inhibit hepatic drug metabolism, so caution is advised when combining with certain medications. More research is still needed.

How do you take CBDA?

  • Most CBDA consumption involves ingesting raw, unheated cannabis juice or extracts. Some popular options include:
  • Juicing raw cannabis leaves and flowers
  • Taking CBDA oil sublingually
  • Mixing CBDA powder into smoothies
  • Swallowing CBDA capsules
  • You can also find some raw CBDA edibles, though heating during cooking may start converting CBDA into CBD.

What's the difference between isolated and full spectrum CBDA?

  • Isolated CBDA contains just the single cannabinoid on its own.
  • Full spectrum CBDA oil preserves all the plant compounds like flavonoids, fatty acids, and other cannabinoids. This offers an "entourage effect" from the combination.

Does CBDA require refrigeration?

  • In oil form, CBDA is typically shelf-stable and does not require refrigeration. However, raw CBDA extracts and juices may require refrigeration to preserve freshness. Follow manufacturer instructions for proper storage.

Will CBDA show up on a drug test?

  • Pure CBDA should not lead to a positive drug test. However, many CBDA products contain traces of THC that could trigger a positive, especially at high doses for an extended time.

What’s the difference between CBD and CBDA effects?

  • Research indicates CBDA may have stronger anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and anti-nausea effects compared to CBD. However, CBD has stronger evidence for benefits on seizures currently.

Is CBDA safe for pets?

  • Very little research exists on CBDA for animal use. Anecdotally, some owners use minimal doses of CBDA extracts for pets safely. However, consult a veterinarian before using CBDA with pets. Start with extreme care.

Where can I buy CBDA products?

  • Since CBDA converts to CBD with decarboxylation, it's less common than CBD products. Look for raw CBDA juices, capsules, powders or tinctures from specialty online retailers. Availability is expected to grow.


CBD and CBDA are both cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant, but they have distinct differences you should know.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is the second most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis. It is non-intoxicating and may help with conditions like anxiety, pain, inflammation, and epilepsy.

In contrast, CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) is the raw form of CBD found in live cannabis plants. Exposure to heat decarboxylates CBDA, turning it into CBD. So CBDA is abundant in raw cannabis, while heating transforms it into CBD.

Chemically, the main difference lies in CBDA containing a carboxyl group, while CBD does not. This impacts how they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. CBDA appears more potent for activating serotonin receptors involved in anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, CBD may bind with receptors that control pain, mood, and inflammation.

Research shows promising overlapping benefits like pain and nausea relief. But evidence also indicates some unique advantages. CBDA offers stronger anti-inflammatory effects, while CBD is better studied for epilepsy.

Given their complementary effects, combining CBD and CBDA may provide whole plant therapy. Most cannabis products only contain CBD because CBDA converts with heating during processing. However, some companies now sell raw CBDA juices, oils and capsules to preserve CBDA content.

Choosing between CBD vs CBDA depends on your health goals and preference for raw or decarboxylated products. For anxiety, CBDA may be ideal, while CBD offers more robust research for seizures currently. Speak to your doctor if considering supplementing with either cannabinoid.

While studies continue to emerge, the safety profiles of both CBD and CBDA remain promising with minimal risk of side effects. Taking CBD and CBDA together appears both safe and potentially synergistic.

In summary, CBDA and CBD offer overlapping and distinct benefits backed by emerging science. Seek out raw CBDA products to harness unique benefits before it converts to CBD. Combining both may allow you to maximize therapeutic advantages.

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