What Is CBDA and How Is It Different From CBD?

Likely, you've heard all about Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, which comes from hemp plants. CBD has many exceptional properties that studies have shown could possibly be helpful sleep, mood, pain, and more.

However, you may be surprised to find out that CBD hardly exists on the cannabis plant itself. If you were to grow a hemp plant, harvest it, and send it to a lab for testing, you'd find that it mainly has Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA).

Now you might be wondering, what is CBDA, where does it come from, and how does it become CBD?

Found out all that and more as we take a look at everything you need to know about CBDA.

How Are Cannabinoids Made?

To understand what CBDA is, we need to take a brief look at how cannabinoids are made. When a cannabis plant is growing, it first creates Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA).

CBGA is like the "grandfather" of all cannabinoids because the rest come from it. What happens is, special enzymes convert most of the CBGA into other cannabinoids.

An enzyme is a protein that can convert specific chemicals into something else. In this case, a unique enzyme called CBDA Synthase(1) converts CBGA into CBDA.

The same thing happens with THC and CBC. Specific enzymes turn CBGA into THCA and CBCA.

Once the plant is ready for harvest, almost all of the CBGA is converted into other acidic cannabinoids. THCA and CBDA are usually the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis.

However, hemp is a particular strain of cannabis that has minimal amounts of THCA. In a hemp strain, you’ll likely find mostly CBDA and small amounts of other cannabinoids.

How Does CBDA Turn Into CBD?

CBDA turns into CBD through a process called decarboxylation. To understand decarboxylation, we need to dig into a little bit of chemistry.

The reason CBDA is called an acid is because it has an acidic carboxyl group. A carboxyl group consists of an oxygen atom and a hydroxyl (OH) group bonded together.

Don't worry if you never took an organic chemistry class. The important thing is that the carboxyl group is the only difference between CBDA and CBD.

For CBDA to become CBD, the carboxyl group needs to be removed or decarboxylated.

For decarboxylation to happen, heat needs to be applied to the cannabinoids. Although it sounds fancy, you've decarboxylated your weed every time you've smoked or vaporized it.

That's why you can't simply eat cannabis flowers and feel an effect. The cannabinoids are primarily in their acidic forms like CBDA and THCA.

If you've ever tried making edibles, the first step is to decarb the weed. Usually, you do that by putting the cannabis in the oven on low heat for some time.

After the decarb, the cannabinoids are turned into their active form and can be consumed.

The same thing is true for most CBD oils and tinctures—CBD products contain mostly CBD in its active form after decarboxylation.

What's the Difference Between CBDA and CBD?

As we just saw, we know that there's a slight chemical difference between the two. However, that small difference has a significant impact.

The main difference between CBDA and CBD is how it works in the body. To understand that, we need to look at the endocannabinoid system(2).

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

The ECS is a complex system of receptors located all around the body—from the immune system to the brain. These receptors are essential for regulating mood, appetite, memory, pain, and more.

In a nutshell, the ECS is responsible for maintaining the body's homeostasis. That means that if anything throws the body off, like an injury or an infection, the ECS tries to bring everything back to normal.

There are two different types of ECS receptors, called CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found mainly in the brain and nervous system, and CB2 receptors are found primarily in the immune system.

We can think of receptors as locks and cannabinoids as keys. When a cannabinoid connects to a receptor (lock and key), that causes something to happen.

However, only specific cannabinoids can unlock particular receptors. For example, THC can open CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors.

Many, but not all, of the benefits associated with cannabis are due to the interactions of cannabinoids with the ECS.

Unique Properties of CBD

The main difference between CBD and CBDA is, CBDA does not affect the ECS. That's why CBD is called the active form because it can interact with the ECS.

The interesting part is, CBD can interact with the ECS only indirectly. Unlike THC and other cannabinoids, CBD doesn't really interact with ECS receptors themselves.

We mentioned earlier that the ECS is responsible for maintaining the body's homeostasis. Logically, there must be something else interacting with the ECS other than cannabinoids—after all, we're not all smoking cannabis 24/7.

That's where endocannabinoids come in. Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are produced naturally by the body.

There are two types, called anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These chemicals help keep the body functioning smoothly by regulating the ECS.

After these endocannabinoids perform their function, they're broken down and discarded by specific enzymes.

Researchers think that CBD indirectly affects the ECS(3) because it can block the enzyme that breaks down AEA. That enzyme is called FAAH, and when it's blocked, the amount of AEA increases, thus regulating the ECS more.

Recent Studies on CBDA

For many years, CBDA was considered inactive—meaning that it doesn't have any effect on the body. However, recent studies have found that CBDA also has potential therapeutic properties.

As we know, CBDA cannot interact directly or indirectly on the ECS. However, it can interact with other enzymes and receptors.

In 2008, researchers found(4) that CBDA was able to block an enzyme called COX-2. It turns out that COX-2 is an essential part of the inflammation process.

That means that CBDA may be able to act as a potent anti-inflammatory.

Another study in 2013(5) found that CBDA may be more effective than CBD at reducing nausea and anxiety. Both CBD and CBDA may be able to interact with serotonin receptors in the brain called 5HT1A.

However, the scientists in the research paper found that CBDA may do a better job at stimulating the 5HT1A receptors than CBD.

So Which Is Better, CBDA or CBD?

Neither one is better than the other—they both have their advantages. However, there are certain cases where CBDA might have the edge over CBD.

For instance, CBDA might be better for aiding anxiety or nausea or supporting anti-inflammatory illnesses.

Luckily, you don't have to choose, and you can get the best of both worlds by combining CBDA and CBD. Many full-spectrum tinctures and oils already have both CBD and CBDA within them.

What Is CBD Used For?

Now that we know what the difference is between CBD and CBDA, that leaves the question—what are the uses of CBD?

There's been a lot of research on CBD, and there's a lot of good news. For starters, a recent study(6) compiled all the research between pain and CBD from 1975 to 2018.

What they found was that CBD oil was effective at managing all types of pain and had no negative side effects.

CBD is also often used as an aid for sleep and anxiety. We mentioned earlier that CBD and CBDA could interact with serotonin receptors in the brain.

Researchers think that this interaction leads to more serotonin release, leading to better sleep(7) and less anxious behaviors(8).

One of the primary uses of CBD is as an anti-epilepsy and anti-convulsant. In fact, the drug Epidiolix, which is FDA approved, is just a purified version of CBD.

CBD may also work in the brain as a neuroprotectant. That means that it could help keep neurons in the brain from being damaged.

Researchers found(9) that CBD's anti-inflammatory properties may help keep neurons healthy, potentially preventing illnesses like Alzheimer's Disease.

What's the Best Way to Use CBD?

The most popular way to use CBD is through a full-spectrum oil or tincture. Full-spectrum means that the oil or tincture contains all the different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in hemp.

Of course, a full-spectrum oil will contain mostly CBD and a small amount of THC, CBC, CBG, CBDA, and so on. To use CBD oil, one must simply take a few drops and drop them under the tongue.

The CBD should kick in within 15 minutes but can take up to an hour or so. CBD oils are easy to use, economical, and discreet.

However, there are other products on the market like CBD edibles and CBD topicals.

CBD edibles can be candy, softgels, and even drinks. These edibles usually have a high amount of CBD in them and are meant for all-day relief.

CBD topicals are products like lotions, salves, or sprays. These products are meant for applying directly to the skin.

CBD can be absorbed(10) directly through the skin and can help soothe pain where it's applied to. CBD topicals are also an excellent way to soothe muscles, making them perfect for athletes and those with a lot of tension.

Make sure you get a CBD product that's full-spectrum or broad-spectrum. CBD isolates only contain CBD and usually have the CBDA stripped from them.

What's the Best Way to Get CBDA?

One of the easiest ways to get CBDA is by purchasing cold-pressed hemp seed oil. Although there aren’t cannabinoids within hemp seeds, researchers found(11) that cannabinoids frequently end up in hemp seed oil.

However, there are also high-CBDA oils that are manufactured with bespoke cannabinoid profiles which can be found online.

CBDA looks promising, but there's still a lot of research that needs to be done. Hopefully, in the future, we'll know a lot more about CBDA and its exceptional properties.

For now, we recommend sticking with tried and true full-spectrum CBD oils to get all the benefits that CBD has to offer or alternatively purchase manufactured CBD/CBDA blends.

For more information on the other cannabinoids, take a look at this overview.



  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014579307005728
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877694/
  3. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2018.00482/full
  4. https://dmd.aspetjournals.org/content/36/9/1917.long
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3682714/
  6. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2018.01259/full
  7. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.00502/full
  8. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0269881110379283
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5289988/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851925/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0731708517322367

Please note that this article was written by a 3rd-party author who is a specialist on the topic of CBD, hemp and cannabis.  Any information or recommendations contained within this article, are independent to the opinion of RUDERALEX CBD and our employees.  We make no claims for any of our products, please read our disclaimer for additional information.